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Animal Adaptations

Lesson Plan

Animal Adaptations

Grade Levels

4th Grade

Course, Subject

Environment and Ecology (Agriculture)
  • Big Ideas
    Populations of organisms evolve by natural selection.
    The cell is the basic unit of structure and function for all living things.
  • Concepts
    All living things are made up of smaller units called cells.
    All multicellular organisms have systems that interact with one another to perform specific functions and enable the organism to function as a whole.
    Cells carry out the many functions needed to sustain life.
    Cells grow and divide thereby producing more cells.
    Cells take in nutrients that they use to provide energy to carry out their life functions.
    Changes in environmental conditions can affect the survival of populations and entire species.
    Different body tissues and organs are made up of different kinds of cells.
    Disease affects the structures and/or functions of an organism.
    Every organism has a set of genetic instructions that determines its inherited traits.
    Every organism has a set of instructions for specifying its traits.
    Extinction of a species occurs when the environment changes and the adaptive characteristics of a species are insufficient to allow its survival.
    Genes can randomly change or mutate, causing changes in certain traits of the offspring.
    Hereditary information (set of instructions) is contained in genes, located on chromosomes in cells.
    Individual organisms with certain traits are more likely than others to survive and have offspring.
    Inherited traits can increase their frequency in successive generations so that descendents are very different from their ancestors.
    Organisms reproduce and pass their genes to the next generation (their offspring).
    Some organisms are made up of only one cell.
    Specialized cells perform specialized functions in multicellular organisms.
    The gene is the basic unit of inheritance.
    There are defining structures of cells for both plants and animals.
    There are structural and functional similarities and differences that characterize diverse living things.
    There is a relationship between structure and function at all biological levels of organization.
  • Competencies
    Identify examples of the relationship(s) between structure and function in the living world.



Adaptation:  A specific feature that allows a plant or animal to live in a particular environment

Behavioral Adaptation: Actions animals take to survive in their environments. Examples are hibernation, migration, and instincts.

Camouflage: A way of blending into the surroundings so that an organism cannot be seen. Also called “protective coloration.”

Characteristics: Features that make plants and animal different from each other.  Examples are beak size, coloration, how animals move.

Ecosystem:  a community of living orgasnisms and their interrelated physical and chemical environment.

Environment:The living and nonliving things that surround an organism.

Hibernation:When organisms become inactive for a period of time for survival, such as during cold winter months.

Migration:When organisms move from one environment to another to find food or a mate.

Mimicry: When an organism resembles the appearance, actions, or sounds of another organism.

Physical Adaptation: A characteristic in a plant or in an animal’s body that helps it to survive in its environment. Examples are protective coloration (camouflage) and the ability to retain water.



In this lesson, students will learn that evolution allows animals to develop specific adaptations to survive in their environment.  They will be able to differentiate between physical and behavioral characteristics.  Students will learn the importance of adaptations, and how these many adaptations enable the survival of a species. 

  • Identify adaptations that help animals survive in various environments.

  • Describe plant and animal adaptations that are important to survival.

  • Describe the difference between pysical and behavioral characteristics.

  • Identify physical and behavioral characteristics.

Lesson Essential Question(s)

How does the variation among individuals affect their survival?

How do the structures and functions of living things allow them to meet their needs?


160 minutes/ 4 class periods


Pictures of animals and their environments. (Pictures from Animal Adaptations Picture Word Sort PowerPoint can be used)

Powerpoint to review word sort (Animal Adaptations Picture Powerpoint)

Pliers, tweezers, chopsticks, spoons, and clothespins

Cooked rice, cooked spaghetti, bird seed, and peanuts

Class copies of Bird Beak Adaptation Lab (Bird Adaptation Lab Report)

Overview Animal Adaptations PowerPoint (Animal Adaptations PowerPoint)

Copies of Animal Facts (Animal Adaptations Animal Facts)

Copies of Physical and Behavioral Adaptations Chart to outline characteristics  (Physical and Behavorial Adaptations Chart )
Copies of environment cards for final project (Animal Adaptations Environment Cards)

Copies of final project requirements (Animal Adaptations Final Project)

 Rubric for scoring final project (Animal Adaptations Final Project Rubric )

Animal Adaptations Adapted Quiz

Animal Adaptations Quiz

Copies of Tundra Probe for formative assessment purposes (Tundra Probe)


Suggested Instructional Strategies

W:  Explain to students that in this unit they will be engaged in several activities where they will be expected to match animals to their environments and explain why these animals are best suited for these environments.  They will conduct a bird beak experiment where they will pretend to be birds using their body structures to help them adapt to their environments, and they will research other animals and how their characteristics help them survive in their environments.  Finally students will design their own animal that will be adapted to a selected environment. 
H:  Students will be engaged in a "Bird Beak Activity" where they will pretend to be using their beaks to gather food in their environment.  They will also be engaged in real life examples to help them design their own animal to survive in a selected environment. 
E:  Students will explore adaptations of multiple real life animals to identify how these adaptations help the animals survive in their environments. 
R:  Students will answer open ended questions based on their explorations in the "Bird Beak Activity."  They will be expected to apply all of their acquired knowledge to their final project of designing an animal adapted to survive in a selected environment. 
E:  Students will express their understanding through a group presentation for a gallery walk.  They will also express their understanding through thorough explanation to the open ended questions in the "Bird Beak Activity" and appropriate design of an animal in the final project. 
T:  I will group students based on differing ability levels.  I will monitor student progress throughout the activities and use questioning techniques to promote effective discourse.  I will also use formative assessment to guide my instruction.
O:  The lesson progresses from activities where students use their prior knowledge to answer familiar questions.  It then moves to hands-on and real life activities where students work in groups to develop their learning.  Finally students will work independently on their final project to apply their knowledge. 

Instructional Procedures

Introducing the Activity

The students will be instructed to match the animals with the environments in which the animals live using pictures from Animal Adaptations Picture Word Sort.  The students will use their prior knowledge of living and nonliving things in an environment to match the animals to their environments.  Although they may already know where the animals live, this activity will get them thinking about why they live there. The teacher will state, these animals need to find a habitat that allows them to survive in this environment and explain why it is best.  In groups the students will match the animals to their environment.  Then, together discuss why they are in this environment.  Using the Animal Adaptations Word Sort PowerPoint, students will share their reasoning with a whole class discussion. The class will use their discussion to formulate a definition of adaptation. 

Bird Beak Adaptation Lab

The teacher will guide a Bird Adaptation experiment, setting the purpose that animals' body structures help them adapt to their environment. This experiment will be taught by using cooperative groups in a heterogeneous setting. Before beginning the experiment, the teacher will brainstorm with the class different shapes of birds’ beaks, drawing these on the overhead or board. The teacher will then pose the question, “Why are there different shapes of beaks?” She will then draw students' attention to the Bird Beak Adaptation Lab report.  The teacher will clarify any questions about the table at this time. The teacher will give each group the supplies listed in the Bird Adaptation Materials List. She will then instruct the students to use each tool to gather the various foods and record their observations on their table. Once the groups have been given ample time to complete their table, the teacher will discuss their findings as a whole class. She will then ask the students to independently answer the open-ended questions listed at the bottom of the lab report.  Teacher will guide the class in a discussion of the open ended questions, leading students to see that the shape of a bird's beak (the tools) is directly related to the environment that it lives in and the food it is able to acquire.  The expectation is that the students will discover which tools (beaks) work best to gather food for survival and understand that this is an adaptation for birds to survive in their environment.

 Physical and Behavioral Adaptations Chart

Teacher will use the Animal Adaptations PowerPoint to introduce other animal adaptations. Through class discussion, teacher will draw student attention to the difference between physical and behavioral adaptations. Students will again be placed into their heterogeneous cooperative learning groups where they will be assigned one of the animals from the Physical and Behavioral Adaptations chart to research using the Animal Adaptations Facts.  Groups will be required to create a presentation on chart paper illustrating their animal's adaptations.   Upon completing presentations on chart paper, groups will take a gallery walk where they will walk around the room and review other groups' presentations to learn about other animals' adaptations.  The class will then come back together to complete the Physical and Behavioral Adaptations Chart. 

Final Project

Students will design an animal that could survive in the environment they selected from the environment cards.  The animal design must include at least 2 physical adaptations that enable the animal to survive in its environment,  at least 1 behavioral adaptation that enables the animal to survive in its environment, and a description of how each adaptation enables the animal to survive. Students will also be required to draw and name their designed animal.  Teacher can check student understanding by using the Animal Adaptations Final Project Rubric. 

Formative Assessment

Throughout the lesson, use entrance and exit slips to check for understanding.  Encourage students to explain the concept they learned that day.  Use a Gots and Needs chart where students post what they got from the lesson, and what they still need to further their understanding. 

Observe student performance on the Tundra Probe Activity.  Collect and assess the probe. The information each student presents will show you whether the student understands the concept of adaptations.

Use the teacher created quizzes (adapted and regular version) to gauge student understanding.  If you find students are repetitively missing a certain question, go back reteach that concept. 

Related Materials & Resources

Animal Planet Top 10 Animal Adaptations

Brain Pop video about natural selection.  (Content in this video relates to shape of bird beaks)

Bird Beak Website Showing Multiple Birds and the shapes and sizes of their beaks



Amanda Loughner

Date Published

August 05, 2011
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