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Why do certain animals live where they do?

Course: Science

Unit: Ecology

Grade Level: 6th grade

Duration: 40 minutes

State Standard:

12.B.3b – Compare and assess features of organisms for their adaptive, competitive and survival potential (e.g. appendages, reproductive rates, camouflage, defense structures).

Learning Goals:

1. Students will be able to construct a picture of an organism that is well suited to live in their specific environment.

2. Students will be able to explain why their organism is well suited for their specific environment.

3. Students will be able to identify specific needs for an organism’s survival in an environment (i.e. shelter, temperature regulation, protection from predators and a means to catch and eat food)




I will open my lesson today as I open most other lessons. We will review what was discussed yesterday. We happened to discuss the water cycle, so we will do a brief activity on overheads to review what was learned.

Introducing the Lesson

From there we will have a brief discussion of organisms and where certain ones are found. We will go back to our fish tank example (from the first day of the ecology unit) and discuss what a fish has structurally that makes it well suited to live where it does. We will also brainstorm other organisms in nature that have specific features that make it suited to live in its environment. We will put these ideas on the board.


I will then distribute the assignment (attached) and as a class we will read through the directions. Once any questions are answered, the students will have the rest of class time to work on their assignment of drawing an organism that is well suited for a specific environment, and writing a paragraph about why it is well suited for that environment. If the students do not finish in class, they may take the assignment home as homework. It is due the next day in class.



I will grade the students creatures and paragraphs based on how well they explained why their creature would be best suited for the chosen environment. I will not concentrate on artistic ability, nor will I be looking for feasible adaptations. I will only concern myself with making sure that the student made an organism that is well suited to live in a certain environment. I will use the 5 questions on the worksheet as a guide. If students answered all the questions completely and competently, they will receive credit for the assignment.

As for quizzes and tests, I will include questions more realistic and concrete such as, "What about a giraffes physical features makes it well suited to live in its environment?" Or I could ask, "What are some ways that real animals use to avoid predators?"


I taught this lesson at Jefferson Middle School in Champaign in the first week of my 6th grade ecology unit. I have 3 science classes, 1st, 3rd and 8th periods. I had seen a similar activity done before. I made the activity sheet up myself, modeling it after the one I had seen previously. My classes have between 27-30 students, probably half male and half female. I would say that the classes are about 75% white and 25% black students. The kids are very energetic and eager to see some new things being done in their classroom. They are full of creative ideas and love to draw and color. This activity was great for them. It got them to work quietly in class and to think and apply some of the ecological ideas we were talking about. 8th hour I have an aide who helps out some of my LD and BD students. This is one of my most difficult classes as far as discipline goes. This activity really seemed to interest them and they did a really great job with it.

Learning Goals:

I think this activity really got the students thinking about what features help an organism in different environments. Having some structure to discussing some adaptations that animals have in the real world that help them survive in their environments was a good solid point. From there, the freedom and creativity allow the students to take these ideas and run with them. I can then take the students’ creativity and writing and assess them to see what was learned.


This activity is really easy to set up. All you need is copies of the assignment and blank paper. I used 8 x 11 blank paper. You could also use larger poster sized paper if you wanted. I had some colored pencils and markers available to the students. I also told them the day before that they would need to bring something to color with to class. Most of them did, so it was easy to distribute the materials.

Conducting the Activity:

In middle school, I have learned that you need to repeat things many times. I begin every class with a mini review of what was learned the day before. This took away a little of their work time in class, but I didn’t have a problem having them finish the assignment up as homework.

The opening discussion was very good in all my classes. I got better as the day went on with knowing exactly how to prompt a student to get the response I wanted for certain questions. I used an overhead that I had shown the class on the first day of the unit. It is a picture of a fish tank. It has fish and coral and a starfish and some plants. It very life like and the students really liked it and responded well to it. I had previously used it to begin discussing ecology, but this time, I used it to look at some structural things that help a fish to survive in it’s environment. This really got the student involved in the discussion. I also try to call on students who don’t have their hands raised so that everyone can participate. Having that image up so that everyone can see is helpful in aiding a student who is having difficulty speaking in front of the class.

So after the opening discussion of the fish and other organisms that are well suited for their environments, I passed out the directions. I chose to read them as a class. This seemed to really help. It gives students an opportunity to work on reading and also makes sure that everyone has an opportunity to hear what they are going to do. I just ask for volunteers to read and I usually get a bunch of raised hands.

My first class, I didn’t do a very good job at explaining what they needed to have in their finished project. I wanted each student to choose an environment and to write which one they choose on the sheet with their picture. Well, I didn’t make this very clear, and there were many questions. The next class I was a little more clear, and by the third class, I took a minute to explain it and things went smoothly.

I simply allowed students to work on their own for about 15-20 minutes of class. They seemed really into what they were doing. I even had some students in 8th period coming in asking if we were drawing animals. They said that they heard they were doing a cool activity drawing animals in science today and they were already excited. That was a really nice thing to hear. I was glad to know that the students enjoyed the activity. As the students worked individually, there was a little chatter, but it was minimal. I walked around to ask students about what they were doing to get them to think about the issues at hand. I asked them why their creature had certain characteristics and told them to tell me about them in their paragraph.

I really had no mishaps in any of my classes. The students were engaged and well behaved.


I actually had my students present their creatures the next day in class. They were very eager to get up in front of their peers and share what they created. I had each one tell about the environment they choose and then to explain why their animal has the features it does. How do their features help them to catch food or to avoid predators in their environment? We discussed these things and then compared different animals in the same environments.


The students did a really nice job on the activity overall. I was impressed by their participation during the class discussion and also by their hard work during class work time. Some of the final products were really above and beyond what I had expected.

I haven’t quizzed or tested them on this information yet, but I think that they would do well if asked a question about organisms being suited for their environments. I plan to definitely include some questions over this activity and its concepts on the ecology test.


I think that this activity went really well. It got the 6th graders really involved and excited. They wanted to be creative and they wanted to share their ideas. This willingness to participate allowed them to learn about organisms and how they fit into their environments. Some of the adaptations were very creative, but some were real life examples of ways to avoid predation and to regulate temperature. They had ideas of camouflage and ways to catch prey. The students really showed their knowledge of the topic in their projects. I would definitely do this activity again with a middle school class. They really seemed to enjoy it. I think that getting students involved and participating with fun activities is a great way to get students thinking and learning at the middle school level.

I would change a few things on the work sheet for the future. I would be more specific as to where I want them to draw and where I want their paragraph to be. I would also explicitly explain that they need to label their drawing with the number of the environment they have chosen.


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Name ______________________

Period ______ Date ___________

Why do certain animals live where they do?

Different organisms are better suited to live in different environments. Today, you will be creating an organism that will best survive in a specific environment. This does not have to be a real animal that we know of today. Use your imagination and be creative. Think about the environment and how the animal you create will interact with it.

What will it eat?

How will it get/catch its food?

Where will your animal take shelter?

How will your animal stay safe from predators and other dangers?

How will your animal stay warm or cool?

Draw a picture of your animal on the paper provided. Also, write a short paragraph explaining why your creature is best suited to survive in your environment. (You may choose from the following environments.)


1. This environment is very dark and cold. There are large mountains as far as the eye can see. There are small green plants covering most of the ground that would make a nice dinner. There are also a few large trees scattered throughout the area. There are some caves in the sides of the mountains, but in the caves live huge bears with sharp teeth and claws. The bears can’t see colors very well, but they can smell their prey from a mile away. Watch out, because the bears will eat you for dinner!

2. This environment is very hot and sunny. There are many large trees around that help to create some shade. In the trees, however, live large birds with huge beaks and claws. The birds swoop down from their perch and grab the first animal that they can see. Whichever animal stands out the most the bird will see and eat for dinner. There is also a large lake nearby. It is filled with fish and microorganisms that would make a good nutritious meal for your animal.

3. This environment is hot during the day and cold during the night. There are no trees at all. There are many rocks and empty caves around the area. There are small rodents that live underground in tunnels that might be tasty. There are also some small plants that you could eat, but they all have large thorns. There are also large reptiles with thick skin or armor that might want to eat you for lunch, so watch out!

4. This environment is hot and wet. It rains almost every single day here. There are a few small shade trees and the ground is covered with green plants that you could eat. There are quite a few dead trees lying on the ground. There are also deadly insects that live in the area. They aren’t big enough to eat you, but be careful, they carry a deadly disease that you can get if they bite you.

5. This environment is very, very cold. There is snow covering the ground year-round. Plants are scarce here. There are very few small green plants growing up through the snow. It is very windy in this environment. There are many small rodents that live in tunnels under the snow. These rodents are very quick, but if you can catch them, they make a very nice lunch.


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Click here to see some actual student work from this lesson


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