Brief Description:

Students learn about different habitats and the adaptations animals need in order to survive there. They then use their knowledge to design animal that can survive in different conditions.

Grades: 4, 5, 6

Time: 1 hour

Keywords: adaptations, habitats, environmental engineering, biology, bioengineering, animals

Lesson Objectives

  • Introduce different habitats around the world
  • Students will learn how different adaptations relate to certain habitats


  • Pencils
  • Paper
  • Colored pencils/markers


    1. Define habitat and adaptation
      1. A habitat is the natural home or environment of an animal, plant, or other organism.
      2. An adaptation is a change or the process of change by which an organism or species becomes better suited to its environment.
    2. Define and show pictures of various habitats around the world using the powerpoint attached in resources. As you go through the various habitats, have students brainstorm what kind of adaptations might be useful for survival in those locations.
      1. Rainforest: a luxuriant, dense forest rich in biodiversity, found typically in tropical areas with consistently heavy rainfall.


  • Useful adaptations: occupying a specific niche, camouflage, bright colors, ability to climb


    1. Ocean: a very large expanse of sea, in particular, each of the main areas into which the sea is divided geographically. (subdivided into zones based on depth and distance from shore)
      1. Useful adaptations: ability to swim, breath underwater, survive in salt water, and survive under the pressure of the deep ocean
    2. Desert: a dry, barren area of land, especially one covered with sand, that is characteristically desolate, waterless, and without vegetation.
      1. Useful adaptations: ability to retain water (kidney adaptations), not expending energy, ability to survive extreme temperature changes, being nocturnal (avoid peak heat of the day)
    3. Tundra: extremely cold climate, low biotic diversity, simple vegetation structure, limited of drainage, short season of growth and reproduction, energy and nutrients in the form of dead organic material
      1. Useful adaptations: ability to survive in cold climates without many food options
    4. Wetlands: land consisting of marshes or swamps; saturated land.
      1. Useful adaptations: ability to survive in both land and water, ability to swim, ability to survive in both fresh and saltwater
  1. For this activity, students will be presented with certain situations and they have to design an animal and its adaptations that would best enable it to survive in that situation. Emphasize that a variety of different adaptations would work.
  2. Present each problem individually and allow them to draw for 5 minutes. Then regroup and have some students present their ideas. These design challenges are on the powerpoint and include examples of real animals with adaptations suited for these challenges. The list of challenges is as follows:
    1. You live deep at the bottom of the ocean. There isn’t much light or food. What adaptations would you have to have in order to survive?
    2. You are an animal that eats fruit from high tree tops. What would you look like? How would you do this?
    3. As a small insect, you are an easy snack for larger predators. What sort of adaptation would hide you from hungry animals?
    4. You drink from a flower with a long neck? How might you reach the nectar?
    5. As a bird in the tropics, you are trying to find a mate. What sort of adaptations may attract a mate to you?
    6. How does a plant attract pollinators?

Extensions and Modifications:


  • Have students build their animals out of Lego instead of drawing them.


      • Provides context to introduction to building
      • Covers structural building, but more interestingly introduces students to building functional and sturdy joints


  • Backyard Animal Adaptations:


      • If students enjoyed the above activity, this extension is a good continuation and can be used for the following full class period.
      • Ask students to think of what sort of habitat their backyard is (think about the amount of space, the availability of food, temperature, places an animal could nest, and dangers). What adaptations do animals need to survive there?
      • If you were to discover a new species in your backyard, what would it look like? What sort of adaptations would help it survive?
      • Using pipe cleaners, feathers, cloth, googly eyes, glue, string, tape, popsicle sticks, LEGOs, and any other available building materials, allow students to design and build what this new species would look like.
      • Present each new animal to the class and have the students explain what adaptations their animal has, what it eats, where it lives, how it behaves, and how it moves.


  • Whale/Sea Creature Adaptations:


    • Introduce the concept of animal adaptations, with a focus on whales. (e.g., blowholes for breathing, blubber for warmth and feeding in winter, baleen teeth for eating, fins/flippers/flukes for moving though water, warm blood for keeping warm).
    • Review different types of adaptations that would help different creatures survive in the ocean. (e.g., clam shells for protection, camouflaging fish, and ink-squirting squids)
    • Have students get into their groups come up with a sea creature that the group wants to design. Students should complete a Sea Creature Design Worksheet (See Resources).
    • Distribute Legos and allow students to start building.
    • When students present, have them tell you what they named their creature and all of the adaptations that it has.


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