Lesson Ideas

Hands-On Lesson on Natural Selection for Middle- and High School students

Natural selection is a vital teaching standard in any biology or environmental science class. This lesson plan can help bring the concept to life for students. It can be adapted for a wide range of levels from middle school to upper high school.

By the end of this lesson, students will be able to

  1. Explain how natural selection can cause change in a population over time.
  2. Differentiate between a survival trait and a reproductive trait.
  3. Describe lifestyle modifications that reduce a person’s carbon footprint.

Part 1: Introductory Videos and Discussion

Have students watch one of the following videos depending on their level.

This video is suitable for high school students.
This video is suitable for middle school students.

After watching the videos, discuss the following question: “How do living organisms survive in a changing environment?” This can be done with a think-pair-share and as a whole class.

Part 2: Hands-On Activity

Have students participate in an engaging hands-on activity where they will mimic birds and experience natural selection for themselves. Full instructions can be found in the lesson plan. Students will have different tools that will simulate their “beaks”. In each round, they will have to try to get as much food as they can. You will want to discuss with students the importance of genetic variation after each round.

Find the full discussion guide in the lesson plan.

Part 3: Reading Activity

Individually or in groups, have students read the article How will dragonflies adapt to a warmer Earth? published in Science Journal for Kids and Teens. Have the students answer the “Check Your Understanding” questions at the end of the article (teacher’s key available for teachers on the same page).

How will dragonflies adapt to a warmer Earth?

Extension Activities

  1. Students can use the iNaturalist website to research different types of dragonflies. Students can write a short paragraph predicting what might happen to the dragonfly they chose if the trend of climate change continues.
  2. Introduce students to the idea of carbon footprint and how that relates to this article. Students can calculate their own carbon footprint using a calculator and brainstorm ideas on how to reduce it.

A few more ideas for summative assignments depending on your students’ needs include:

  1. Students can work in pairs or groups to create a poster that explains how living organisms survive on a warming Earth. Their poster should include key ideas and vocabulary from the activities in the lesson. They should support what they have written with pictures. The poster can be on a whiteboard, poster board, or large piece of paper.
  2. Students can also write a letter to a local politician persuading them to take action against climate change so that organisms aren’t negatively impacted by changes in their environment.
  3. Students can make posters to hang up around their school and/or community promoting simple ways to reduce their carbon footprint.

There’s more

Check all our other hands-on lessons and distance learning lessons. Find more articles about biodiversity, evolution, climate change, and carbon footprint.

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