Fossils 2: Uncovering the Facts

American Association for the Advancement of Science
Type Category
Instructional Materials
Lesson/Lesson Plan
This resource, vetted by NSTA curators, is provided to teachers along with suggested modifications to make it more in line with the vision of the NGSS. While not considered to be “fully aligned,” the resources and expert recommendations provide teachers with concrete examples and expert guidance using the EQuIP rubric to adapted existing resources. Read more here.




This lesson is the second in a two-part series on fossils from ScienceNetLinks. Uncovering the Facts explores the types of information that can be learned by comparing fossils to living organisms. Students will come up with questions to use while "interviewing" the fossil remains of a Protoceratops. In preparation for the interview, students first brainstorm the questions for which they would like answers and then narrow their questions to those that can really be answered by studying the Protoceratops fossils. At the end of the activity, the students will prepare a fossil trading card for the Protoceratops. This lesson is based upon dinosaurs and the ‘real-life Indiana Jones’, so it is a high-interest lesson.


Intended Audience

Educational Level
  • Upper Elementary
Access Restrictions

Free access - The right to view and/or download material without financial, registration, or excessive advertising barriers.

Performance Expectations

3-LS4-1 Analyze and interpret data from fossils to provide evidence of the organisms and the environments in which they lived long ago.

Clarification Statement: Examples of data could include type, size, and distributions of fossil organisms. Examples of fossils and environments could include marine fossils found on dry land, tropical plant fossils found in Arctic areas, and fossils of extinct organisms.

Assessment Boundary: Assessment does not include identification of specific fossils or present plants and animals. Assessment is limited to major fossil types and relative ages.

This resource was not designed to build towards this performance expectation, but can be used to build towards it using the suggestions provided below.

Comments about Including the Performance Expectation
The students examine fossils of a dinosaur and answer questions based on their study. The students come up with a fact about the fossil, give a detail from the fossil that supports their fact, and then present an idea that they have based on this factual information. Questions such as 'What kinds of food did you eat? What kinds of environments do similar organisms like these live in today?' and 'How did you die?' bring in items from the animal’s environment.

Science and Engineering Practices

This resource is explicitly designed to build towards this science and engineering practice.

Comments about Including the Science and Engineering Practice
The students are directed to several websites where they study about the dinosaur fossils, and then they are asked to find a fact from the fossil, give supporting evidence, and then come up with their own ideas about the organism and how it lived long ago.

Disciplinary Core Ideas

This resource is explicitly designed to build towards this disciplinary core idea.

Comments about Including the Disciplinary Core Idea
Students will examine the structure of the fossil and answer questions such as 'What did you look like when you were alive?', 'Could you run fast?', 'Why is the back of your head so big?', 'What kinds of food did you eat?', 'How did you die?', and 'How did you become a fossil?' The student can use clues to predict the environment of the animal and other animals that he might have preyed upon.

Crosscutting Concepts

This resource was not designed to build towards this crosscutting concept, but can be used to build towards it using the suggestions provided below.

Comments about Including the Crosscutting Concept
The students examine the fossil remains, such as tail shape and head shape, and decide if they give clues to how the animal lived. Teachers should point out how the various body parts are substructures that make up the dinosaur body system.

Resource Quality

  • Alignment to the Dimensions of the NGSS: The focus of the lesson is to support students in making sense of the phenomena of fossils of dinosaurs. Student compose questions to "ask" the dinosaur fossils to motivate sense‐making and problem solving. Since different groups will probably come up with different ideas, the idea of scientific argumentation based upon the fossil evidence could easily be added to this lesson to strengthen the practice. Hold a class discussion and let students present their different ideas to the other students. Respectful discussion could stimulate new ideas, as well. Students have to examine the whole skeleton structure as well as the individual bones to think through their answers.

  • Instructional Supports: Since dinosaur bones are not readily available, the online pictures allow the students to experience the phenomena as realistically as possible. The lesson provides real-life opportunities for students to connect their explanation of a phenomenon to fossils. Student groups are encouraged to express, clarify, and represent their ideas and to respond to peer and teacher feedback orally. Students use their foundational ideas about dinosaurs, and then use bone structure to build new ideas about the animal and its environment. The lesson uses scientifically-accurate fossil images, and is appropriate for this grade level. While extension activities are provided, there are no supports for ELL or struggling readers. The resource does not provide a way for the student to connect the instruction to their home or community, but a follow-up activity that lets the students research which fossils can be found in their area would satisfy that requirement.

  • Monitoring Student Progress: The students are using practices with core ideas and crosscutting concepts to make sense of phenomena and to design hypotheses in an unbiased activity. The lesson embeds modeling of locating facts, supporting evidence, and forming ideas for the students. By discussing the first dinosaur skeleton as a group, the teacher is able to formatively assess the level of the students. The dinosaur trading card is a high-interest summative assessment activity, but a rubric to grade the activity is not included in the lesson plan. E-worksheets are provided, but student journaling in addition would allow each student to express their ideas in more detail.

  • Quality of Technological Interactivity: While technology is used for research, it is not interactive with the student.