Cats and Their Coats

Big Cats Initiative Dr. Luke Dollar, Conservation Scientist Diana Nelson, B.S. Education, M.S. Aeronautics, Master Teacher K-12 Angela M. Cowan, Education Specialist and Curriculum Designer Elizabeth Wolzak, National Geographic Society
Type Category
Instructional Materials
Photograph , Sound , Lesson/Lesson Plan , Activity
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.



Students view pictures, listen to sounds, and gather information from the National Geographic website to learn how the coats of big cats; lions, tigers, and leopards, help them survive in their habitats. Students then illustrate a coat for themselves that can help camouflage them in a chosen setting, and present their drawings explaining the patterns they chose and why they chose them.

Intended Audience

Educational Level
  • Early Elementary
Access Restrictions

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

Performance Expectations

K-LS1-1 Use observations to describe patterns of what plants and animals (including humans) need to survive.

Clarification Statement: Examples of patterns could include that animals need to take in food but plants do not; the different kinds of food needed by different types of animals; the requirement of plants to have light; and, that all living things need water.

Assessment Boundary: none

This resource appears to be designed to build towards this performance expectation, though the resource developer has not explicitly stated so.

Comments about Including the Performance Expectation
In this lesson students are describing actual patterns in the coats of big cats in order to understand the role of camouflage in survival. It is implicit that these animals need these specific coat patterns in order to survive in their particular environment. In this way, this lesson describes an interdependent relationship between big cats and their environment. A stronger relationship to this Performance Expectation could be achieved by having students describe the consequences of placing the animal in a different environment where it's camouflage would not be effective.

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
In the final portion of the lesson, students are asked to design and draw their own camouflage and to explain the design and its function in relationship to the setting in which it would be used. This final activity is essential as it allows students to utilize the information they have obtained, apply it to their own designs, and communicate their information both through drawings and oral explanation.

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

Comments about Including the Science and Engineering Practice
Utilize the suggested guiding questions within the lesson to fully achieve this practice. Provide appropriate supports for data collection and recording according to the developmental needs of the students (i.e.writing frames and or graphic organizers).

Disciplinary Core Ideas

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

Comments about Including the Disciplinary Core Idea
Teachers need to emphasize the idea that animals need food to survive and they obtain their food from their environment. The big cats discussed in this lesson are carnivores. Their physical features, such as their coats, enable them to obtain food more easily because of camouflage.

Crosscutting Concepts

This resource is explicitly designed to build towards this crosscutting concept.

Comments about Including the Crosscutting Concept
Be sure to follow the lesson in its entirety in order to fully address this Crosscutting Concept. The final activity is essential in order to allow students to identify and compare the specific coat patterns of cats and features in the environment. To reinforce this Crosscutting Concept, have students group the drawings into clusters (on the floor or wall) and explain the reasons for their choices.

Resource Quality

  • Alignment to the Dimensions of the NGSS: Students analyze and interpret data about cat coats from photos and videos. They engage in argument by using evidence from observations to justify their reasoning, and they use the information they obtain to evaluate the effectiveness of the cat's camouflage. By creating their own "coat" students use what they have learned to create and share a coat design for an environment of their choosing. ETS1.B is addressed through the design and drawing as students design and share a camouflage coat. The Crosscutting Concept of Patterns is apparent both in the discussion during viewing the pictures and videos and in the design challenge.

  • Instructional Supports: A solid internet connection and proper software in order to play video and audio is necessary for this lesson. Students are engaged in authentic scenarios and given a task to complete based on the information they gain throughout the lesson. The lesson is developmentally appropriate and provides opportunities for students to engage in discourse with feedback and present their own ideas with justification.

  • Monitoring Student Progress: General assessment of the intended goals of the lesson is easily achieved through monitoring students' discussion, their answers to guided questions, and their final drawings and explanations. It is also quite easy to revisit portions of the lesson in order to strengthen student understanding.

  • Quality of Technological Interactivity: The lesson is fully dependent on web connectivity, however, students do not interact with the media other than to view it, engage in discussion about it, and refer to it when designing their own cat coats and environments.