Fossilization and Adaptation: Activities in Paleontology

Brent H. Breithaupt
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.



Activity III: Adaptation focuses on the concept that organisms are adapted to specific environments. Students choose an organism and create a picture story of how that organism is adapted to its environment. Then, they create another picture story of that organism in another environment (which is significantly different from the organism's true environment). A subsequent discussion focuses on the chances of the organisms' survival in the new environments (and why or why not they might be able to survive there). In a variation of this activity, students write a story about an organism that lived long ago, making claims about what would happen to that organism if the environment changed (if its needs could not be met). The lesson wraps up with a discussion about the types of environmental change and their impacts on organisms.

Intended Audience

Educational Level
  • Grade 3
Access Restrictions

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

Performance Expectations

3-LS4-3 Construct an argument with evidence that in a particular habitat some organisms can survive well, some survive less well, and some cannot survive at all.

Clarification Statement: Examples of evidence could include needs and characteristics of the organisms and habitats involved. The organisms and their habitat make up a system in which the parts depend on each other.

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
Students create a story about an organism in its environment based on evidence. Then they make claims about how survival of the organism may be affected if the organism is in another type of environment. Students are asked to provide their reasoning for their thinking. A class discussion based on photos of different types of environments (and the adaptations required to survive there) reinforces the idea of changes in environment and their affect on organisms. Students will need prior lessons about the needs of organisms and adaptations to complete this lesson and Performance Expectation. The teacher will need to provide resources (books, videos, websites) for students to research specific living and fossil organisms and their environments as these are not provided by the resource. It is recommended that students complete this lesson on an organism in their local habitat (e.g., insects, birds, or mammals that can be observed outside on the school grounds).

Science and Engineering Practices

This resource appears to be designed to build towards this science and engineering practice, though the resource developer has not explicitly stated so.

Comments about Including the Science and Engineering Practice
Although the language of making claims based on evidence is not specifically addressed in this lesson, this is what students are asked to do as they describe what they think will happen to organisms if their environment changes drastically. The teacher can introduce the language of claims and evidence, and use it throughout this lesson.

Disciplinary Core Ideas

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

Comments about Including the Disciplinary Core Idea
By creating their stories based on evidence and reasoning, students explore what happens to organisms when their environments change and they can no longer get what they need to survive.

Crosscutting Concepts

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

Comments about Including the Crosscutting Concept
Although cause and effect is not explicitly stated in the lesson, the teacher can explain this crosscutting concept and how it relates to changes in the environment (causes) that affect organisms ability to survive there (effects).

Resource Quality

  • Alignment to the Dimensions of the NGSS: The lesson aligns strongly with the performance expectation and the disciplinary core idea. The practice and crosscutting concepts are implicit, but can be easily woven into the lesson by the teacher.

  • Instructional Supports: Supports for all students would need to be added. Multiple and varied learning experiences are not provided, but the teacher can enhance the lesson using books, pictures and videos. It will also be important for the teacher to explain why it is important to study this topic (e.g., we need to understand how changes in environment affect organisms in order to grasp how and why living things change over time).

  • Monitoring Student Progress: Evidence is gathered on progress toward the performance expectation (student stories). However, no formative or summative assessments (or rubrics) are included.

  • Quality of Technological Interactivity: - none -