This lesson focuses on students understanding how organisms' specialized structures and variations work with the environment to help them survive.
- Discovery School
There is a great lesson plan called Reptile
Adaptations that would be a valuable precursor to this lesson or a
Background for Teachers
This lesson focuses on students understanding how organisms’ specialized structures and variations work with the environment to help
them survive. Previous discussion of each of these terms separately is
advised, but not necessary. If you have not taught each of these, take it a
little slower in the beginning and give more examples of the vocabulary
terms in the discussion. This is a good lesson to help students see how
they all work in tandem.
Discuss planet Earth and how it has many different types of habitats.
Describe how different locations on Earth have different weather
conditions that change throughout the year. Introduce students to the
Planet Wakyabi—a large planet drawn on a poster board. It shows
mountains, marshes, volcanoes, jungles, deserts, and more, identified in a key. Students will describe the different landmasses by the key symbols
and name them. Students come up with the different habitats in the world
while you write the information on the poster. It is the students’ job to
inhabit the planet with animal, humanoid, and insect life forms. Each
student is assigned a different landmass and a different type of species to
create. Discuss the need to pay attention to the environment assigned and
give their species particular specialized structures and variations to
ensure its survival. When finished, share with the class.
Intended Learning Outcomes
1. Use Science Process and Thinking Skills
4. Communicate Effectively Using Science Language and Reasoning
Invitation to Learn
Ask, “If tomorrow a strange chemical filled the air and we all
suddenly grew massive coats of fur that couldn’t be shaved off, how
might that change the way we live?” Have the students consider the
question for a moment silently and then call on students for answers.
Listen for students moving to colder climates because it is too hot with
their new fur coats. See if they pick up on how that variation might
change what type of environment we choose to live in. Transition into
the lesson. Refer to the opening question at the end of the lesson to
determine student understanding of this concept. An optional Quick
Introduction for Planet Wakyabi is provided.
- Brainstorm the Earth’s many different types of habitats. List them
on the board as students brainstorm (e.g., hot, cold, wet, humid,
dry, rocky, flat, marsh areas, etc.). Discuss how different
locations on the planet have different weather conditions and how
it changes throughout the year as we rotate around the sun. Some
areas are always consistent—which ones? (The poles and the
equator—always freezing and always hot.)
- Now introduce them to the Planet Wakyabi —a large
planet drawn on a poster board. Show mountains, marshes,
volcanoes, jungles, deserts, and more, using a key and symbols.
Don’t describe the different areas beforehand. Instead, have the
students describe what the different symbols probably stand for.
As they decide, write what they are on the key. Guide the
discussion so you end up with different landmasses with various
habitats. Discuss the weather of each area and what it would be
like according to where it is (close to the poles/equator, etc.).
Write the description on the map. Choose students to name the
landmasses like countries.
- Discuss the probability of Planet Wakyabi having many different
types of organisms living there. The organisms have interesting
variations and specialized structures that allow them to survive on
the different parts of the world. Imagine that this is a world like
ours was millions of years ago—no cars, planes, refrigerators,
roads. What kinds of specialized structures would humans,
animals, and insects need to survive?
- It is the students’ job to populate Planet Wakyabi. They will be
creating a Humanoid, Animal, or Insect, Animal, life form to populate one of the
landforms on the planet Wakyabi. Each student is assigned a
different type of species to create (for variety). You can decide if
you want to assign landmasses or allow students to decide where
the new life form is going to live. Pay attention to the
environment and give their species particular specialized
structures and variations to ensure its survival.
- Students must add at least three specialized structures to their
animal in order to help it survive. When they are finished
creating and coloring their animal, insect, or humanoid, write a
descriptive summary using the Organizm Description handout
about their organism (one to two paragraphs), describing
the three main variations. Remind them to use vocabulary terms
in their summary.
- Share the new species with the group. Use the discussion time to
point out how the environment, specialized structures, and
variations all work together to help the species organism survive.
Display pictures and descriptions in the hall with Planet Wakyabi.
Strategies for Diverse Learners
ESL/Special Needs Students
- It is easier for some students to take an animal that already exists
and make changes to it instead of coming up with an entirely new
species. Some students need a brainstorming session to help them
think of neat specialized structures—get their ideas flowing with
questions such as, “If you could be any animal, what would it be?
Why? What can it do that you like? Maybe you should put that
on your animal? What other animals do you like?” Their new
species may end up a hodge-podge of many other existing
Gifted and Talented
Allow students that are caught up in the project or finish early to
create plant species or oceanic organisms for Planet Wakyabi. Be
sure to include a written description of the new organism.
- Students write fictional stories about the organism they created
for Planet Wakyabi and an adventure on the planet. As a class,
brainstorm a dangerous plot that threatens the survival of all
organisms on the planet. Students write individual stories about
what happens to them and how their organism survives using its
variations and specialized structures. Read stories aloud and
compare. Have students vote on their favorite ending.
- This lesson is a good opening/connecting lesson into a science
unit on landforms. Students enjoy revisiting this planet and
talking about how the environments and their inhabitants change
with earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, erosion, etc.
- Study the great waves of immigration the United States felt at the
beginning of the 1800's and the 1900's and discuss how the "melting pot" of America mixed variations in humans
that were separate for hundreds of years.
- Create a graphic organizer with three triangles around a
center triangle. Have each outer triangle say the words
specialized structures, variations, environment and the
inside one say survival. The students describe and give
an example of what each of these words are and explain
how they work with each other.
- Students take their species home and share it with their family. A
sibling or parent can help add more variations to share with the
- Students take a blank organism form home and invite their family
members to create a new species that lives in the Wakyabi oceans.
- Have students research the wildest specialized structure they can
find on the Internet of an animal, plant, or insect. Share with the
- Students complete The Planet Wakyabi Mix and Match for
- Provide the definitions of specialized structure, variations,
environment, and survival. Have the students write a short story
about a fictional pair of animals. They must correctly use the four
terms in context to demonstrate understanding of meaning and
how they work together.