Top: Camouflage (photo by gaweinvandaele via Pixabay)

Setting the Stage

The environment is everything that surrounds and affects life on earth - plants, humans and other animals, air, soil, water, natural events such as hurricanes, and weather conditions such as temperature, rainfall, sunlight, etc. An adaptation is an evolutionary process that involves a genetic change in an organism that occurs over a long period of time. Due to the helpful nature of genetic change, it is passed down from one generation to the next. Through adaptations, organisms become better able to live in their environment.

This inquiry provides opportunities for students to work together to explore ways in which familiar animals have adapted to live in their environment. Using the process of decomposition, students will explore adaptations that are behavioural (e.g., wolves hunt in packs, deer freeze when they sense danger), physiological (e.g., skunks release a bad smell when threatened) and/or structural (e.g., a fly’s feet are designed to allow it to walk upside down). Learning from these explorations will be recorded in ways that support sharing with others.

This inquiry could begin from:

    Cover of The Hippo-NOT-amus by Tony and Jan Payne
    (cover image by Let’s Talk Science)

  • Reading a book such as The Hippo-NOT-amus by Tony and Jan Payne. Discuss using questions such as
    • "When you look at the picture on the cover of this book and hear the title, what do you think the book will be about?”
    • "Do you think a hippopotamus can be something other than a hippopotamus? Why or why not?”
    • "Why are the animals in the book so different from each other?”
    • "Why do you think none of the “changes” that Portly tried to make were successful?”
  • Watching a video such as Nature's Best Camouflages (The "Where's Wally" of Nature). Discuss using questions such as:
    • “What are some ways in which the animals in the video are camouflaged?” (e.g., some look like something else, like a dead leaf or a flower; some are coloured or are able to change colour so that they blend into their backgrounds)
    • "How does camouflage help the animals in this video survive?"
    • "What are some ways that humans try to imitate some animal adaptations? Why do we do these things?” (e.g., humans imitate the snowshoe hare when we use snowshoes to walk on snow; humans imitate aquatic birds when we attach swim fins to our feet to help us move through water; people in the military wear camouflaged clothing to make them less visible to their enemies)

Materials and Preparation (Click to Open)


  • tools and materials for producing a book (e.g., paper, pencils, crayons, digital applications for writing)


  • Download and print provocation picture (if using)
  • Download What is an Insect? by Let's Talk Science
  • Download and print pictures of animals (if using)

What To Do

Students develop and apply the skills of collaboration and communication and the skills and processes of computational thinking to learn about ways in which animals are adapted to live in their environments.


  • Clarify understanding of the term “adaptations”
    • Educator facilitates the discussion using visuals and probing/clarifying questions.

    Cover of What is an Insect?
    (cover image by Let’s Talk Science)

  • Listen to the book What is an Insect? and discuss how insects are adapted to live in their environments.
    • Educator facilitates the discussion using photos and questions from the book, focusing on how each insect part is an adaptation.
  • Discuss how the book helps their understanding of insects’ adaptations (e.g., by breaking the insect down into smaller parts – decomposition) and that these adaptations are partly what makes them identifiable as insects
    • Educator wonders aloud if we could learn about other animals using the process of decomposition.
    • Educator uses the pattern of the What is an Insect? book to engage in a “think aloud” about adaptations using humans as an example.
  • Collaborate to pick an animal to decompose.
    • Educator may wish to facilitate this by providing pictures of familiar animals for students to pick from. Pictures should include animals that have observable adaptations such as frogs, ducks, or giraffes. Students are encouraged to see how adaptations can be ways in which the animal behaves (e.g., a wasp or hornet will sting when it feels threatened), a physiological or body process (e.g., when animals hibernate their heart and breathing rates slow down and their body temperature drops) or a structural adaptation (e.g., the webbed feet of ducks and geese allow them to move quickly and easily through the water)
  • Communicate their learning in a book based on What is an Insect? (e.g., organized by decomposing their animal to explain its adaptations).


Observe and document, using anecdotal comments, photos and/or video recordings, students’ ability to:

  • Communicate - students use active listening strategies to understand an oral text (e.g., to acquire information about insect adaptations)
  • Collaborate - students work collaboratively to complete a task (e.g., recognize and identify personal strengths (e.g., in visual arts) and acknowledge strengths and interests of others (e.g., another person’s writing abilities) when putting together their book
  • Communicate - students write short texts in simple forms to communicate their thinking (e.g., students create a book to share their learning about animal adaptations)
  • Communicate - students use principles of design to create art works on a theme or topic (e.g., create drawings to illustrate their book on animal adaptations)
  • Use Computational Thinking Skills and Processes - students use computational thinking processes when exploring animal adaptations (e.g., the process of decomposition helps students to break an animal down into smaller segments in order to explore its adaptations).

Co-constructing Learning

Saying, Doing, Representing

Educator Interactions:
Responding, Challenging

Students use active listening strategies to acquire information about insect adaptations.

  • “Adaptations are what allows a living thing to survive in its environment. What are some ways in which insects are adapted to live in their environments?”
  • “How does the book classify the adaptations? What other ways might you sort and classify them?” (e.g., adaptations related to feeding, to movement)
  • “Does the book use the word “adaptations"? Why do you think the author did this?”

Students work collaboratively to complete a task (a book)

  • “What are some things that need to be done to write your book? How can you sort these tasks into categories (e.g., writing the story, doing the art work, checking the information)?”
  • “What are some tasks on the list that you think you could do well? What are some that you know someone in your group would do really well?”
  • “How will your group decide how to complete the book making sure everyone has tasks to complete?”

Students write short texts in simple forms to communicate their thinking about their animal’s adaptations.

  • “What are some of the features of a non-fiction text that we need to include in our book?” (e.g., it contains facts not a made-up story; it has illustrations to help readers know what something looks like; important words are in a special kind of print)
  • “How does the Insect book help you to decide how to organize your information?”
  • “How will your group decide what information is important to include in the book, both in words and in pictures?”

Students using principles of design to create drawings to illustrate their book on animal adaptations.

  • “Illustrations are an important part of non-fiction texts. How will you decide what illustrations to include in your book?”
  • “How might you use the repetition of colour and shape in patterns as a way to show an animal’s adaptation?”
  • “How will you make sure that your illustrations are proportional? (e.g., is the illustration of the snowshoe hare’s foot proportional to its body?)

Students use the computational thinking process of decomposition to break an animal down into smaller segments in order to explore its adaptations.

  • “How does the process of decomposition help us with our task?” (e.g., we can break our animal down into parts to explore its adaptations)
  • “What are some adaptations that you have discovered that are located on your animal’s head? What adaptations are found on other parts of your animal’s body?”
  • “How would you describe your animal’s most noticeable adaptation?”
  • “What do you think is your animal’s most important adaptation? Why do you think that?”
  • “When we read the Insects book we were able to make some generalizations about insects (e.g., they all have 3 body parts). From the information you gathered, what generalizations can you make about other animals like the one you explored?”

Cross-Curricular Connections


  • Ask questions and explore a variety of possible answers to those questions (e.g., ask questions about how animals have adapted to changes in their environment brought on by seasonal changes, and how humans mimic these adaptations)
  • Identify sources of information (e.g., print and digital sources of information about animals and how they are adapted to live in their environment)
  • Locate relevant information from a variety of sources (e.g., explore non-fiction texts and online web sources)

Mathematical Thinking

  • Apply developing reasoning skills such as pattern recognition, classification (e.g., all humans have 1 pair of ears, 1 pair of eyes, 1 pair of arms and 1 pair of legs)

Visual Arts

  • Produce two-and three-dimensional art works to communicate ideas and understandings (e.g., use illustrations to help explain animal adaptations)

Extending the Learning

If your students are interested in learning more, the following may provoke their curiosity:

  • Some students may want to explore unusual animal behaviours like the ones described in books such as Have You Ever Seen an Octopus With a Broom? or Tooling Around: Crafty Creatures and the Tools They Use, or in the Tool Use videos at here!
  • Cover of A Beetle is Shy by Dianna Hutts Aston
    (cover image by Let’s Talk Science)

    Educators can facilitate discussions with students about these behaviours and how they help the animals to survive in their environment (e.g., are they a behavior, a body process or a structural adaptation?).

  • Explore other animal adaptations such as courtship, parenting and moulting. Students may wish to watch the following videos as a starting point for exploring behaviours such as:
    • how some birds use sight and sound to attract a mate - video
    • maternal behaviors - how one otter mother takes care of her baby - video
    • bird parenting skills video
    • dedicated dads video
    • moulting video
  • Videos such as this and books such as A Beetle is Shy by Dianna Hutts Aston allow students to explore a particular adaptation or animal in greater detail.