Charting Diversity


Charting Diversity (adapted lesson of Project Learning Tree): In this lesson, students will explore the amazing diversity of life on Earth and discover how plants and animals are adapted for survival. This activity provides a basis for understanding why there are so many different species and the value of biodiversity.


  • Copy of student pages
  • Large paper, cardboard, or multiple papers taped together
  • 3 Paper lunch bags or other containers 
  • Resources to research animal and plants

Copy the sample chart (see below) onto a large piece of paper. Make enough copies of the student pages for each student. Gather resources for students to do research on plants and animals (field guides or other books, encyclopedias, access to credible websites).

What to do:

  1. Ask students to name different types of environments in which animals live, and write these on a piece of paper (ex: forest, desert, arctic, ocean). Ask students if the animals living in these environments have special characteristics – or adaptations – that enables them to survive in their environment or habitat (ex: fish swim, antelopes run really fast). Tell students they are going to do an activity where they’ll look at animals and determine how each is different and has special adaptations to that environment. 
  2. Have students copy their chart (see below) onto a piece of paper
  3. Give each student a copy of the student pages and 3 lunch bags (or other containers) and have them label each bag or container as follows:
    • Where It Lives
    • How It Moves
    • What It “Wears”
  4. Have students cut out individual squares in the first column and put them into the “Where It Lives” bag. Then have them cut out individual squares in the second column and have them put it into the “How It Moves” bag, cut squares in the third column to be put in the “What It ‘Wears’” bag. Have them shake the bags to mix up squares. 
  5. Have students take a square from each bag. Then, from top to bottom, have them write the word associated with the picture in the appropriate columns on their chart. They should do this until all bags are empty. When they are done, they can put the squares back into the appropriate bags.
  6. Time for research! Explain to students that they will be completing the “What Am I” column by filling in the name of an animal species that has all three of the characteristics listed in a row. 
    • For example, if a row lists forest, flies, exoskeleton, the student should research to find one or more examples of an animal living in the forest with those two adaptations.
    • If there is a combination of habitat and adaptations that students cannot identify (for example, an animal in water that has fur and hops), they can pick another characteristic from their bag to replace the characteristics that do not work. 
  7. When they are done with their research, have students present their findings. For each species they identify, students should say how that species is adapted for the environment they live in. 

Variation:  Plants! 

  • Ask students whether plants are specially adapted for different environments (when thinking of plants, remind them to include trees, shrubs, fungi, and aquatic plants). Give examples of adaptations such as air bladders that keep them afloat (seaweeds), tasty fruits for animals to eat and spread their seed (apple tree), structures for storing water (cactus) and so on. 
  • For categories for the chart, you can suggest “Where It Lives” “How It Reproduces” “How It Gets Food” “How It Looks” “How It Protects Itself”
  • Students should make cards similar to those used for animals. They will identify 4 characteristics (4 cards) in each plant category. For example, if they use the category “How It Reproduces” they may want to list characteristics such as “Has Tasty Fruit” (for spreading seeds), “Has Bright Flowers” (for attracting pollinators), etc. They should put these cards in appropriate bags.
  • Students should make a blank chart as before with animals, but with the plant categories instead. Students pull out the cards from appropriate bags and fill in the appropriate words on their chart. Then they will research to see what plants have those three characteristics!

Sample Chart 

Where It LivesHow It MovesWhat It ‘Wears’ What Am I?

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