1. Build background about fossils.
Ask: What is a fossil? Explain to students that the study of fossils and the fossil record is paleontology and that scientists who specialize in this research are paleontologists. Distribute and discuss the handout "A Fossil Forms." Tell students that fossil evidence provides clues about past life. By studying an individual fossil, for example, a paleontologist can infer the age, size, brain capacity, locomotion, feeding preferences, and other information about an animal that lived millions of years ago.
2. Introduce the activity.
Write “Fossil Evidence” on the board. Tell students that fossils provide evidence about an animal’s physical appearance, behaviors, and interactions with other animals. Create a 2-column chart on the board with the heads “Fossil Evidence” and “Clues to …?” Write the first evidence: “serrated teeth.” Prompt students to make inferences about this evidence, such as that the animal may eat meat. Ask students to explain their reasons, such as sharp teeth are needed to tear flesh. Continue with the other fossil evidence and clues listed below:
- Extremely long neck (Reach for food quickly or hard to reach places)
- Bones not fully developed (Possible juvenile)
- Marks on bones (Signs that other animals bit, chewed, or scavenged)
3. Have students brainstorm animal interactions.
Have students consider what clues two or more fossils together might provide. Sometimes this fossil evidence provides clues about the interactions between prehistoric animals. Have students brainstorm different ways in which animals behave and interact with one another, such as parasite/host, predator/prey, family group, communal group, reproduction, or feeding. Then have students brainstorm some examples of fossil evidence, to make inferences about possible animal interactions, and add them to the chart:
- Two different animal bones together (Possible interactions—parasite/host, predator/prey, family group, communal group, reproduction, or feeding)
- Clam shells inside rib cage (Animal ate clams)
Extending the Learning
Have students join a virtual dig at the Sea Monsters website.
Subjects & Disciplines
- describe how fossils provide evidence about a prehistoric plant or animal
- explain how evidence found in fossils is used to understand prehistoric life
This activity targets the following skills:
Critical Thinking Skills
Connections to National Standards, Principles, and Practices
National Geography Standards
- Standard 17: How to apply geography to interpret the past
- Standard 7: The physical processes that shape the patterns of Earth's surface
National Science Education Standards
- Earth Science
What You’ll Need
Materials You Provide
The resources are also available at the top of the page.
- Large-group instruction
Fossils are traces of an organism from the past that have been preserved in Earth’s crust. Scientists called paleontologists study fossils to find out more about animals and plants that no longer exist.
Recommended Prior Activities
Term Part of Speech Definition Encyclopedic Entry evidence Noun
data that can be measured, observed, examined, and analyzed to support a conclusion.
remnant, impression, or trace of an ancient organism.
Encyclopedic Entry: fossil inference Noun
explanation derived by reasoning.
person who studies fossils and life from early geologic periods.
the study of fossils and life from early geologic periods.
Encyclopedic Entry: paleontology prehistoric Adjective
period of time that occurred before the invention of written records.
to feed on dead or decaying material.
solid material transported and deposited by water, ice, and wind.
Encyclopedic Entry: sediment serrated Adjective
having a jagged or saw-like edge.
This material is based in part upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant No. DRL-1114251. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.