This lists the logos of programs or partners of NG Education which have provided or contributed the content on this page. Program Sea Monsters: A Prehistoric Adventure

  • 1. Build background.
    Tell students to write “marine reptile” on a piece of paper and then put their pencils down. Then have them try again, this time without using their thumb to grip the pencil. Point out that the thumb is a body part that provides an advantage when using a tool. Explain that writing and spelling words are learned behaviors, and both the thumb and the writing are examples of adaptations.

    2. Explain the three ways scientists name plants and animals.
    Tell students that scientists use Greek and Latin words and scientific conventions to name plants and animals, including prehistoric marine reptiles. Introduce the three approaches:

    • to reference the location where an organism was found
    • in honor of a person with some connection to the discovery
    • to reference a unique body part or behavior

    Tell students that one way scientists name living things is by the location where the animal lived or was first discovered. For example, the mosasaur, a “Meuse River lizard,” is named after a tributary of a river in the Netherlands, where the first known specimen was discovered. Ask: Can you guess where the Argentinosaurus was first discovered? (Argentina)

    3. Have students brainstorm names that reference location.
    Distribute copies of the handout Greek and Latin Word Parts. Have students imagine prehistoric sea creatures were discovered in your local area. Ask them to brainstorm some names for the creatures. Write the names on the board.

    4. Provide examples of names that honor people.
    Tell students that other dinosaurs are named after famous people or for the person who found them. For example, the Mosasaurus hoffmanni is named after C.K. Hoffman. Ask:
    •    Who is Nedcolbertia named after? (Ned Colbert, or Dr. Edwin “Ned” Colbert)
    •    Who is Ricardoestesia named after? (Richard Estes)
    As a class, brainstorm some names of imaginary prehistoric sea creatures named after famous people and then after students.

    5. Provide examples of names that refer to body parts or behavior.
    Remind students that the last approach is to name animals by their body part, behavioral adaptations, or by whole body descriptions. For example, Englishman Richard Owen coined the word Dinosauria from “dino,” (terrible) and “saur” (lizard). An Ichthyosaur is an “ichthy” (fish) “saur” (lizard).

    6. Have students invent new names for prehistoric sea creatures.
    Write the Greek and Latin word parts below on the board. Explain to students that the activity they are about to do is just for fun. Tell them that scientists would not mix Greek and Latin word parts. Ask students to invent names for imaginary prehistoric sea creatures using three word parts: prefix, root word, and suffix. List these names and descriptions of the animals on the board. For example, a Megabiceratosaurus (‘big two-horned lizard’). 

    Greek and Latin Word Parts
    odon or oden-tooth
    ops-eye or face
    ped or pes-foot

  • Subjects & Disciplines

    Learning Objectives

    Students will:

    • explain how Greek and Latin word parts are used to name an animal
    • describe the science rules and conventions for naming a new animal

    Teaching Approach

    • Learning-for-use

    Teaching Methods

    • Brainstorming
    • Discussions

    Skills Summary

    This activity targets the following skills:

    • Critical Thinking Skills
      • Applying
      • Understanding

    Connections to National Standards, Principles, and Practices

    National Geography Standards

    • Standard 17:  How to apply geography to interpret the past

    National Science Education Standards

  • What You’ll Need

    Materials You Provide

    • Paper
    • Pencils
    • Pens

    Required Technology

    • Internet Access: Optional
    • Tech Setup: 1 computer per classroom, Projector


    • Large-group instruction
  • Background Information

    Animals undergo adaptations—changes to body parts and behaviors—that help them survive. Referring to adaptations is one way scientists name living things.

    Prior Knowledge

    • None

    Recommended Prior Activities


    Term Part of Speech Definition Encyclopedic Entry
    adaptation Noun

    a modification of an organism or its parts that makes it more fit for existence. An adaptation is passed from generation to generation.

    Encyclopedic Entry: adaptation



National Science Foundation

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.