1. Build background on animal migration.
Display the photo gallery Many Moves of Migration. Show students the still images of animals on the move and read aloud each caption. Ask: What are the animals doing in each of these photos? Explain to students that each group of animals is migrating and that this movement is essential to the survival of these species. Tell students that migration is the large-scale movement of a species from one place to another. Most species migrate during specific seasons (seasonal migration) in search of food or water, or for mating reasons. For example, some places have a wet and a dry season. During the wet season there is plentiful food and water, but during the dry season a species might travel to another habitat where there is more food and water available.

2. Discuss examples of animal migration and reasons for animal migration.
Ask: Do you think all animals migrate? Why or why not? Tell students that some groups of animals stay in the same place their entire lives, others migrate just once in their life, and still others migrate every year. Use the provided National Geographic Animals web pages to provide students with examples of species that survive in different ways:

  • Some animals, such as white-tailed deer, are able to forage for food in the same habitat in every season.
  • Black bears live in a habitat that experiences snow and extreme cold in the winter, which makes it harder to find food. They adapt to these conditions by hibernating in the winter. In winter they live dormant in dens, surviving off body fat they store up in the fall. They have built up this body fat by spending most of the summer and fall eating.
  • Caribou, or reindeer, migrate every summer. Some groups of caribou travel up to 2,570 kilometers (1,600 miles) north every summer in search of food. In the winter, the northern reaches of their habitat are too cold and snowy to provide enough food, so the caribou return to locations farther south. This type of migration is known as complete migration, because every member migrates.


3. Have small groups play a vocabulary match game.

Ask: Do you think all species migrate for the same reason or in the same way? Ask students to support their opinions with facts. Then explain to students that they are going to learn new vocabulary terms for different types of migration. Divide students into small groups. Distribute a copy of the worksheet Animal Migration Vocabulary and a pair of scissors to each group. Have groups use root words, affixes, and context clues to match each vocabulary term to its meaning. Model the first one for students with a think-aloud: Latitudinal migration. The root word is latitude. This type of migration must have to do with animals moving northward and southward. Have groups continue with the remaining words. Circulate around the groups to help students decipher word meanings. Students should be able to use deductive reasoning to successfully match each term with its description, with the exception of irruptive migration. When groups have correctly matched vocabulary terms and meanings, have them glue the matching cards together to create a set of flash cards.


4. Have small groups complete the worksheet Match the Animal to its Type of Migration.
Read aloud the worksheet directions with students and answer any questions they may have. Assure students that it's not necessary for them to memorize all the types of animal migration; however, they should understand that there are many ways and reasons to migrate. Have groups complete the worksheet.

5. Have a whole-class discussion.
After students complete the worksheet, review the answers: (1. c; 2. f; 3. b; 4. h; 5. g; 6. e; 7. d; 8. a) Then ask:

  • What did you find most interesting about the different types of migration? Why?
  • Do all animals migrate the same way? Explain.
  • Explain some differences and similarities between migration patterns.

Informal Assessment

Use a set of student-created flash cards to check that students have internalized the vocabulary and understand the meaning of each term.

Extending the Learning

If time allows, have students use the Animals A-Z feature on the National Geographic Animals website to learn more about the migrating animals from the worksheet, or to read about other animals that migrate.

Subjects & Disciplines

Learning Objectives

Students will:

  • describe why some animals migrate and others do not
  • decipher the meanings of migration vocabulary using root words, affixes, and context clues
  • match animals to the type of migration they display

Teaching Approach

  • Learning-for-use

Teaching Methods

  • Cooperative learning
  • Discussions
  • Hands-on learning
  • Multimedia instruction

Skills Summary

This activity targets the following skills:

Connections to National Standards, Principles, and Practices

IRA/NCTE Standards for the English Language Arts

  • Standard 3:  Students apply a wide range of strategies to comprehend, interpret, evaluate, and appreciate texts. They draw on their prior experience, their interactions with other readers and writers, their knowledge of word meaning and of other texts, their word identification strategies, and their understanding of textual features (e.g., sound-letter correspondence, sentence structure, context, graphics).

National Geography Standards

  • Standard 3:  How to analyze the spatial organization of people, places, and environments on Earth's surface

National Science Education Standards

What You’ll Need

Materials You Provide

  • Glue
  • Pencils
  • Pens
  • Scissors

Required Technology

  • Internet Access: Required
  • Tech Setup: 1 computer per classroom, Projector, Speakers
  • Plug-Ins: Flash

Physical Space

  • Classroom


  • Large-group instruction
  • Small-group instruction

Background Information

Animal migration is the large-scale movement of a species from one place to another. Most species migrate during specific seasons, in search of food or water, or for mating reasons.

Prior Knowledge

  • None



to adjust to new surroundings or a new situation.

animal migration

process where a community of animals leaves a habitat for part of the year or part of their lives, and moves to habitats that are more hospitable.


state of minimal growth or activity.

dry season

time of year with little precipitation.


environment where an organism lives throughout the year or for shorter periods of time.


to reduce activity almost to sleeping in order to conserve food and energy, usually in winter.


to move from one place or activity to another.


movement of a group of people or animals from one place to another.


period of the year distinguished by special climatic conditions.

seasonal migration

movement of animals or other organisms determined by the changing weather or seasons, or in response to labor or climate conditions. For animals, seasonal migration usually refers to movement to a warmer climate during the winter and a cooler climate during the summer. For humans, seasonal migration may happen because of drivers such as crop and livestock management or tourism.


group of similar organisms that can reproduce with each other.

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