1. Introduce vocabulary and have students brainstorm.
Introduce the term adaptation to students. An adaptation is a behavior or body part modification (change) that helps an animal survive where it lives. Explain that adaptations can occur through modified behavior or modified body parts. Provide students with two examples of modified behavior: working in groups and swimming in schools to avoid predators. Then provide students with three examples of modified body parts: chemical defense, camouflage, and different limb shapes. Ask students to brainstorm other examples of adaptations. (Modified body parts such as eyes—ability to see at night, ability to see far away, ability to see under water, keen sense of smell, large teeth, many teeth, claws, body size; modified behaviors such as playing dead, food selection, migration)

2. Have a whole-class discussion.
Tell students that, like modern day animals, prehistoric animals also adapted body parts and behaviors in order to survive. Ask students to predict what adaptations—body parts or behaviors—helped sea creatures that lived 82 million years ago to survive.

3. If possible, watch the film.
Have students view Sea Monsters: A Prehistoric Adventure to confirm or revise their predictions. Ask students to describe some of the challenges that the prehistoric marine reptiles faced in the film. (protecting their young; defending themselves; finding food)

4. Distribute the worksheet.
Distribute the worksheet Animal Adaptations to each student. As a class, review the model of the giraffe. Next, have students participate in a guided classroom discussion or do library or online research to complete the rest of the worksheet.

5. Have students reflect on what they learned.
Ask students to discuss what they learned about adaptations in modern and prehistoric animals.

Extending the Learning

Go to the Sea Monsters website to find out more about sea monsters and to find a list of theaters where you can see the film Sea Monsters: A Prehistoric Adventure.

Subjects & Disciplines

Learning Objectives

Students will:

  • explain how adaptations help animals survive
  • identify different types of adaptations

Teaching Approach

  • Learning-for-use

Teaching Methods

  • Brainstorming
  • Discussions
  • Research

Skills Summary

This activity targets the following skills:

  • Critical Thinking Skills
    • 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

  • Pencils
  • Pens

Required Technology

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

Physical Space

  • Classroom


  • Large-group instruction

Background Information

Animals undergo adaptations—changes to body parts and behaviors—that help them survive. Adaptations can occur through modified behavior or modified body parts.

Prior Knowledge

  • None

Recommended Prior Activities



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


anything an organism does involving action or response to stimulation.




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.