1. Display the illustrations to help students understand one way a fossil forms.
Scroll through the color illustrations and read aloud the captions to help students understand how fossils form. Explain to students that, over millions of years, fossil remains become crushed or broken. They are often incomplete, and scientists must work very carefully to put them back together. Tell students they are going to make a skeleton model of a Tylosaurus, a giant sea reptile that lived more than 65 million years ago.

2. Have students prepare their work areas.
Have students lay each black-and-white illustration of the Tylosaurus on a flat, clean surface. Then ask them to cover it with waxed paper and secure it to the surface with tape. Have students gather the other materials they will need.

3. Have students construct the skeleton model.

Have students use toothpicks and pasta to form the skeleton. Direct them to start with the spine, or backbone. Then to add other pieces to make the skull, tail, and paddles.

4. Have students glue the pieces together.
Have students glue the pieces together and then allow the model to dry completely. Help students to carefully lift the dry model off of the drawing. Then have them use scissors to trim away the waxed paper.

5. Have students compare their models to their original drawings.
Have a whole-class discussion. Ask: How similar or different are your finished model and the original drawing? Why?

Subjects & Disciplines

  • Earth Science
    • Geology

Learning Objectives

Students will:

  • construct a skeleton model of an extinct species

Teaching Approach

  • Learning-for-use

Teaching Methods

  • Discussions
  • Hands-on learning
  • Visual instruction

Skills Summary

This activity targets the following skills:

  • Critical Thinking Skills
    • Creating
    • Understanding

Connections to National Standards, Principles, and Practices

National Science Education Standards

What You’ll Need

Materials You Provide

  • Glue
  • Pasta in assorted shapes
  • Scissors
  • Toothpicks
  • Transparent tape
  • Waxed paper

Required Technology

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

Physical Space

  • Classroom


  • Large-group instruction

Background Information

When scientists discover fossil remains, they must work very carefully in order to put them back together.

Prior Knowledge

  • None

Recommended Prior Activities

  • None



remnant, impression, or trace of an ancient organism.


image or impression of an object used to represent the object or system.



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.