1 hr 40 mins

As the first step in the Extinction Stinks! unit project, students work in small groups to research a target species and develop a plan to protect its survival. Using a research handout and web resources, students identify major challenges faced by their target endangered species by researching its life history and ecosystem relationships. 


This activity is part of the Extinction Stinks! unit. 

1. Introduce the term “conservation” to prepare students to begin planning their conservation plans for their target species.
  • Ask: What does the word “conservation” mean to you? Possible responses include:
      • Using resources sparingly
      • Promoting environmental initiatives
      • Reducing hunting or fishing in an area
  • Show the video Definitions in the Field: Conservation (0:43).
      • Ask students to reflect on the definition National Geographic Explorer Mateus Mutemba provides: “the careful use of resources…so that the things we need to survive will be around for the future.”
      • Ask: How is conservation connected to helping endangered species? Possible responses include:
          • Reducing threats to endangered species and conserving their populations increases biodiversity.
          • Protecting the habitats of endangered species preserves the ecosystem services provided by that area.
          • Conserving resources allows for their use by endangered species.
      • Explain that students will be creating a solution to protect their target species that embodies conservation: the careful use of resources to allow for their target species, other species, and local humans to access what they need from their environment.
2. Guide students in collaborating in their project groups to research their species.
  • Share students’ project group and species assignments for the Extinction Stinks! unit project. Explain that students will gather necessary information about their target species and its ecosystem, which will be used to design a strategy to protect their species.
  • Ask students to refer back to the class Know & Need to Know chart for the driving question. Based on what they have learned about the Sumatran rhino and the conservation efforts to prevent its extinction, ask students to identify what they believe they need to know before designing a solution specific to their assigned species. Some examples might include:
      • The species’ food web
      • Where the species lives and its habitat
      • What other organisms share their ecosystem
      • How humans use the species’ ecosystem
  • Distribute the Species Research handout to students. 
      • Review the sections of the handout to ensure that students understand their task for each section. 
      • Explain that two articles and one video will be provided to each group (links are included on the handout), but that they can use other web resources to add to their understanding.
  • Provide students with ample time to explore those resources and keep track of their research on their Species Research handout.
3. Assess students’ understanding with an exit ticket.
  • Before students leave, have them record their answers to the four questions below to assess their current understanding of their target species. Prompt students to note any questions they currently cannot answer so that they can return to them in their subsequent project work.
      • What would you identify as the top one to three threats to your species’ survival?
      • What is the relationship between your species and human activity?
      • What are three other organisms that interact significantly with your species?
      • What is one solution that you think would help your target species?

Informal Assessment

Use students’ exit tickets to evaluate the depth and thoroughness of their research at this point in the project. Some students may need help navigating the resources to ensure that they get all necessary information, while others may want to deepen their understanding with further research.

Extending the Learning

Have students identify an organization already working to support their target species. If time is available, have students email an expert for more information about their species and how best to support its survival. They may need guidance on how to write a clear, respectful, and direct email.

1 hr 15 mins

Students read an article detailing success stories of other species brought back from the edge of extinction. As a class, students generate a list of possible strategies to protect endangered species from extinction. They think about how they could apply those strategies to their target species and identify which would or would not work well.


This activity is part of the Extinction Stinks! unit. 

1. Lead an initial brainstorm discussion of potential strategies for helping threatened species thrive.
  • Initiate a think-pair-share discussion to elicit students’ ideas about strategies that are used to help protect endangered species. Record students’ responses in a visible place.
  • Students’ ideas will likely follow from their prior knowledge and experience, as well as their research in the Challenges Faced by Endangered Species activity. Examples of students’ ideas could include:
      • Increasing protected land
      • Stricter laws on hunting or fishing, both the target species and what it eats
      • Limits on logging or resource extraction from the ecosystem
      • Relocating animals to a new location
      • Removing invasive/non-native species
      • Reduce pollution
      • Engineer solutions to prevent predators from harvesting livestock
      • Establish or increase captive breeding programs and reintroduce individuals into protected or restored habitats
  • Record students’ responses, leaving space next to their list for additions specific to the Sumatran rhino in Step 4.
  • Note with students that endangered species often require multiple strategies for conservation of the species. Students are working to identify one possible solution to help protect their species, but ultimately many tactics are helpful to protect the species’ survival.
2. Highlight the need to consider human needs when working to save species, through a class discussion and video.
  • Brainstorm reasons why humans may threaten a species’ survival. Some responses may include:
      • Hunting/fishing for food
      • Poaching
      • Habitat loss due to development or climate change
  • Show the Environmental Turnaround video (3:57). After the video, lead a discussion emphasizing how humans threatened and later helped species’ survival in and around the Gorongosa National Park in Mozambique.
      • Connect this to the unit project by explaining the need to include local communities when designing conservation solutions.
3. Read and analyze an article about conservation success stories.
  • Distribute copies of the article 12 animals That Bounced Back From The Brink and have students read individually or in pairs.
  • Tell students to make a list of all strategies they find that helped the listed endangered species increase their numbers.
  • Return to the list created in Step 1 and add any new strategies from the article.
  • Have students think about the design criteria that conservationists need to consider when choosing a path to helping an endangered species.
      • Be sure that they consider and include:
          • Meeting the needs of the target species
          • Affordability/feasibility with the available budget and labor
          • The impacts on other species in the ecosystem
          • Preservation of ecosystem services and human needs
      • Considering these constraints will be important for student groups as they design their conservation plan for their target species.
4. Apply conservation lessons to the class focal species, the Sumatran rhino, and extend to students’ target species.
  • Refer back to the list of possible conservation strategies made in Step 1.
      • Ask students to consider possible conservation solutions for the Sumatran rhino. 
          • Ensure students consider a local perspective on different conservation strategies.
          • Prompt students to explicitly connect strategies listed in Step 1 to the Sumatran rhino, recording connections next to their original list.
  • Prompt students to meet in their target species groups to discuss which strategies would have the best potential to protect their species.
      • Remind students to consider the criteria and constraints they identified in Step 3 for their local community/ecosystem.
          • Incorporate the perspective of local community members based on students’ prior research. Ask: Would someone living in the area of your target species think differently about conservation strategies than an outsider? Why or why not?
      • Students can refer to the list on the board to apply conservation strategies to their group’s target species.
  • Working individually, have students identify what they consider to be the most and least appropriate potential conservation strategies for their focal species. Direct students to support their claims with evidence from their Species Research handout from the Challenges Faced by Endangered Species activity and reasoning that takes into account species and human needs. 

Informal Assessment

Evaluate students’ responses about what solutions would work well for their species and which would not work well to ensure their arguments are logical, clear, and complete. Look for evidence that stems from the research that they completed in the Challenges Faced by Endangered Species activity.

Extending the Learning

Read more about the Endangered Species Act and how it saved many species from imminent extinction. The U.S. government suggested several changes to the Endangered Species Act in 2019, including making it easier for companies to use ecosystems that are important to protected species for development or resource extraction, and taking economic factors into account when deciding which species to protect. Ask students: Would you choose to make those changes? What are the pros and cons of making such a change?

50 mins

Students encounter the power of storytelling through two different approaches to sharing the stories of endangered species: Photo Ark and 3D modeling. They begin with the Photo Ark, a collection of photos aimed at documenting every animal in human captivity in the world. They also watch a video about one person's use of 3D modeling to allow anyone to encounter the critically endangered Sumatran rhino virtually. Students then consider the use of storytelling as a tool to promote conservation of their target species.


This activity is part of the Extinction Stinks! unit. 

1. Introduce the importance of storytelling in conservation through a discussion and video.

  • Ask: How do people tell stories?
      • Based on their everyday experiences, students’ responses may include: sharing stories out loud, writing them down or publishing them in books, creating art, or sharing a photo or video on social media.
  • How might storytelling be used as a tool for conservation?
      • Students may respond by considering the ways stories engage people to think from a new point of view, evoke emotions, or draw them in to learn more.
  • Show a short clip of the video Saving the Creeps with Emerging Explorer and zoologist Lucy Cooke [3:41-7:33].
      • Ask: How does Cooke use storytelling to protect the “creeps”?
      • Emphasize how Cooke, the “Amphibian Avenger,” creatively uses social media and humor as important strategies to promote the story of the “ugly” species she works to protect, and how these strategies could help in students’ final projects.
  • Explain that this activity will profile two different people using storytelling to support the conservation of endangered species. This will help students design their conservation strategies for their target species in a way that engages their audience.

2. Explore two methods of storytelling to help endangered species.

  • Introduce one method of storytelling by watching this Photo Ark video of Joel Sartore’s work. 
      • Before watching the video, ask students to pay attention to what feelings arise when watching the video. Afterwards, ask them to share some of their feelings and ideas.
  • After the video and discussion, give students time to explore the Photo Ark gallery on their own or with a partner. Ask students to share new information they learned and describe a species in the Photo Ark. Then, ask them to identify some of the ways the photos drew them in to learn more about the species.
  • Next, watch the Saving the Sumatran Rhino: Behind the Scenes video to learn how National Geographic Explorer Cory Jaskolski is using 3D modeling to help save the Sumatran rhino.
  • Generate a discussion by having students compare and contrast Joel Sartore and Cory Jaskolski’s efforts to use media to tell the stories of species at risk of extinction. Guide students to consider the strengths and weaknesses of each method, and ask them to consider if one approach is more compelling than the other.

3. As the next step in their project work, prompt students to brainstorm storytelling techniques that they will use when communicating about their endangered species.

  • Have students meet with their target species group and brainstorm ways to use storytelling to help promote the conservation of their species. 
  • After brainstorming, prompt groups to share their ideas with the class for feedback and more ideas about how to share the story of their target species. Collect ideas for later reference when students are preparing their final pitches during the Sharing Our Solutions lesson of the Extinction Stinks! unit.

Informal Assessment

Use students’ responses to discussion questions and personal reflections to assess their understanding of the power of storytelling and how it can enhance their final product.

Extending the Learning

Have students create their own art piece that focuses on their target species or a species they care about. They could use drawings, photos, or a catchy slogan to engage the viewer and capture their attention to learn more about the issues facing that species. Encouraging diverse forms of creative expression reinforces that there are many ways to tell stories that help connect people to nature. This could be used as an extension of their work to support their target species or an independent enrichment activity.

50 mins

Students consider the criteria they would use to decide how limited funds should be distributed to projects conserving endangered species. They learn about the concept of a grant proposal and critique two sample proposals for the Sumatran rhino. Students will use the same rubric that will be used to evaluate their grant proposal and presentation for their final project.


This activity is part of the Extinction Stinks! unit. 

1. Introduce the concept of a grant proposal.

  • Tell students to imagine they are part of an organization that has funds to support projects trying to help conserve the Sumatran rhino. Ask: How might you identify what to do next?
      • Ideas might include asking local experts, having a competition, running an experiment, looking at other similar species’ successes/failures.
  • Explain to students that when organizations or governments set aside funds to fix an issue, they request grant proposals from groups or individuals who think they have solutions to the problem. 
  • Student groups will be writing their own grant proposals and sharing them with the class to advocate for their solution to the threats faced by their target species.
      • Distribute the Grant Proposal handout that students will use to draft their group’s grant proposal. 
      • Review each section of the proposal together, explaining each piece and answering any questions students have about what is required.
2. Have students collaborate to evaluate two sample proposals using a provided rubric.
  • Explain that as experts in Sumatran rhino conservation, students are now authorized to review two proposals for conservation measures trying to protect the species. 
  • Distribute hard copies of Sample Grant Proposals and the Proposal and Pitch Rubric. Inform them that this is the same rubric that will be used to evaluate their final projects.
  • Direct students to work in their project groups to track their ratings on both the rubric and the grant proposals by annotating where they found each piece of information required, if present, and then determine whether to fund each project.
3. Lead a class discussion to debrief the evaluation process of the sample grant proposals.
  • After each group has completed their evaluation, lead a class discussion comparing the strengths and weaknesses of each proposal. 
      • When considering the second proposal, highlight some of the alternative conceptions listed; for example, the act of making something illegal does not mean it will not occur.
  • Then have students consider an authentic constraint faced by those funding scientific grants:
      • If you could fund only one proposal, which would you choose? 
      • What would you add or change about the existing grant proposals?

Informal Assessment

Collect and use students’ rubric responses to the sample proposals to evaluate how well they understand each component of the grant proposal, which connects to each prior portion of the unit’s lessons: biodiversity, food webs, and ecosystem services. The second proposal also has common alternative conceptions about the concepts taught in the unit so far. These help to spark conversations with students who need guidance to better understand the concepts before diving into their final assessment. See “Other Notes” for more information about things to look for in student responses.

Extending the Learning

Have students explore real grant proposals used by projects that received funding. Explore web resources like these Field Conservation grants or ask a local scientist or conservation agency if they would be willing to share past grant proposals with your class for educational use. Seeing the amount of work and detail that goes into a successful grant proposal can be daunting, but it’s how conservation gets done!

Subjects & Disciplines


Students will:

  • Brainstorm and identify strategies used by humans to increase the number of specific threatened species in the past.
  • Identify criteria and constraints involved in designing conservation strategies to help endangered species.
  • Evaluate possible strategies to help protect a target species.
  • Take on the authentic role of expert funders to evaluate the validity of competing grant proposals using a rubric.
  • Explain the importance of storytelling in motivating action to save endangered species.
  • Evaluate two different storytelling strategies used to promote conservation.
  • Explain why grant proposals are an important part of funding conservation projects.
  • Learn the life history of a target species.
  • Explain major threats to a target species that have led to it becoming threatened.
  • Identify the relationships the target species has with other living things in its ecosystem and the ecosystem services provided by that ecosystem.
  • Apply storytelling ideas to inject narrative into their strategy for protecting an endangered species.

Teaching Approach

  • Project-based learning

Teaching Methods

  • Brainstorming
  • Cooperative learning
  • Discussions
  • Information organization
  • Modeling
  • Multimedia instruction
  • Reading
  • Reflection
  • Research
  • Visual instruction

Skills Summary

This lesson targets the following skills:

Connections to National Standards, Principles, and Practices

Common Core State Standards for English Language Arts & Literacy CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RH.6-8.7: Integrate visual information (e.g., in charts, graphs, photographs, videos, or maps) with other information in print and digital texts. CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RST.6-8.10: By the end of grade 8, read and comprehend science/technical texts in the grades 6-8 text complexity band independently and proficiently. CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RST.6-8.5: Analyze the structure an author uses to organize a text, including how the major sections contribute to the whole and to an understanding of the topic. CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.WHST.6-8.7: Conduct short research projects to answer a question (including a self-generated question), drawing on several sources and generating additional related, focused questions that allow for multiple avenues of exploration.Next Generation Science Standards Crosscutting Concept 2: Cause and Effect  Disciplinary Core Ideas LS2.A: Interdependent Relationships in Ecosystems: ETS1.B: Developing Possible Solutions: There are systematic processes for evaluating solutions with respect to how well they meet the criteria and constraints of a problem. ETS1.B: Developing Possible Solutions: There are systematic processes for evaluating solutions with respect to how well they meet the criteria and constraints of a problem. LS2.C: Ecosystem Dynamics, Functioning, and Resilience: Biodiversity describes the variety of species found in Earth’s terrestrial and oceanic ecosystems. The completeness or integrity of an ecosystem’s biodiversity is often used as a measure of its health. LS4.D: Biodiversity and Humans: Changes in biodiversity can influence humans’ resources, such as food, energy, and medicines, as well as ecosystem services that humans rely on— for example, water purification and recycling. MS. Ecosystems: Interactions, Energy, and Dynamics: MS-LS2-4. Construct an argument supported by empirical evidence that changes to physical or biological components of an ecosystem affect populations. MS. Interdependent Relationships in Ecosystems: MS-LS2-5. Evaluate competing design solutions for maintaining biodiversity and ecosystem services. MS-LS2: Ecosystems: Interactions, Energy, and Dynamics: MS-LS2-1:Analyze and interpret data to provide evidence for the effects of resource availability on organisms and populations of organisms in an ecosystem Science and Engineering Practice 6: Constructing explanations and designing solutions Science and Engineering Practice 7: Engaging in argument from evidence Science and Engineering Practice 8: Obtaining, evaluating, and communicating information.

What You’ll Need

Required Technology

  • Internet Access: Required
  • Internet access: Required
  • Tech Setup: 1 computer per classroom, 1 computer per learner, 1 computer per pair, Projector, Speakers

Physical Space

  • Classroom
  • Computer lab


Before this activity, prepare groups of three to four students using the preferences students listed in the previous activity, No Species Lives in Isolation. 


  • Large-group instruction
  • Small-group learning
  • Small-group work

Accessibility Notes

Students may use reading scaffolding strategies to break down the article provided.

Other Notes

Here are three alternative conceptions put into the second grant proposal to review with students:

  • Just because something is illegal doesn’t mean it won’t happen. Poaching is defined as illegal hunting or harvesting of wildlife. Poachers continue to hunt endangered species in many parts of the world despite fear of punishment under the law and potentially dangerous conditions because they can earn a significant amount of money from the practice or because their local community doesn’t have many economic opportunities.
  • Laws require enforcement, which can be expensive—and dangerous. Anti-poaching professionals spend many hours trying to capture those illegally hunting endangered species in remote places, sometimes putting their lives in real danger. Hiring anti-poaching rangers costs money and is not a low-cost solution to poaching as a conservation issue.
  • Banning hunting and deforestation may seem easy from a distance, but the up-close reality is more complex. For those who need wood to heat their homes or money to support their families, using local timber may feel more urgent than protecting an endangered species. Recognizing that a diversity of perspectives exists means that new laws may be controversial.

Background Information

Protecting endangered species requires knowledge of the unique challenges and needs of the species as well as the ways the local human community uses the species ecosystem. Leveraging what we know about endangered species has led to many conservation victories and can be used as a road map to future efforts. Conservationists will use different strategies to spread the word about threatened species, including visual storytelling and 3-D technology. Grants are a common way that conservationists receive funding, and grant proposals must be well-researched, compelling, and clear to earn funding in a highly competitive field.


This lesson is part of the Extinction Stinks! unit.

Prior Knowledge

  • None

Recommended Prior Lessons



confinement or imprisonment.


management of a natural resource to prevent exploitation, destruction, or neglect.

Plural Noun

set of standards or rules.

digital story

fictional or nonfictional narrative told through the use of media such as photos, maps, video, and audio recordings.


organism threatened with extinction.


process of complete disappearance of a species from Earth.

genetic diversity

difference or variety of units of inheritance (genes) in a species.


money given to a person or group of people to carry out a specific project or program.

grant writing

process of applying to a person, business, or other organization for money or other funding.


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


group of similar organisms that can reproduce with each other.


native, geographic area in which an organism can be found. Range also refers to the geographic distribution of a particular species.