Teaching sequence

Lesson objective

In this lesson students develop an understanding of the difference between behavioural and structural adaptations.


Organise students into pairs and ask them to think of an animal they know a lot about. Ask them to describe the environment in which this animal is found and to discuss all the different features that help their chosen animal to survive in that environment.

Distribute the worksheet What could I be? to students. Ask them to identify a plant or animal that each description might apply to.

Discuss what all of these descriptions have in common. What is it that the descriptions identify? (This is leading students towards identifying the term ‘adaptations’.)

View the learning object Adaptations and survival

Discuss the meaning of the word ‘adaptations’ and develop a class definition.


  1. Ask students to think about their responses to the following questions:
    • What different environments do plants and animals live in and what adaptations do they have that enable them to survive in these environments?
    • How might a change in environment impact living things?
  2. Write the names of each of the following environments on separate pieces of A3 paper and distribute them around the room – desert, marine, tropical, grassland, forest, cave, river, mountain, polar.
  3. Provide students with time to move around the room to think of adaptations that enable plants and animals to survive in such environments (for example, a polar bear has white fur, a desert animal moves around mostly in the early morning or evening). After students have sat down again ask them to volunteer their ideas. Record each individual response on a separate sticky note and attach it to the correct environment.
  4. Introduce the terms ‘structural’ and ‘behavioural’ to the class and ask for suggestions about what these words might mean in relation to adaptations. Ask students to provide examples of both structural and behavioural adaptations. On the whiteboard, categorise student responses under the headings of structural and behavioural adaptations.
  5. Ask the students to look through the lists of adaptations to different environments created earlier in the lesson and sort them according to whether they are behavioural or structural adaptations.


Engage students in a discussion about the importance of adaptations for the survival of plants and animals in different environments. What happens to those that cannot adapt to the conditions? What happens if conditions change?

Ask students to demonstrate their understanding of the difference between behavioural and structural adaptations by recording their own definition of each and supported by at least two examples.

Lesson Resources


Student activities

Digital resources

M016234  Adaptations and survival, NDLRN 


What could I be? (Word, 389 KB)

Useful links

Animal adaptations, Study Jams, Scholastic. Video (3:07 min) 

S3871 Structural adaptation 2: featured creatures, NDLRN. Teachers guide and PowerPoint on three featured organisms 

S3872 Structural adaptation 1: teeth, tails and talons, NDLRN. Teachers guide and student card game 

S3873 Structural adaptation 3: structure and function, NDLRN. Teachers guide, video and worksheets 

What does adaptation mean? MBGnet. Information on animal adaptations for students