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Lesson Summary

  • Identify how various organisms adapt in different environments.
  • Explore traits and characteristics of different organisms through dance.

Lesson Plan and Procedure

Lesson Key Facts

  • Grade(s): 1, 3
  • Subject(s): Dance, Science, Social Studies
  • Duration of lesson: 40 minutes
  • Author(s): Jana Shumway


Define organism as any living thing that carries out life activities on its own.

Define traits as characteristics that determine how an organism looks, acts, or functions.

The following activities give students a chance to move like different organisms based on their traits.

HumanWalks on two legsWalk around the room to the beat of the music
AnimalWalks on four legsWalk on hands and feet
BirdFlies in the airFly around the room with arms outstretched
InsectHas six legsWith a partner, create a shape with six legs and
walk around the room
PlantGrows from the groundStart low and grow high
BacteriumIs incredibly smallGet really small and move in really minute way


Divide the class into two groups: parents and offspring. Have each parent pick one offspring to be his or her partner. Discuss heredity, inherited traits, and learned traits. Place a card with the definition of each on the board.

  • Heredity: The passing of traits from parents to their offspring
  • Inherited traits: Characteristics passed from parents to their offspring
  • Learned traits: Characteristics or behaviors that are learned by following the examples of the parents

In pairs, have the offspring copy the movement of their parent. Model with a student how this could look.

Teacher: If I were doing human movements on two legs, I would show my offspring how to _________ (tiptoe, walk backward, skip, jump in circles, and so on), and he or she will have to copy as close as he or she can everything I am doing and thus inherit my traits.

After modeling an example, allow the students to dance their assigned part, either as leader (parent) or follower (offspring).

Use the drum for accompaniment. With each activity, switch roles and have the offspring copy the varied movement of the parent.

HumanStands on two legsTiptoe, walk backward, skip, jump, run, leap, and spin
AnimalStands on four legsMove high, low, and sideways with small and large steps
BirdFlies through the airFlap around the classroom by diving and swooping low and high
InsectMoves on six legsCrawl on hands and feet slowly
PlantGrows from the groundTwist straight, wide, symmetrical, low to high, and side
to side
BacteriumIs incredibly smallBend down in a small shape and move around with
arms twisted, heads tucked, and legs squared



Discuss the concept of species and specialized structures. Put a card on the board with the definitions on it.

  • Species: Groups of plants or animals that can only reproduce among themselves
  • Specialized structures: Body parts unique to a certain organism (examples listed below)
    • Snowshoe rabbit: Lives in a cold environment, has small ears to keep in the heat, and has broad feet to travel on the snow
    • Jackrabbit: Lives in hot, dry areas; has long ears to release heat; and has powerful hind legs to outrun predators
    • Woodpecker: Has a climbing foot
    • Duck: Has a swimming foot
    • Emu: Has a running foot
    • Hawk: Has a grasping foot

Discuss environment as the surrounding in which an organism lives.

Play “Sun of Jamaica” by Cusco.

Have the students get into groups of four or five. Assign each group an environment (swamp, forest, ocean, arctic, desert, savanna, and so on). Have the students create with their bodies an imaginary animal and give it traits that it would need in order to survive in its environment.

Create the shape of the animal as a group. Each child will represent one trait. Name the animals. Have the children show their animals to the class.

When they show the animal, state the environment it lives in. Have all the students who are observing make shapes like that environment. (For example, they might make cacti and sand for desert.) The group performing will state the animal’s name, and then move like their imaginary animal would move through the student-created environment.



Discuss the special structures that each group chose for their animal to adapt to fit into their environment. Discuss the effectiveness of having these traits as opposed to others.

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Learning Objectives

  • Understand that traits are passed from parents to offspring.
  • Identify variations between parents and offspring.
  • Identify traits that are helpful or unhelpful, depending on the environment.
  • Compare the dances of others and the aspects that made them unique.
  • Collaborate with peers to create a unified dance.
  • Refine spatial relationships between members of a dance.

Utah State Board of Education Standards

This lesson can be used to meet standards in many grades and subject areas. We will highlight one grade’s standards to give an example of application.

Grade 3 Science with Engineering Education (SEEd)

  • Standard 3.2.3: Construct an explanation that the environment can affect the traits of an organism. Examples could include that the growth of normally tall plants is stunted with insufficient water or that pets given too much food and little exercise may become overweight. (LS3.B)
  • Standard 3.2.4: Construct an explanation showing how variations in traits and behaviors can affect the ability of an individual to survive and reproduce. Examples of traits could include large thorns protecting a plant from being eaten or strong smelling flowers to attracting certain pollinators. Examples of behaviors could include animals living in groups for protection or migrating to find more food. (LS2.D, LS4.B)
  • Standard 3.2.5: Engage in argument from evidence that in a particular habitat (system) some organisms can survive well, some survive less well, and some cannot survive at all. Emphasize that organisms and habitats form systems in which the parts depend upon each other. Examples of evidence could include needs and characteristics of the organisms and habitats involved such as cacti growing in dry, sandy soil but not surviving in wet, saturated soil. (LS4.C)

Grade 3 Dance

  • Standard 3.D.CR.1: Demonstrate willingness to take turns leading and following when creating dance with others.
  • Standard 3.D.P.7: Recall movement sequences with a partner or in group dance activities.
  • Standard 3.D.CO.1: Respond to a dance work using a set of questions, create movement using ideas from responses, and explain how certain movements express a specific idea.

Grade 3 Social Studies

  • Standard 1: Students will understand how geography influences community location and development.
    • Objective 2: Describe how various communities have adapted to existing environments and how other communities have modified the environment.
      1. Describe the major world ecosystems (i.e. desert, plain, tropic, tundra, grassland, mountain, forest, wetland). 
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Equipment and Materials Needed


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Additional Resources

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Image References

Image 1: BYU Arts Bridge Student Blogs (

Images 2–3: Bradley Slade.