Animals Form and Function Investigation Sequence

Written by

Angie Giovanni and Tessa Fuchser

Focus Questions

How does form and function affect animals?
Do animals have certain features and characteristics that help them to survive in their environment?


Physical, Earth, Life,

Different animals have different features that help them live in different places.
An organism’s behavior evolves through adaptation to its environment. How a species moves, obtains food, reproduces, and responds to danger are based in the species’ evolutionary history.

Systems, Order, & Organization; Evidence, Models, & Explanations; Constancy, Measurement, & Change; Evolution & Equilibrium; Form & Function

The form of an object or system is related to the environment in which it operates.
The function of an object or system is related to the environment in which it operates.


Learning can come from careful observation and simple experiments.
Scientists use different kinds of investigations depending on the questions they are trying to answer.

Personal, Social, Technology, Nature of Science, History

Science is a way of answering questions and explaining the natural world.


All animals are different and all have individual differences that provide better opportunities for surviving. Animals live in many different climates and land regions, which require them to have certain bodily features and adaptations to live in that region.

Activity Sequence

1. Animal Camouflage
2. Animal Survival
3. Eat and Run
4. Focus on Bird Beaks
5. Whale Echolocation
6. How do Penguins Stay Warm in Extremely Cold Water?

.Activity Descriptions

Activity 1: Animal Camouflage
Materials: paper outlines of a moth shape and student supplied coloring utensils
1. Ask students what they know about camouflage and why they think it is important to some animals.
2. Show students the paper moth shape and explain they must cut it out and color it to blend in with an are in the room.
3. Explain that in 10 minutes some "birds" from another class are coming to "eat" the moths.
4. Students use masking tape on the back of the moth to attach it to the position they chose.
5. Partner class "birds", are told the shape of the moth and the rules before they begin searching.
6. Any survivors are taken down one at a time so that the "birds" also learn what they missed.
7. Discuss with students why important for animals to be camouflaged.
8. Ask what was the form of the moth. What was the form of the bird? What is the environment that the moth and bird operate? How does the form of the moth or bird affect the function?
9. Ask how does the form or function affect the animals’ ability to survive.
10. Ask if they can think of other animals with similar forms and functions.
11. Ask how do scientists learn about animals?

Activity 2: Animal Survival
Materials: handkerchiefs for blindfolds, scarves for tying up a broken leg, chips or markers to be used to for food
1. The students become the animals for the activity.
2. Any animal can be chosen as long as the students are all the same animal.
3. The object of the game is survival.
4. To survive, each student must gather enough food chips to live, those who don’t will parish. To make the lesson effective, not all of the students can be healthy animals. This should be explained to the students that in nature, not all animals are healthy.
5. Some students will be blindfolded to make them blind. Others should have other disabilities such as a broken leg which cannot be used, a broken back which halts the use of both back legs, etc. Tell the students how in real life, some animals might get these disabilities.
6. The actual game begins with spreading the food chips around the floor of the classroom.
7. All of the animals start in one particular spot. When the teacher tells the students to start, they crawl around the room gathering as many food chips as they can in the time allotted. This time will depend on the number of students.
8. When time is called, the animals stop gathering and return to their seats.
9. The teacher then writes on the board how much food they needed to survive and for how long. For example, a deer that gathered 30 food chips is healthy for the next year, whereas a deer who gathered 20 food chips may be healthy for only six months. A deer who only gathered 10 food chips or less will probably only live for another two or three months.
10. This part of the lesson is followed by classroom discussion of what happened to the deer in our forest. The children will note which deer were the first to perish, usually the lame deer or the very old or sick.
11. Ask what was the form of the animals. Is being old, sick, or young a form? How does the form affect the function?
12. How does the form or function affect the animals’ ability to survive.
13. Ask if they can think of other animals with similar forms and functions. What about animals such as cats or dogs?
14. Ask how do scientists learn about animals?

Activity 3: Eat and Run
Materials: cereal (Fruit Loops), paper to put cereal on, white tail flag (paper), pictures or names tags of predators (you can have non-predator animals too, where the deer continue eating), information on deer
1. Students will learn how deer browse for food for many hours daily yet must also be on the alert for danger.
2. Have students kneel down.
3. Put a piece of paper with cereal on it in front of each student.
4. Tell the students that they are deer, grazing in an open field. They should put their heads down like deer and eat.
5. Appoint one deer to walk among them and act as a lookout.
6. When the lookout senses danger (a child who has a picture or name of a predator attached to his/her body), the lookout deer raises his white tail (a hand-held flag).
7. The feeding deer must stop eating and flee to SAFETY (a predetermined, marked spot).
8. The predator may tag deer, thus "killing" them.
9. Discuss the action before allowing other students to become predator(s) and the lookout deer.
10. The situation can be changed by blindfolding one or more of the deer, having some deer be crippled or old (slower), sick, etc.
11. Discuss how other adaptations, such as, quick runners, hooves, signals, size of ears, eyes, and etc might effect the survival of the deer. Introduce survival of the fittest (why is it beneficial to the herd?). What are some things that help/hurt animals chances of survival?

Activity 4: Focus on Bird Beaks
Materials: graduated cylinder, shoestring, medicine dropper, sponge strip, gummy worms, straw, chopsticks, wrench, potting soil, data tables for each student
1. Ask, "What are animal adaptations?" "Why do birds have different shaped beaks?"
2. Give students a graduated cylinder as a food source.
3. Also give sample beaks: 1) a shoestring, 2) a medicine dropper, and 3) a sponge strip.
4. Challenge the students to find out how many seconds it takes each "beak" to get 10mL of water from the graduated cylinder to the cup.
5. Record the three times in a data table provided. Try several times with each "beak". Calculate the average time for each "beak." Record the averages.
6. Give students gummy worms as their food source.
7. Also give sample beaks: 1) a straw, 2) chopsticks, and 3) a wrench.
8. Challenge the students to find out how many seconds it takes to remove the gummy worms from the dirt using each "beak."
9. Use multiple trials, burying the worms after each trial.
10. Record the times in the data table. Calculate the average time for each "beak." Construct a bar graph of the averages.
11. Give students popped popcorn as their food source.
12. Provide the students with sample beaks: 1) tongs, 2) an envelope, and 3) chopsticks.
13. One member from each group will gently toss some kernels into the air.
14. Challenge the students to find out how many seconds it takes to capture 20 kernels with each "beak." The kernels must be caught while in the air. Try this several times.
15. Record times in the data table. Calculate the average time for each "beak." Construct a bar graph of the averages.
16. Discuss with the students the types of adaptations animals have to survive. Discuss with the students why birds have different shaped beaks. Have students discuss their graphs. (The type of bill on a bird gives a good clue to its feeding habits. Carnivorous birds like hawks, owls and eagles have strong hooked beaks for tearing flesh. Herons, egrets and kingfishers, with their straight heavy bills, spear fish, frogs, and crayfish -- then gulp them down head foremost. Ducks and geese dredge up roots, seeds and small water life, letting the mud and water strain away through grooves in the edges of their broad shovel-like bills. The woodcock probes in damp soil for earthworms with its long slender bill. The hummingbird uses its long proboscis to suck up nectar. The short stout cone-shaped beaks of such birds as the cardinal and the sparrows are adapted for gathering and cracking seeds. Most songbirds feed protein-rich insects to their growing young. Some use specialized bills for this job; others do not. The warblers have thin tweezers for picking small insect life from vegetation. Swallows, swifts
and night hawks are flying "insect nets " that can open wide gaping mouths for scooping up food on the wing. The woodpeckers have chisel-bills that hammer holes in dead wood for grubs which they harpoon with their long barbed tongues. These bills are equipped with a special shock absorber that prevents injury to the brain.)

Activity 5: Whale Echolocation
Materials: blindfold and large playing area
1. Ask students how sound and echo can be used to track objects. Tell that a whale uses echolocation to track objects.
2. Set up perimeter of playing space.
3. One student will become the whale and be blindfolded.
4. Other students can move to any place in the boundaries, but they must stay there.
5. The whale then gives the signal "echo" and the other students (the food) respond with "location". The whale tracks the food and the food then becomes the whale.
6. Variations: have students vary the volume of response; let students move in-between responses; let students sit, stand, or lie down
7. Discuss with students whether it is easier to track food by sight or sound? What happened when the food was quieter or louder? What other animals might use this system of finding food? What would be different in a real ocean situation?

Activity 6: How do Penguins Stay Warm in Extremely Cold Water?
Materials: large tub of ice water, newspaper, paper towels, rubber gloves, globe, vegetable shortening, 4-ziploc bags, cotton balls (feathers), prediction sheets (paper with picture of penguin and titled, "What keeps us warm?" Below the title it says circle your answer below and below that cotton balls (feathers) and blubber are written.)
1. Ask students, "What keeps penguins warm when they are swimming in extremely cold water?" Have students to circle their hypothesis on a prediction sheet.
2. Provide students with a latex glove.
3. Invite students to submerge their covered hand into the bucket of ice water.
4. Discuss that the temperature of the water was representative of being in ice-cold water with no extra protection.
5. Have the students put on the "feather glove" (ziploc bag filled with cotton balls and a second ziploc turned inside out and inserted to the already cotton ball filled bag then both zipped together).
6. Have students place their covered hand in the ice water. Ask students if their hand was kept warmer than with the latex glove.
7. Repeat the step with the "feather glove", but this time substitute vegetable shortening for the cotton balls (call this "blubber" penguin fat).
8. Discuss the student’s responses. After students have all agreed that the "blubber" kept their hand the warmest, what might happen if penguins didn’t have the protective layer of fat called blubber? What other kinds of animals do you think have blubber (or fat similar to blubber)? Why do you suppose that is?

Additional Information


Dr. Robert Sweetland's Notes ©