Adaptation by natural selection teaching resources

Worksheets and lesson ideas to challenge students aged 11 to 16 to think hard about the adaptations of organisms (GCSE and Key Stage 3)

Adaptation: “Any feature of an organism that allows it to survive in its habitat”. It is important that teaching adaptation doesn’t turn into a Just So story – not every feature of an organism is the result of natural selection. All objects must have a shape and a colour, so we can’t always assume that features are advantageous; they could be neutral or even deleterious. There are some fantastic adaptations that students can research. For example, the dead leaf butterfly. Don’t forget about plants, fungi and slime moulds! The video below is a great starting point. It show a particularly exciting adaptation of Mimosa pudica.

Where to start?

Check out the glass frog from the Andean cloud forest and see if students can come up with a hypothesis as to why this adaptation (transparent skin) could be an advantage.

Is it an adaptation?

GCSE worksheet on adaptation. Students come up with hypotheses about why leaf curling is an advantage to Mimosa plants. They work in groups to plan an experiment to test one of their theories. It encourages students to think critically about how difficult it can be to prove a specific feature of an organism is actually an adaptation that brings about an advantage. (PDF)

Adaptations for different habitats

Visit this page for resources on habitats and adaptations

Explain how the dead leaf butterfly became camouflaged – evolution of leaf mimicry

This activity checks whether students can take their knowledge of natural selection and use it to explain how a particular species of butterfly came to resemble a leaf. Ask students to use the theory of natural selection to explain how the dead leaf butterfly evolved to resemble a leaf. You could scaffold the activity so that students need to refer to specific parts of Darwin’s theory in their explanation. For example, variation among individuals (including mutation), inheritance of variation, differential survival and reproduction (some individuals survive longer and reproduce more than others) and change in population over time.

Thinking deeper

  • If organisms are adapted to their environment, why do they go extinct?
  • Can an organism adapt in its life-time?
  • Suggest why zebras have stripes. How would you test your hypothesis in the field?
  1. Adaptation 
  2. Evidence for evolution
  3. Evolution by natural selection 
  4. Bioinformatics
  5. Variation

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