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Animals On Europa (Part 1/4)

Context for this Lesson

School or Organization: 

TOPIC: Animal adaptations



  • How have animals adapted to live on Earth?



§112.16. Science, Grade 5

(b) Knowledge and Skills.

  • (9) Organisms and environments. The student knows that there are relationships, systems, and cycles within environments. The student is expected to:
    • (A) observe the way organisms live and survive in their ecosystem by interacting with the living and non-living elements.
  • (10) Organisms and environments. The student knows that organisms undergo similar life processes and have structures that help them survive within their environments. The student is expected to:
    • (A) compare the structures and functions of different species that help them live and survive such as hooves on prairie animals or webbed feet in aquatic animals.

§117.119, Theatre, Grade 5

(b) Knowledge and Skills.

  • (1)(D) express emotions and relate ideas using interpretive and planned movement and dialogue.
  • (3) Creative expression: production. The student applies design, directing, and theatre production concepts and skills. The student is expected to:
    • (B) alter space appropriately to create suitable performance environments for playmaking;
    • (C) plan dramatizations collaboratively; and
    • (D) interact cooperatively with others in dramatizations.


  • Laptop/other research materials
  • Animal Research Worksheet
  • Pencils

Created by: Ally Tufenkjian and Tonja Lopez



I’d love to learn all of your wonderful names so we’re going to do a quick name game. Everyone, please stand in a circle with your hands at your side. One person will make eye contact with another person across the circle, say their name and toss the bean bag to them. Once they have tossed it once, they will put one of their hands behind their back. Once they toss the bean bag a second time, they will put their other hand behind their back. If a person has both their hands behind their back, you can no longer pass the bean bag to them. This means that we will hear everyone’s name twice.

(Students begin passing the bean bag and sharing their names. Facilitator might pause the game and ask the group for suggestions on how the activity might run smoother).

After everyone’s hands are behind their backs, Facilitator asks: What made this activity run smoothly? What were some strategies that the group used?

Transition: These are some strategies we will continue to use as we work together in this class. This leads us right into creating our Community Agreement, which will give us guidelines for how we will support each other during our time together.



It’s important that we decide as a group how we’ll work together and support each other in this space. Our work together will involve us doing drama activities where we’ll use our bodies and voices to share and act out ideas. We will also make observations about each other’s work and work together on projects. If we’ll be doing this, what are three important things we need to do to support each other? (Facilitator takes student ideas and gets ‘thumbs up’ to affirm each guideline. These are written on a piece of chart paper and will be posted every class).

Transition:  Now we’ll head into the theme for our unit, which is how animals adapt to their environments. A special guest from NASA will be joining us in a moment to lead our exploration because her and her peers are facing a big problem and need your help. Are you ready to meet her?

(Facilitator dons costume items and jumps into role).

Facilitator in Role: Hi everyone. My name is Cynthia Hunter and I’m an ecologist at NASA where I study how different organisms interact with their environments to survive. I’m really excited to be here today because Miss Ally told me that you all are expert researchers, which is exactly what I need to tackle this huge problem we’re facing on planet Earth. As you may know, Earth is running out of resources - have you heard about this? What are some resources that are scarce on Earth right now? You all are exactly right. Eventually, Earth will no longer be able to support human and animal life. Though this reality is many years away, NASA is already researching the possibility of living on another planet because it will take years of research to figure out how to live on other planets. In fact, scientists recently discovered seven new planets in a nearby star system 40 light years away that they believe could support life! We don’t have enough information from NASA about these new planets for our research project this next week, but we do know a lot about one of Jupiter’s moons, Europa that NASA has had their eye on. Its environment is similar to Earth’s in several ways. What do you know about Europa already? (Quick group brainstorm to gauge students’ background knowledge).

We’ll be researching Europa’s environment at a later date, but today, we’ll be thinking about animals that we know of and how they have adapted to live in their environments on Earth. Then eventually, we’ll figure out how they might need to adapt to live on Europa.



In a moment, we’ll be working in groups to investigate animals and their adaptations. In order to make sure we collaborate respectfully, let’s brainstorm several guidelines for working with each other in groups. What might be some strategies we can use to make sure everyone is respected and gets the opportunity to participate fully in the group? (Facilitator takes group suggestions and writes them on chart paper; uses the “thumbs up” tool to gauge agreement from the class. Might offer side-coaching, such as “What might be a way to ensure everyone’s voice is heard equally?” and “What is a way to make sure everyone shares responsibility in the group?”)

Transition: Thank you all for these great ideas. As we continue to collaborate throughout our time together, we will reference these guidelines. Now we can start our group research!



Each group will pick a different animal to research. We’ll be working with this animal for the rest of the unit so choose one that really interests you and your group. Take a couple minutes to decide. (Student groups discuss; Facilitator circulates to assist). Now that we have our animals, we need to do some research on them. Everyone will get an Animal Research Worksheet. Write your animal on the top of the worksheet now. Let’s go over the rest of the worksheet; you will need to find out and report on the following:

  • How big or small the animal is (dimensions and how much it weighs)
  • How it gets food and what its prey is
  • Two adaptations it has that helps it survive in its environment
  • Biotic factors in its environment (define with students)
  • Abiotic factors  in its environment (define with students)

You can use your class laptops to research. Your Worksheet also has Research Tips on it to help you know if a website’s information is accurate. Make sure you’re following those recommendations so you know the information you find is valid.

(Groups get time to research).



To further explore these animals and their environments, we’ll be using a theatrical device called tableau. A tableau is a frozen image you make with your body. For instance, if my tableau was “brushing my teeth,” I might do this: Facilitator models a tableau of brushing their teeth. Let’s do a couple practice rounds. We’ll all stand up at our seats and face the back of the room. I’ll give you a tableau prompt and then I will say “1-2-3-TURN” and you’ll turn to the front of the room in your frozen tableau. You will stay frozen until I say “Reset.” Let’s do “brushing your teeth” together. Facilitator says “1-2-3-TURN” and students freeze in the circle. Excellent work! Let only your eyes unfreeze so you can see everyone’s awesome choices. Let’s do a couple more to practice. (Facilitator leads 2 more prompts).

Think about the images you remember that were really strong and clear. What made them so clear and strong? Think about what you noticed about people’s faces and body positioning.

Now, we’ll be making tableaux as we did before, this time as a group. You’ll be creating a tableau of the answers to the research questions you just investigated. Your image should give us an indication of how big or small your animal is, how it gets food, how it has adapted to live in its environment, and biotic and abiotic factors it interacts with in its environment. For instance, if your animal is a platypus, you might create a tableau of the platypus in its den on the riverside. Be creative about how you represent the animal in its environment and remember the tableau guidelines we generated as a group. Everyone will be in the tableau and each group will share their tableau with the whole class. As you work together, make sure each group member agrees on their role in the tableau.

(Groups create. Facilitator circulates to assist. Facilitator might offer side-coaching, such as “How could you add more levels to this tableau?” or “Think about the facial expression and body language you might use to convey what you are in the image”).


Now we’ll get a chance to see everyone’s images. We’ll give each group a “3-2-1 Action” when it’s their turn to share, which will signal them to freeze in their tableau (First group shares). What do you see in this image? What animal might this be? What might be one of its adaptations? (Facilitator repeats this process with each group).

This is an excellent start. Next week, we’ll explore Europa’s environment to see how ideal of an environment it is for these animals. Please make sure you remember what animal your group worked on today - this will be the animal we stick with for our entire exploration.

(Facilitator steps out of role).




  • What have we learned about these animals?


  • What surprised you about these animals?


  • How drastically might these animals need to adapt to live somewhere other than Earth?
Extensions/Applications : 


Make a second tableau brainstorming how the animal might need to adapt to live on Europa.

Downloadable PDF: