Lessons from Dinosaurs!
When it comes to being popular among kids, dinosaurs have withstood the test of time. Children love them for their size, ferocity, and mystery. Dinosaurs instill a sense of wonder in kids, and many kids develop an intense interest in dinosaurs. Use this interest to teach your students about dinosaurs themselves and to teach your class skills that they will use for a lifetime.
Dinosaur Dig
In this activity, students pretend to be paleontologists uncovering the remains of dinosaurs. In a sandbox, cover items like toys, sticks, leaves, rocks, and, if you have them, bones for the children to find. Discuss how the items may change if they remained covered for a period of years. Ask students about the precautions a paleontologist would have to take when uncovering fossils and bones so that the specimens would not be harmed.
Next, take students to an area where they can search for fossils. After finding a few, return with them to the classroom where children can observe them more closely. Use magnifying glasses, if available, so students can get a good look at the fossils’ details. Discuss how the fossils came to be and then tell the children that it is time for them to make their own. Have children press objects into clay. They can use leaves, feathers, toys, and other small items to make indentations in the clay. When the object is removed, ask students to describe the details seen in the imprint.
Sorting and Classifying
Have students create a list of the class’s ten favorite dinosaurs. Divide the class into small groups and give each group one of the dinosaurs to research. Each group needs to find a picture of the dinosaur, and information about its size, where it lived, and what it ate. Have each group briefly report their findings to the class. As the class learns about each dinosaur, they can organize information about it in a chart. Have students note characteristics like whether each ate plants, meat, or both. Also, have them note whether the dinosaurs walked on two legs or three. Which dinosaur is the largest? The smallest? After all the information has been charted, discuss how the parts and attributes of each creature affected its life. Have students compare the dinosaurs to animals living today. What similarities and differences do they notice?
Habitat Diorama
For this activity, students will research the habitat of a dinosaur of their choice. Using a small box, art supplies, and found objects, students create a visual representation of the dinosaur’s habitat. For added effect, they can include a model of the dinosaur inside the scene.
This activity can also be extended to show what that creature’s habitat looks like today. Kids can start by finding out where a set of their dinosaur’s bones had been discovered. Students can then research what that area of the world is like today. To share this with others, students can make a second diorama or report what they have learned in the form of an oral presentation.
Measurement Skills
In preparation for this activity, students need to make a list of a few dinosaurs and include in it their length and height. Once students have done so, can they estimate what each dinosaur’s size compares to? How many giraffes tall is an Apatosaurus (formerly known as Brontosaurus)? Is a Velociraptor taller than the playground slide? Would the Tyrannosaurus rex fit through the school’s main entrance? Take a poll of the answers to these kinds of questions. Next, grab a tape measure and head outdoors to put the dinosaurs’ sizes into perspective.
Virtual Tour
Viewing the skeletal remains of an extinct species firsthand is not always an option. Fieldtrips to a museum or university’s collection may be too distant for you to schedule. Students can still see amazing exhibits online. Visit sites like New York City’s American Museum of Natural History or Chicago’s Field Museum. These websites are filled with beautiful pictures, amazing videos, and in-depth articles focusing on their dinosaur exhibits. (Many also have free teaching kits for lessons about dinosaurs.)
For the virtual tour, create a series of questions to be answered by students as they navigate throughout the museum’s website. Consider adding questions about visiting the museum, too. Students can find out the basics like the hours of operation and the cost of admission. Maps of the museum itself are frequently included in websites such as these. Use them to pose questions about the directions to certain locations within the museum. If your class does get to go on a field trip to the museum, preview your trip using the virtual tour.