Adaptations and Natural Selection Lesson Plan: Life Preservers Game

Grade Levels: 6-8, 9-12

In this Natural Selection lesson plan, which is adaptable for grades 6-12, students use BrainPOP resources to explore how invasive species can have devastating effects on earth. Students will investigate how one species can affect another and deepen their understanding of evolution within the context of adaptation through the online game ‘Life Preservers.’ Students then create their own animal species cards which can be used to design a game of their own.

Lesson Plan Common Core State Standards Alignments

Students will:

  1. Learn how invasive species can have devastating effects on earth.
  2. Understand how one species can affect another.
  3. Explore and deepen understanding of evolution within the context of adaptation through the online game 'Life Preservers'.



species; ancestor; specialization; environmental pressure; variation; mutation; offspring; survival of the fittest; evolution; extinction


The best preparation is to explore the Life Preservers game yourself! You should be comfortable with all levels of the game to best facilitate the activities and adapt this lesson plan for your students. More information about the game can be found on the developer's website, Michigan State University (MSU). You can also read an MSU Article about how this game was developed as part of The National Science Foundation's project to study how boys’ and girls’ game-playing styles relate to learning from a game.

Photocopy the Activity Pages you'd like to use. Gather the materials for students to create their own animal species cards (on paper or online). You might want to create a template similar to those used in the games (Title, Description, My Environment, What Do I Eat? What Eats Me?).

Make sure students have completed significant research on adaptations and have a solid grasp on natural selection before playing the Life Preservers game. You'll want to make headphones available to students as they play (or if you don't have any, instruct students to turn off the background music.) Plan to pair up students into partnerships and allow them to play each level of the game for about 5 - 10 minutes.

You can fit this lesson into one class period, or play the game over the course of 2 - 3 days. The game take about 45 minutes to play, starting with The Age of Dinosaurs and moving into The Age of Mammals.

Lesson Procedure:

  1. Ask students if they can think of examples of how a species might become extinct (i.e. a natural disaster could result in lack of food, predators, etc.) Share answers. Explain that the class will be playing an online game that has to do with evolution, adaptation, and the history of life on earth. It even involves aliens! Tell students, "In this game, you’ll be scientists, working in pairs and making decisions to save life on earth! You’ll learn about alien civilizations trying to invade earth in ways that could have large scale, devastating impacts on the world. For each round, you’ll have to decide which alien species will do the least damage to earth.That's a pretty big decision, so you'll probably want to do some research before making your choice."
  2. Inform students that you will be sharing some additional information from the BrainPOP website to help prepare them for their mission. Show the movie Natural Selection at least once, and have students complete the Activity Pages to build background knowledge. The activities can be completed collaboratively if you'd like students to conduct the research with their Life Preservers partners.
  3. You might want to do a quick whole-class check to make sure all students have the prior knowledge they'll need to play the game. If so, take the BrainPOP Review Quiz as a class on Natural Selection.
  4. Project the Life Preservers Game using an interactive whiteboard or projector and review the basics of game play. You may want to watch the intro together and discuss, and demonstrate how to quickly create an avatar. Students can then skip the intro when they're ready to play.
  5. Give students specific guidelines for appropriate game play. You may want to model this for younger students. Explain the importance of reading the questions (adaptations) first, taking risks and not being afraid of having a wrong answer, turn-taking, and coming to an agreement with their partner before dragging an animal to the correct adaptation. Remind students that if they disagree with their partner, they should respectfully explain their position and be open-minded to hear other perspectives. You may also want to mention that this is partially a fictional game because the featured alien species are not real.
  6. Allow students sufficient time to play. When the class period is almost over, give students an opportunity to share out their scores. They can record on paper how many they got correct and how many they got wrong.
  7. Provide materials for students to create animal cards for a game of their own, either online or with paper and art supplies. As part of their game creation, have students write or talk about their Life Preservers strategies. This can serve as an assessment for the unit and cumulative activity. Guiding questions might include: What were some important considerations you thought over before choosing which type of species to stop to prevent extinction? What is one fact you were surprised about? How can one species alter the development of another species? What are some adaptive advantages of one of the species you studied?

Extension Activity:

Explore the movie and features for the Geologic Time and Extinction topics on BrainPOP. Show the Quirky Stuff feature and have students discuss what happens to animal species that died off not because they failed to adapt, but because they were over-hunted by humans. Which species are endangered today? What can we do to prevent their extinction? You may also want to check out the other Science Games featured in GameUp.

BrainPOP Movies:

Extinction (Activity Page Answer Key)
Geologic Time (Activity Page Answer Key)
Natural Selection (Activity Page Answer Key)