Life is Non-fiction

1. Defining Physical and Behavioural Adaptations

Suggested Learning Intentions

  • To understand how adaptations help living things survive in different habitats

Sample Success Criteria

  • I can explain what is meant by the term 'adaptation’
  • I can explain how a particular adaptation helps a living thing survive
  • Photographs of a variety of Australian animals and habitats
  • Information texts on animal adaptions for students to conduct collaborative research

Display an image of an animal and ask students to predict its habitat and the particular features that might help the animal to survive.

For example, display a photograph of the leafy sea dragon, and ask:

  • What can you tell us about this image?
  • Where might this animal live?
  • What makes you think that?
  • How might the features of this animal help it to survive? Explain.   

Model the explanation game to demonstrate thinking strategies and generating and evaluating multiple explanations.

Display images of two animals from very different habitats, for example a fresh water crocodile and an emperor penguin. Discuss with the class how each animal is perfectly designed for its environment. Ask students to turn and talk to a partner about what would happen if the animals swapped habitats.

Organise the students into collaborative pairs to repeat the explanation game using either a crocodile or emperor penguin, or an animal of their choice to closely examine the features of each animal and to suggest how particular features help the animals to survive in particular habitats.

Invite students to share their explanations and allow time for class discussion and elaboration of ideas.

Introduce and discuss the term adaptation.

Discuss the definition of adaptation from the VCAA Science Glossary:

  • ‘A physical or behavioural characteristic that is inherited and which results in an individual being more likely to survive and reproduce in its environment’.

Explain to students that they will be developing their own definition of adaptation and will be providing an example of a physical and behavioural adaption.

Ask students to discuss their initial thinking, defining behavioural  and physical adaptions using a think, pair, share strategy.

Organise students into collaborative groups. Introduce the placemat routine as a useful thinking tool to explore the concept further and develop a co-constructed definition of adaptation.         

Invite each group to share their placemats. Co-construct a class definition using the key ideas from the student work. Display the class definition on a word wall that could be added to throughout the sequence.

Invite students to suggest examples of physical and behavioural adaptations and to explain differences between the two. Record their responses on a T Chart.

Display the photographs and read the text from Top 10 ingenious Aussie animal adaptations, or select an alternative text with visual and written information on adaptations.

Ask students to discuss each page and decide if the adaptations referred to are behavioural or physical and to record their responses independently on a T Chart.

Invite students to work in pairs to select an Australian animal from the previously viewed text and delve deeper into their adaptations. Student could also use other texts to explore an animal of their choice.

  • Ask students to read the texts, summarise relevant information and record adaptations in note form.
  • Encourage students to distinguish between physical and behavioural adaptations.
  • Ask students if they know how the structural features of information texts might help them to locate specific information. For example, the table of contents, headings and index.
  • Invite students to share and justify their thinking on physical and behavioural adaptations and add any new information or examples to the class definition.

Enable students who require extra assistance with reading comprehension to select reading material that is appropriate for their independent reading level, or invite students to join a guided reading group to support comprehension of appropriately levelled texts.

Continue to discuss and provide examples of behavioural and physical adaptations to students who are having difficulty developing an understanding of the concept.

Suggest that students could record their summaries using notes, drawings or labelled diagrams.

Extend students by encouraging them to gather information from a variety of sources. Ask them to consider how human activity might affect an animal’s ability to adapt and survive in its environment.

Refer back to the learning intention and success criteria for this stage of the learning.

Ask students to individually complete an exit ticket:

  • Explaining what is meant by the term adaptation
  • Providing an example of a behavioural and physical adaptation
  • Explaining how the adaptation helps an animal to survive.

Students could complete their exit tickets by submitting:

  • A written response
  • A labelled photograph of an animal and explaining its adaptations
  • A drawing and using labels and illustrations to explain the adaptations.

Alberta Education, 2003. Placemat Activity. [Online]
Available at:
[Accessed 15 March 2022].

Australian Geographic, 2016. Top 10 ingenious Aussie animal adaptations. [Online]
Available at:
[Accessed 15 March 2022].

Department of Health, Government of Western Australia, n.d. T and Y-charts. [Online]
Available at:
[Accessed 15 March 2022].

National Geographic Society, 2019. Adaptation. [Online]
Available at:
[Accessed 15 March 2022].

The Nature Conservancy, 2019. Desert Dwellers. [Online]
Available at:
[Accessed 15 March 2022].

The Wildlife Diaries, 2018. Spotting Australian animals in the Simpson Desert. [Online]
Available at:
[Accessed 15 March 2022].

Vigors, A., 2017. The Explanation Game, Thinking Pathways. [Online]
Available at:
[Accessed 15 March 2022].

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