Lesson Plan

Snug in the Snow

mouse tracks in the snow
Mouse tracks in the snow
NPS Photo


Students make shoe box models of how small animals live under the snow in winter. An additional option is to conduct an experiment with jello to see if it solidifies faster on top of the snow or under the snow.


  • Students will be able to name one animal that lives under the snow in winter
  • Students will give one reason small animals stay under the snow in winter.


Many small animals rely upon a blanket of snow for winter survival. Mice, voles and shrews live in this subnivean (below the snow) world by tunneling through snow and feeding on seeds of plants, bark from trees and shrubs, and even storing small amounts of food. These small animals' tracks are often seen across the surface of snow. When they are on top of the snow, they are vulnerable to predators such as ermine (weasel), hawks and owls. Many of the "mouse holes" seen on the snow surface are actually vent holes to allow carbon dioxide from decaying plants to escape so these small animals don't suffocate. Snowshoe hares and grouse take advantage of the snow by snuggling into it for protection from cold and winds. Snow also allows the hares to reach higher up on trees and shrubs to feed. Learn more.


Who Lives in the Snow? by Jennifer Berry Jones
Shoeboxes Chalk or tempera paint
Twigs, cones, evergreen needles/branches
White paper or cotton
Clay/animal cut-outs


  1. Read the story Who Lives in the Snow? by Jennifer Berry Jones. With older students, review the following vocabulary words for snow with your class: subnivean (below the snow), supranivean (above the snow), intranivean (within the snow), predator (hunts and kills other animals for food), prey (animals killed by predators for food), and insulation (material or combination of materials which retard the flow of heat). Discuss the animals students may already know about like deer and elk that resist and stay active in Glacier National Park all winter. How do they stay warm all winter (thicker coats, moving to sheltered forested areas, etc...). Discuss how for smaller animals who have a harder time keeping their bodies warm, living under the snow provides extra warmth.
  2. Ask students if they have heard the saying "a blanket of snow." What does a blanket do? Tell students that you are going to make models of how small animals live under the snow in winter.
  3. Have students lay a shoebox on its side and whiten the inside with chalk or tempera paint.
  4. Cut away the roof and replace it with a piece of white paper or cotton cut to size (styrofoam could also be used). Allow paper or cotton to extend about 1/4 to 1/2 inch beyond the surface it is replacing. Hold it in place with toothpicks, tape, or glue.
  5. Decorate the top with twigs, dried weeds, and bits of evergreen.
  6. Make animals out of clay or playdough and place them where they belong, either above or below the snow. Option: You may use the line drawings provided at the back of this guide for the students to color, then place them where they belong in the diorama.


Ask the students to pretend they are one of the characters in their diorama and have them write a story about life in a subnivean world. Is it dark/light? Cold/warm? Quiet/noisy? Cozy/lonely?


Stir until dissolved, one tablespoon of gelatin into 1 cup of hot water, then fill small canisters half full and cover them. Divide students into small groups and ask them to choose a shady, exposed area for one canister, and a deep snow place to bury the other canister. Mark where the canisters are buried and make sure they are labelled. You may want to place thermometers next to each. When the surface ones begin to gel, check the buried ones. Which ones gelled first? Check the thermometers and see how they compare. Why might small animals want to stay under the snow on a cold day?


Subnivean, Supranivean, Intranivean, Carbon dioxide