Lesson Plan

Plant Adaptations


Students will understand the concepts of habitat and plant adaptations to desert environments.


Students will understand the concepts of habitat and plant adaptations to desert environments.


Most people think about habitat as something that animals depend on. But plants depend on special habitats also. This activity has two parts: 1) a habitat game, which has been adapted to help students understand plants' basic needs, and 2) an adaptation scavenger hunt.

Explore Great Sand Dunes' web page on plants to learn more about some of the diverse plants of the park and their unique adaptations.



Adaptation Teaching Cards (PDF), Great Sand Dunes Plant Handbook (optional, PDF)


Part 1: Play plant habitat game
(short running game)

What is a habitat? This game teaches the four essentials of habitats: food (nutrients and sunlight), water, shelter and space. Introduce these four distinct hand motions: 1) food (hand over belly), 2) water (hand to mouth, as if drinking), 3) shelter (hands over head, making a tent), and 4) space (arms outstretched to the side).

Divide the class into two groups: plants and habitat. Make two parallel lines in the sand, 20 feet apart. Have the plant students stand with their toes touching one line, facing the habitat students, who are doing the same on the other line. The plant students get together as a group and decide what one habitat component they will all go after. Then they face away from the habitat students (you can ask them to put their heels on the line instead of their toes).

The habitat students then individually choose what habitat component to be and then make the appropriate hand motion: food (hands on belly), water (hands as if drinking from a cup), shelter (hands on top of head like a tent), or space (arms outstretched to the side).

When the habitat students have assumed their positions, the leader makes a signal for the plants to turn around and run to the students displaying the habitat component that the group decided on (all the plants should be running after the same thing). If a plant reaches the right kind of habitat first, that habitat student is turned into a plant and goes back to the other line. If a plant student doesn't make it to the right kind of habitat, the plant dies and becomes habitat. (This activity can also be played with animals instead of plants.)

Continue for several more rounds. Discuss what happens when there is not enough of certain habitat components to go around.

Part 2: Plant Adaptation Search

So we've learned about what a plant needs to survive: food, water, shelter, and space. Let's look around us, at the sand dunes, and think about what the habitat is like here. What are some of the challenges that plants have to deal with?

On the left side of a paper or dry erase board, make a list as students brainstorm ideas (altitude, lack of water, too much sun, high winds, etc.). On the right side make a list of how they think plants might be adapted to survive these difficult environmental conditions.

Divide students into small groups again for a total of eight groups. Walk to where each group can be assigned a small search area and given an Adaptation Teaching Card with specific information. Consider predefining good sites with flagging. Have each group study their card and look for something in their area that illustrates the adaptive characteristic. Give students ten minutes to study their information, look for examples, and practice what they're going to say to the rest of the class. Take the class on a tour of each area and have each group present their adaptation.


How have humans adapted to difficult environmental conditions? What special characteristics do we have that help us survive?


adapt, alpine, habitat, nutrient, pollination, species