Lesson Plan

Hoofin' It! Hard to See?

sheep high atop a mountain
Sheep spend most of their time in remote and inaccessible locations
NPS Photo
Grade Level:
Kindergarten-Eighth Grade
45 - 60 minutes
camouflage, adaptation


The lesson plans in our 'Hoofin' It!' unit help students learn the basics of animal classification and what characteristics are common to mammals, mainly through studying Dall sheep.

Lesson five focuses on understanding camouflage as an animal adaptation.


Students will perform a simple experiment to demonstrate camouflage as an adaptation, and understand its importance to survival.


The "Hoofin' It!" unit explores the natural resource management of Dall sheep in the national parks of northwest Alaska. Students will learn about Dall sheep, where they live, how they have adapted to their environment, and how wildlife biologists study them to understand how to protect their populations within national parklands. Links to other lessons in the unit can be found at page bottom.

Dall sheep are a wild sheep that lives on steep mountain slopes across the Alaska. The sheep are an integral part of the natural ecosystem, and they are prized by subsistence and recreational hunters. In the early 1990s, the Dall sheep population in the Baird Mountains of Noatak National Preserve declined dramatically, losing half its population in two years. Wildlife managers closed the sheep hunting season for seven years to allow the population to grow again.

Why did the population drop so suddenly? What are the natural and human factors that affect the Dall sheep population? In the spring of 2000, Brad Shults, a wildlife biologist for the National Park Service, began a research project to learn more about Dall sheep population dynamics. Shults hopes to better understand sheep by studying the number of lambs that are born, how long sheep live, what are the most common causes of death, where do they go from season to season, and just how many sheep are there?


Before You Begin

  1. Read and review Dall Sheep Fact sheet.
  2. Create hole punches of at least 4 different colors, and have the same number of each color, at least 20 for each group.
  3. If you are specifically using this activity to meet the national science standard Content Standard A: Science as Inquiry - Abilities necessary to do scientific inquiry, review the content standard for your grade before proceeding.

Pre-Activity Discussion

  1. What is camouflage? Why might an animal have camouflage as an adaptation?
  2. How can we study what would be an effective camouflage and what would not be as effective? How might you study this in nature, and how might use study this in the classroom?
  3. Brainstorm with the class how it can use the colored hole punches and the patterned backgrounds to create a camouflage experiment.

Modify the procedures below to incorporate the ideas and design of the class.


Split the class into groups of about 4 or 5. Each group can assign one person to be the scatterer and data collector.

Have each group select a patterned cloth or wrapping paper, and spread it out flat on the desk. Select one group to use a cloth or paper that is completely white. To be more realistic choose backgrounds that represent different seasons, greens and browns for summer, fall colors, and white for winter.

Tell the students they are golden eagles and wolves looking for Dall sheep lambs along the valley to eat for food. The hole punches represent the various food sources for eagles and wolves, white hole punches represent Dall sheep.

Have the scatter mix the colored hole punches together and scatter them on the patterned cloth or wrapping paper. Don't give students time to look before continuing.

Say "Go!", and tell the students to pick up as many of the punches as possible. Allow a few seconds and call "Stop!" For older students, five seconds may be ample, younger students may need closer to 10.

The data collector should record the number of each color of hole punches collected by each student in the group. This can be recorded on individual notepads or on the board.

The groups are to analyze their data. Each group should calculate the total (sum) and mean (average) number of each color collected by the students in their group. The data should be graphed. If students know how to do a stacked bar chart, they may.

Post a graph from each group on the wall where all students can see them. In their groups, have the students answer the discussion questions 1 - 5 below. Have each group present their findings to the rest of the class.

Post-Activity Discussion

  • Which color was collected the most by your group? Why?
  • Which color was collected the least by your group? Why?
  • Were these colors the same for each student within the group, or not? Why?
  • Did the most and least collected colors vary across groups? Why?
  • What conclusions can you draw from this data about how camouflage works in nature? Explain why you have made that conclusion.
  • How might you test your conclusions? Could there be other explanations? How might you use the data you have or collect new data to test alternative explanations?
  • How might seasonal changes or movements change how well different colors or patterns camouflage an animal?
  • How effective do you think the white color of Dall sheep is in different seasons? What other adaptations might the Dall sheep have for the seasons when they are not as well camouflaged?


For younger students: From the different papers or fabric, students are to design and cutout secret shapes (at least the size of a thumbnail). Glue the different shapes to the same background material. Display the board and ask the students to find the secret shapes. Keep a tally of how many shapes students find, and compare to the actual number. Discuss questions 1-3, 5, 7, 5, and 8.

Additional Resources

The "Hoofin' It!" unit explores the natural resource management of Dall sheep in the national parks of northwest Alaska. Students will learn about Dall sheep, where they live, how they have adapted to their environment, and how wildlife biologists study them to understand how to protect their populations within national parklands.

This unit is designed for grades K-12. Many of the lesson plans are appropriate for younger grades, although the later part of the unit are geared towards middle and high school. A class needn't do every lesson in the unit to gain insights into wildlife management - each can be approached as a stand-alone lesson on a particular biology-related topic.

Lesson 1
Hoofin' It! - What Do You Know?

(Understanding taxonomy; k - 12th grade)
Lesson 2
Hoofin' It! - Vertebrate Grab Game

(Exploring types of vertebrates; 3rd - 6th grade) 
Lesson 3
Hoofin' It! Vertebrate Mysteries

(A vertebrate matching game; 8th - 12th grade)
Lesson 4
Hoofin' It! Special Parts

(Animal adaptations; k - 12th grade)
Lesson 5
Hoofin' It! Hard to See?

(Camoflague; k - 8th grade)
Lesson 6
Hoofin' It! - Sheep Maneuvers

(A predator-prey game; k - 12th grade)
Lesson 7
Hoofin' It - Year of the Sheep

(Life cycle of a Dall sheep; 3rd - 12th grade)
Lesson 8
Hoofin' It! - Who's Got My Habitat?

(Habitat and wildlife populations; 3rd - 12th grade)
Lesson 9
Hoofin' It! - Habitat Grid

(Exploring wildlife habitat; k - 3rd grade)
Lesson 10
Hoofin' It! - Through the Seasons

(A game looking at seasonal impacts on wildlife; 2nd - 11th grade)
Lesson 11
Hoofin' It! - Population Art

(Intro to counting wildlife populations; k - 2nd grade
Lesson 12
Hoofin' It! - Population Calculation

(Graphing and analyzing sheep population data; 6th - 10th grade)
Lesson 13
Hoofin' It! - Scavenger Hunt

(A game connecting students to wildlife; k - 6th grade)
Lesson 14
Hoofin' It! - Field Sampling

(How scientists count wildlife populations; k - 12th grade)
Lesson 15
Hoofin' It! The Bean Counters: Mark-Recapture

(Learning to use the mark-recapture method for population surveys; 5th - 12th grade)