Lesson Plan

Hoofin' It! - Who's Got My Habitat?

silhouetted Dall sheep on a ridge, mountains in the distance
Dall sheep atop a ridge
NPS Photo
Grade Level:
Third Grade-Twelfth Grade
Biology: Animals, Wildlife Biology
2 or 3 class periods
habitat, population dynamics


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 eight explores wildlife habitat and wildlife populations


Students will be able to identify food, water, shelter, and space as the main component of habitat; describe habitat requirements for Dall sheep, define limiting factors and list examples; recognize that sheep populations are not static and will fluctuate.


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?



Begin this activity by telling the students that they are going to become Dall sheep and components of their habitat. Ask students what the main components of habitat are , e.g., food, water, shelter, and space.

Ask the students to count off by fives. Leave the role of recorder for a student who doesn’t feel like running or can’t be physically active. Have all the 1’s line up at one end of the gym/field; they will be the Dall sheep. Have everyone else line up at the other end of the gym/field; they will be the habitat components (food, water, shelter, or space).

Each “habitat component” will get to pick what they want to be at the beginning of each round, but they must remain as the same type of component through the entire round. To represent food, students should clamp their hands over their stomach. To represent water, students should put their hands over their mouth. To represent shelter, students should hold their hands over their head and clasp their hands (like a tent). To represent space, students should hold their arms out in front them in an open circle (like holding a big ball).

The 1’s, or Dall sheep, will choose a habitat component to look for any during each round but once they choose what they need, they can’t change until the next round, either. The Dall sheep depict which habitat component they need in the same way (i.e., cover the mouth for water, hold stomach for food, etc.).

The game starts with all players lined up on their respective lines with their backs to each other, so the 1’s can’t see the 2-5’s and vice versa. The teacher gives the students a few moments to decide what habitat component they will be (2s—5s) or what habitat component they will need (1s). Have each student make the appropriate sign. When all the students are ready, count to three and the student turn around to face one another.

When the sheep see the habitat component they need, they should run (or walk if in a small area) to it. Each sheep must hold their sign until they find the “habitat component” that is the same on the other side. When a sheep finds the habitat component it needs, the sheep takes that person back to the sheep side of the gym/field. All these students will become sheep in the next round. If a sheep doesn’t find the habitat component it needs, then it doesn’t survive. Sheep that don’t survive become a “habitat component”. As an example, if all the students decide to make the same sign, for example, all shelter, that could represent a “drought” year with no available food or water. All sheep that chose a sign other than shelter will become habitat on the next round.

At the end of each round, have the recorder tally how many sheep are on the line. Continue the game for approximately ten rounds.

At the end of the game, ask the students what happened. Together graph the results from year to year (each round representing one year) on the flip chart or chalkboard. Place the year along the x-axis and the number of sheep along the y-axis. The students will observe fluctuations in the sheep population. Ask them why this happened.

Discussion Questions

Discuss how habitat components can affect populations:

  • Did the number of sheep go up or down or both?
  • What do animals need to survive? 
  • What are are some of the “limiting factors” that affect sheep survival? 
  • Are wildlife populations static, or do they tend to fluctuate as part of an overall balance of nature? Is nature ever really “balanced”?

Have students do the activity again, only have index cards with different limiting factors on the cards (i.e. predator, weather, pollution, development). Graph how the different limiting factors affect the sheep population.

Suggested Assessment 

Have students answer the following independently in a paper or verbal exercise:

  1. Name the essential habitat components.
  2. Define limiting factors and give three examples.
Give the student different graphs with population size fluctuating over time. Have the students give reasons as to why the population might be fluctuating.

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)