Lesson Plan

Adaptations for Survival


Living things use adaptations to respond to life needs for survival. These adaptations may be behavioral or physical in nature. Students will investigate adaptations of plants and animals living in Shenandoah National Park using observation, cooperation, discovery, and participation skills. As human and environmental impacts are evaluated, stewardship behaviors that support a healthy environment will be explored and practiced.


Following the park experience and classroom activities, the students will be able to

  1. Define physical and behavioral adaptations and list two examples of each;

  2. Describe how animals (and plants) use adaptations, instincts, and learned behaviors to get food, find shelter, and provide protection;

  3. Explain how natural and human influences on a habitat can impact an organism's ability to use adaptations to survive;

  4. Determine how Shenandoah National Park protects cultural and natural resources and tell how people can contribute to the health of the environment.


An adaptation is a characteristic that makes a plant or animal more suited to its environment, thus improving its chance for survival. Most living things have a variety of adaptations. These are classified as either behavioral or physical adaptations. Behavioral adaptations include what an animal does and how it behaves in order to survive in a specific environment. Examples of behavioral adaptationsinclude migration, hibernation, gathering and storing food, defense behaviors, and rearing young. Instinctive behavior is an unlearned, inborn tendency to behave in a way characteristic of a species, i.e. migration. Learned behavior is gained through observation, experience, or instruction, i.e. stalking prey. Physical adaptations are the body structures or forms that a plant or animal has that help it survive in a specific environment. These include body coverings, colors and patterns for mimicry or camouflage, and specific physical characteristics of body parts.

All forms of life are dependent upon nonliving components of the environment. These abiotic factors include water, oxygen, nutrients, space, and sunlight. The living and nonliving components of an ecosystem interact and are interdependent. Human practices and natural occurrences can influence both living and non-living components of an ecosystem. Pollution, litter, waste, as well as fires, floods, and erosion can drastically alter an ecosystem. Such changes can impact the ability of organisms to use their adaptations and threaten their survival. If any one component is damaged or lost, it can have far-reaching effects on the other living things in that web of life.

Conservation practices and resource protection are important for the well-being of the environment. People can have a positive influence on ecosystems by learning and practicing responsible environmental stewardship behaviors.