Lesson Plan

What Color Was I?

Model reconstruction of ancient pig-like animal
Model reconstruction of ancient pig-like animal

National Park Service photograph

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Grade Level:
Fifth Grade
Biology: Animals, Paleontology
50 minutes (1 period)
National/State Standards:
SD Life Science Standards: 1.L.3.1, 2.L.3.3, 3.L.3.4, 4.L.2.1, 5.E.1.1


In this lesson, students will learn where Badlands National Park is located, what fossil resources are protected at the park, and why so many fossils have been preserved there.


Students will be able to recognize three fossilized animals of Badlands National Park and identify them as mammals. Students will be able to identify at least one fossilized sea creature from Badlands National Park. Students will be able to orally describe the major steps in the process of fossilization.


The environmental conditions that deposited the Badlands sedimentary layers, or strata, significantly increased an animal's chance of fossilization. When an animal died, say a saber tooth cat living on an ancient flood plain, its body would decompose- just like animals do today. But, if conditions were just right, an animal's hard parts (mostly teeth, jaws, skulls, and shells) might become fossils. When the Badlands formed, sediments like sand, mud, and silt would quickly cover some of the dead animals. This fast burial protected the bones, teeth, and shells from decomposition. Over time, these protected hard parts changed into the fossils we find today.

Badlands National Park is well known for its excellent fossil record. The fossils are from different time periods. The oldest Badlands fossil are marine fossils from the late Cretaceous (69 to 74 million years ago). Although dinosaurs were alive during the Cretaceous, no dinosaur fossils have ever been found in Badlands National Park. Dinosaurs were land animals; therefore, they would not be found with sea creatures.

The next time period of fossils in Badlands National Park is known as the "Golden Age of Mammals" from 25 to 37 million years ago. Dinosaurs were extinct and mammals such as ancient dogs, horses, rhinos, camels, saber-toothed cats, oreodonts, and titanotheres ruled the land. This lesson introduces students to the fossilized animals of Badlands National Park.


Badlands Virtual Experience, Badlands Fossil Trading Cards, copies of Coloring Sheet, and crayons


Additional Resources

These resources are available through Badlands National History Association (BNHA), a not-for-profit organization established to support education and research efforts at Badlands National Park.

  • Badlands Suite: Land of Stone and Light, From Field to Lab, Multiple Perspectives (DVD)
  • Fossils Tell of Long Ago by Aliki
  • Prehistoric Journey: A History of Life on Earth by Kirk R. Johnson and Richard K. Stucky (children's reference book with many pictures)


fossil, fossilization, Badlands National Park, mammal, reptile, dinosaur, mosasaur, ammonite, bacculite, paleontologist, sea, crocodile, extinct, terrestrial

Last updated: April 10, 2015