Lesson Plan

Snug in the Snow

mouse tracks in the snow
Mouse tracks in the snow

NPS Photo

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Grade Level:
Third Grade-Fifth Grade
Group Size:
Up to 24
National/State Standards:
MT.SCI.K-12.3.4 Students, through the inquiry process, demonstrate knowledge of characteristics, structures and function of living things, the process and diversity of life, and how living organisms interact with each other and their environment.
subnivean, snowflake, winter, snow


Students make shoe box models of how small animals live under the snow in winter. An additional option is to conduct an experiment with jello to see if it solidifies faster on top of the snow or under the snow.


  • Students will be able to name one animal that lives under the snow in winter
  • Students will give one reason small animals stay under the snow in winter.


Many small animals rely upon a blanket of snow for winter survival. Mice, voles and shrews live in this subnivean (below the snow) world by tunneling through snow and feeding on seeds of plants, bark from trees and shrubs, and even storing small amounts of food. These small animals' tracks are often seen across the surface of snow. When they are on top of the snow, they are vulnerable to predators such as ermine (weasel), hawks and owls. Many of the "mouse holes" seen on the snow surface are actually vent holes to allow carbon dioxide from decaying plants to escape so these small animals don't suffocate. Snowshoe hares and grouse take advantage of the snow by snuggling into it for protection from cold and winds. Snow also allows the hares to reach higher up on trees and shrubs to feed. Learn more.


Who Lives in the Snow? by Jennifer Berry Jones
Shoeboxes Chalk or tempera paint
Twigs, cones, evergreen needles/branches
White paper or cotton
Clay/animal cut-outs



Ask the students to pretend they are one of the characters in their diorama and have them write a story about life in a subnivean world. Is it dark/light? Cold/warm? Quiet/noisy? Cozy/lonely?


Stir until dissolved, one tablespoon of gelatin into 1 cup of hot water, then fill small canisters half full and cover them. Divide students into small groups and ask them to choose a shady, exposed area for one canister, and a deep snow place to bury the other canister. Mark where the canisters are buried and make sure they are labelled. You may want to place thermometers next to each. When the surface ones begin to gel, check the buried ones. Which ones gelled first? Check the thermometers and see how they compare. Why might small animals want to stay under the snow on a cold day?


Subnivean, Supranivean, Intranivean, Carbon dioxide