Lesson Plan

Bears of Glacier Bay 1: Name That Bear

Black bear with cub
Mother black bear and cub on beach.


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Grade Level:
Sixth Grade-Eighth Grade
Biodiversity, Biology: Animals, Conservation, Ecology, Environment, Wilderness, Wildlife Biology
50 minutes
Group Size:
Up to 36 (6-12 breakout groups)
National/State Standards:
NS.5-8.1  Science as Inquiry
NS.5-8.3 Life Science
bears, Brown Bear, black bear, habitat, Glacier Bay National Park, mammal, science, research, researcher, middle school


Students begin this investigation by watching the nine minute video, Bears of Glacier Bay. Tania Lewis, a researcher at Glacier Bay, interacts with local students to answer questions about the two bear species found in Glacier Bay. Students discuss their reactions to the video and then become researchers in a role play activity. As researchers, the students collect data to compare similarities and differences between people and bears at various stages of maturity.


Focus Questions:

  • What are the differences between brown bears and black bears? 
  • How does bear growth, development, and maturation compare to humans? 


Our "Bears of Glacier Bay" curricula unit is divided into three lesson plans, each taking one class session to complete. They are part of our "Middle School Scientists" series that explore the fascinating research and resources of Glacier Bay National Park.
Check out the other lessons:

Bears of Glacier Bay 1: Name that Bear
Bears of Glacier Bay 2: What's the Scoop on Poop?
Bears of Glacier Bay 3: Be Bear Aware

Glacier Bay National Park is home to brown/grizzly bears (Ursus arctos) and black bears (Ursus americanus). Black bears are found primarily in the forested regions of the lower bay, while brown bears live mainly in the open, recently deglaciated regions of the upper bay. 

Brown bears and black bears are closely related, but have many different traits that help distinguish the two species. Brown bears are usually larger than black bears and have a prominent shoulder hump, subdued ears, and longer, straighter claws. Their long claws are useful in digging roots, but not effective to climb trees. Black bears lack a shoulder hump, have prominent ears, and short, curved claws. They live in forested areas where climbing trees is their best method of defense. A large male brown bear may weigh up to 1400 pounds compared to 300 pounds for a large male black bear. Both have an exceptionally acute sense of smell, while their eyesight is similar to that of humans. One of the most distinguishable features of both species is their face profile. Black bears have a straight face profile and brown bears have a more dish shaped profile.

Color is not a reliable key in differentiating these bears because black and brown bears have many color phases. Black bears can range in color from jet black and cinnamon to white, while brown bear colors range from dark brown to very light blond.  

Both brown bears and black bears spend the winter months in a state of hibernation called torpor. They enter this dormancy period in late fall when food availability drops. In the spring, bears emerge to feed on the abundance of food available. 

Through careful observation and scientific research, park biologists gain an understanding of how bears interact with their environment, each other, and humans. This knowledge allows them to make the best management decisions to protect bears, humans, and the habitat.  


There are a few handouts to complete this lesson.

Additional Materials Needed: Student journals, pencils, internet access



Glacier Bay Bears AssessmentThe following pre and post tests provide assessment for material covered by the entire Bear Curriculum series (Investigations 1-3)


Is it a black bear, brown bear? The two species can easily be confused. Use the "Brown vs. Black" video clip (https://www.nps.gov/glba/naturescience/bear-identification.htm) located on the park website to highlight several identifiable characteristics to help students decide. For fun, have students take the "Bear Identification Quiz" at the end of the program to see if they are on their way to becoming a bear researcher!

Additional Resources


Official Glacier Bay National Park Website:

Alaska Department of Fish and Game - Wildlife Notebook Series: http://www.adfg.alaska.gov/index.cfm?adfg=educators.notebookseries

International Association for Bear Research and Management:

Free education lessons and downloads from WildBC:                                                           


omnivore, maturity, torpor