Lesson Plan

The Changing World of the Shenandoah Salamander

Students learn about the Shenandoah salamander.

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Grade Level:
Upper Elementary: Third Grade through Fifth Grade
Lesson Duration:
60 Minutes
Common Core Standards:
3.RI.5, 4.RI.7
State Standards:
State: Virginia          
Subject: Science                    
Grade Level: 4

State Standards:
Living Systems:
4.5 The student will investigate and understand how plants and animals in an ecosystem interact with one another.
Thinking Skills:
Remembering: Recalling or recognizing information ideas, and principles. Understanding: Understand the main idea of material heard, viewed, or read. Interpret or summarize the ideas in own words.


Define the mission of the National Park Service. Name three national park areas and their significant features.

Explain how Shenandoah protects plants and animals, specifically the Shenandoah salamander.

Identify three environmental/human influences that can impact the ecosystem of the Shenandoah salamander.

Describe potential consequences to the Shenandoah salamander's survival.

Explain three ways that individuals can help reduce the impact of human-accelerated climate change.


The mission of the National Park Service and Shenandoah National Park is to preserve and protect the natural and cultural resources and leave them unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations. There are more than 400 National Park areas across the nation that protect significant natural features, historic sites, and heritage areas.

Shenandoah National Park is one of these special places where visitors come to experience the mountain views, stroll through meadows and forests, hike to waterfalls, photograph wildflowers, and observe wildlife. Shenandoah National Park is a refuge for many animals and plants pressured by human activities and other land uses. There are more than 200 resident and migratory bird species, more than 50 species of mammals, more than 35 fish species, and 26 reptile species found in the park.

Shenandoah is also home to 14 species of salamanders including the Shenandoah salamander (Plethodon shenandoah) which is an endangered species that is only found in cool, moist habitats on three high elevation peaks within the Shenandoah National Park. Salamanders are amphibians, and like frogs, need water or moisture in which to reproduce. Many salamanders are considered to be at risk for survival due to the loss of, or changes to, their habitat. Although these secretive creatures are unknown to many people, they are important parts of terrestrial ecosystems in our natural world and are in serious need of our protection.

There are many plant and animal species worldwide that live in special habitats at higher elevations that are at risk of extinction. One contributing factor to this risk could be warming temperatures due to climate change. Climate change is predicted to result in dramatic changes in temperature and moisture conditions in the Appalachian Mountains, including the high elevation ecosystem where the Shenandoah salamander lives.

Around the world, scientists are studying potential impacts of a warming climate. Shenandoah National Park is collaborating with the Smithsonian, University of Virginia, US Geological Survey and other federal agencies to assess the potential climate change impacts on high-elevation ecosystems by studying the endangered Shenandoah salamander. Through this lesson, students will understand the plight of the Shenandoah salamander, will be able to educate others about the Shenandoah salamander and climate change, and will be able to make educated lifestyle choices to reduce their "ecological footprint."

This program was funded by a generous donation from the Shenandoah National Park Trust.



  1. Have laptop or tablet or teacher computer for student research

  2. Print KWL chart for each student

  3. Print What is a National Park? Worksheet for each student



What is a National Park? Worksheet and KWL worksheet

Download Student Activity Sheet

Lesson Hook/Preview

Watch the first 2:53 minutes of The Shenandoah Salamander video.




  1. In small groups, individually, or with teacher guidance research 6 national parks including Shenandoah to fill out the What is a National Park? Worksheet.  Use the websites www.nps.gov/shen and www.nps.gov/index.  15-20 minutes for research.  Optional: 5-10 minutes for student sharing.

  2. Have KWL chart given to each student. Have the students record what they KNOW about the Shenandoah salamander and climate change in the “K” rock, and then brainstorm with students about what they WANT to know and record it in the “W” rock.  

  3. Prepare to watch The Shenandoah Salamander video. Challenge the students to listen for the following concepts in the video:

  • What is the habitat of the Shenandoah salamander and its specific needs for survival? (cool and moist environments on mountaintops in Shenandoah National Park)

  • What physical and behavioral adaptations does the Shenandoah salamander have to help it survive in its environment? (moist skin, lives at high elevation under rocks where it is cool and moist)

  • Why is the Shenandoah salamander a federally endangered species?(Rarity, restricted range)

  • What is climate? (weather conditions prevailing over a period of years)

  • What is climate change and what causes it? (Climate change is a long-term alteration in global weather patterns, especially noted as increases in temperature and storm activity and intensity. These changes can be a combination of natural and/or human-induced activities such as the greenhouse effect from the burning of fossil fuels.)

  • What is happening to the habitat of the Shenandoah salamander? (human activities are causing more greenhouse gas emissions which cause higher temperatures and lower humidity in salamander habitat)

  • The Shenandoah salamander is an endangered species and found only in Shenandoah National Park. Its habitat is changing ~ getting drier and warmer due to climate change.

  • What will happen to the Shenandoah salamander if its habitat continues to change due to a changing climate? (Can it move somewhere else? Can it adapt? Will it become extinct?)

  1. Lead student discussion on questions above.



Adapt – to make fit or suitable by changing or adjusting

Adaptation – a special trait or characteristic that helps an organism survive

Physical adaptation – a part or function of the body that helps an organism survive. Examples include claws, thorns, long legs, camouflage, mimicry

Behavioral adaptation – behaviors or actions that allow an animal to respond to life needs. Examples include hibernation, migration, dormancy, instinct, and learned behavior

Amphibian – a cold-blooded vertebrate that spends some time on land but must breed and develop into an adult in moist areas. Frogs, salamanders, and toads are amphibians.

Carbon dioxide – a colorless gas released from the decomposition of organic materials (i.e. animal respiration; burning of fossil fuels). Carbon dioxide in the Earth’s atmosphere keeps some of the sun’s energy from radiating back into space, keeping the planet warm enough to support life.

Cold-blooded – body temperature varies with surrounding temperature

Climate change – long-term alteration in global weather patterns, especially noted with increases in temperature and storm activity and intensity. These changes can be a combination of natural and/or human-induced activities such as the greenhouse effect from the burning of fossil fuels.

Endangered species – a species whose numbers are so few, or are declining so quickly, that the animal, plant, or other organism may soon become extinct. Endangered species may be protected under state, federal, or international law.

Greenhouse effect – warming of a planet’s atmosphere caused by solar radiation trapped by water vapor and carbon dioxide.

Habitat – environment in which a plant or animal lives

Preservation – to keep intact; protect from danger, harm, or injury

Protection – the act of preventing something from being harmed or damaged, or the state of being kept safe

Research – the methodical investigation into a subject in order to discover facts, to establish or revise a theory, or to develop a plan of action based on the facts discovered

Terrestrial – living or growing on land rather than in the sea or the air

Assessment Materials

Students will write a letter to a park ranger about what they learned about the Shenandoah Salamander.

Student Letter to Ranger

Download Assessment

Enrichment Activities

Make your school a "Schoolyard Habitat"! With teacher assistance, students can analyze, then apply appropriate habitat principles in their schoolyard.
Schoolyard Habitat Program 
Habitat for Wildlife

Virginia Naturally: Virginia Naturally provides citizens and educators with a virtual library and gateway to statewide environmental education resources.

Additional Resources

Shenandoah salamander resources
"Shenandoah Salamander - Shenandoah National Park." U.S. National Park Service - Experience Your America. Shenandoah National Park, 16 July 2012. United States. U.S. Department of the Interior. National Park Service.

"Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries." Species Information: Shenandoah Salamander (Plethodon shenandoah). Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries, 2012.

"Shenandoah Salamander (Plethodon shenandoah)." Virginia Herpetological Society, 2011. 

"Climate Change and Shenandoah Salamanders." N.p., n.d. Web.


Climate change resources
National Park Service Climate Change Overview 

"Climate Change: Vital Signs of the Planet." Climate Change: Vital Signs of the Planet. National Aeronautics and Space Administration: 

United States Environmental Protection Agency's "What You Can Do" about climate change (home, office, school and on the road suggestions)

Environmental Protection Agency's Students' Guide to Global Climate Change. Interactive and good information: 

Calculate your carbon footprint and find out ways to reduce energy use.

Citizen science resources
"You Can Be a Scientist, Too!" Citizen science project websites relating to climate change.

Student involvement in citizen science; informative and inspirational articles

National Science Foundation's website with answers to "What Can I Do To Help?" 

Related Lessons or Education Materials


  1. “Melting Glaciers –A Photographic Journey Through Time” 12 Alaska glaciers and one Peruvian one –3 minute video https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OfeNmITawpg

  2. Discussion: Why is this happening? Are YOU Going to Change?What’s happening in “YOUR habitat” and what can you do in your habitat to reduce climate change?

  3. Students will calculate and analyze their Ecological Footprint http://www.myfootprint.org/ or http://epa.gov/climatechange/kids/calc/index.html

  4. Students can create a pledge to make lifestyle choices that can reduce their carbon footprint and contributions to climate change.

  5. It’s Salamander SHOWTIME! Review the Shenandoah salamander KWL chart and read a salamander book. Using a sock puppet, toy salamander, or a finger puppet, have students create a puppet show/skit/drama telling the story of the Shenandoah salamander and climate change.

  6. Present their skit before an audience.

  7. Check out the following books: Salamanders of the Southeast by Joe Mitchell (non-fiction), The Salamander Spell by E.D. Baker (fantasy), Salamander Rain (A Lake and Pond Journal) by Kristin Joy Pratt-Serafini, Big Night for Salamanders by Sarah Marwil Lamstein

  8. Shenandoah Salamander Habitat: Have students make a Shenandoah salamander habitat/diorama in shoebox and be able to describe its habitat requirements.

  9. Eluding Extinction: People can make a difference to help the environment and species in danger of extinction. Investigate “success stories” of other imperiled species: Peregrine Falcon: https://www.nps.gov/shen/naturescience/falcon.htm and Bald Eagle: http://ngm.nationalgeographic.com/ngm/0207/feature2/index.html

  10. Make a Difference!!!: Have the students participate in a citizen science project at school. Students will be able to analyze and share their data, submit poems, artwork, and other classroom activities to the projects that have student publications.

  11. The following projects have their own protocols, lessons, and general information to get your students involved in “making a difference” in their world.

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Last updated: February 18, 2016