Lesson Plan

Bison Adaptations

Bison mother with calf
Grade Level:
Upper Elementary: Third Grade through Fifth Grade
Literacy and Language Arts,Science
Lesson Duration:
60 Minutes
Common Core Standards:
4.RF.4, 5.RF.4, 4.RI.1, 4.RI.3, 5.RI.5, 4.W.2, 5.W.2
Thinking Skills:
Understanding: Understand the main idea of material heard, viewed, or read. Interpret or summarize the ideas in own words. Applying: Apply an abstract idea in a concrete situation to solve a problem or relate it to a prior experience.

Essential Question

What does the largest animal in North America need to survive?


Students will understand how bison have adaptations to help them survive in their environment.


The American bison is the largest land mammal in North America. Since it is native to this continent, it has developed some special adaptations to help it survive in its environment. An adaptation is a special skill or physical attribute that living things develop over time to help them survive and thrive in their habitat. These may be adaptations for defense against predators, adaptations to take advantage of food resources, and adaptations to withstand weather and environmental hazard.


Humans don’t have any of the right equipment on their bodies to keep them alive on the prairie. How do we adapt to live in this environment? What technology do we employ?


Catcher's chest protector: The thick hide of the bison keeps it warm and protects it from predators. Balaclava: Bison, unlike cattle, face and walk into winter storms so they have thick fur in front of their faces. Fake fur: Bison fur is thick and warm in the winter but can be molted or shed in the summer to cool the animal. Mittens with wood blocks: Sturdy hooves help the bison dig away snow from the ground in the winter and are a formidable weapon against predators. Bottle of Pepto on belt: In order to process cellulose in grasses, bison stomachs have four chambers which contain microorganisms to help in digestion. Glasses with trowel: Bison have wedge- shaped noses that they use to push away snow when grazing in winter. Helmet: Bison have very thick skulls which they use for protection and as a weapon against other bison during the rut. Plastic forks: Both male and female bison have horns for protection. Fly-swatter: Bison (and humans) use this appendage to deflect insects! Finally, gather all of the students together in a clump to show the adaptation of living in a herd for protection.

Download Build a Bison

Lesson Hook/Preview

Brainstorm some adapations you think an animal would need in order to survive and thrive in a tallgrass prairie.


Not only do bison have a number of handy physical characteristics, they have some remarkable athletic abilities as well. 

1. An American bison can run 35 miles per hour which is the equivalent of the 100-meter dash in 6.4 seconds. The human world record is 9.8 seconds (Donovan Bailey, 1996) I can do the 100-meter dash in ______ seconds.

2. The way the bison’s legs and feet are constructed, it would be the equivalent of doing the 100 yard dash on your tip-toes.
I can do the 100 yard dash on my tip toes in ______ seconds.

3. An American bison can do a standing long jump of 4.3 meters. The human world record is 3.47 meters (Ray Ewry, 1904)
I can do a standing long jump of ______meters.

An American bison can do a standing high jump of 1.8 meters. The human world record is 1.65 meters (Ray Ewry, 1900)
I can do a standing high jump of _______ meters.

Contact Information

Email us about this lesson plan

Last updated: March 19, 2023