Mass Extinction Lesson Plan

Instructor: Christopher Muscato

Chris has a master's degree in history and teaches at the University of Northern Colorado.

With this lesson plan, your students are going to examine the mass extinctions in geological history. They will consider the impacts on biodiversity and create their own simulations to test the survival of species.

Learning Objectives

Upon completion of this lesson, students will be able to:

  • Distinguish between mass extinction and background extinction
  • Summarize the five mass extinctions in geological history, including impacts on biodiversity
  • Rationalize how species survive and change throughout a mass extinction event


60-90 minutes

Curriculum Standards


Initiate and participate effectively in a range of collaborative discussions (one-on-one, in groups, and teacher-led) with diverse partners on grades 9-10 topics, texts, and issues, building on others' ideas and expressing their own clearly and persuasively.

  • MS- LS4-4

Construct an explanation based on evidence that describes how genetic variations of traits in a population increase some individuals' probability of surviving and reproducing in a specific environment.

  • MS-ESS2-3

Analyze and interpret data on the distribution of fossils and rocks, continental shapes, and seafloor structures to provide evidence of the past plate motions.


  • Printed copies of Mass Extinction: Definition, Timeline & Events and Lesson Quiz.
  • A list of roughly 75 species of plants, animals, fungi, and bacteria. Feel free to have fun making this list - can combine living and extinct animals, and even some mythological ones if you want. Print out copies of this list, one for each group.
  • Slips of paper with ecological pressures or events. These can include things like sudden increase in temperature, onset of an ice age, 10,000 years of volcanic explosions, disease that kills oxygen-producing plants, meteorite impact, etc. Some repeats are okay. Each slip of paper should describe this event and give a rough idea of how it will impact the climate/environment.
  • Hat or bucket

To unlock this lesson you must be a Member.
Create your account

Register to view this lesson

Are you a student or a teacher?

Unlock Your Education

See for yourself why 30 million people use

Become a member and start learning now.
Become a Member  Back
What teachers are saying about
Try it risk-free for 30 days

Earning College Credit

Did you know… We have over 200 college courses that prepare you to earn credit by exam that is accepted by over 1,500 colleges and universities. You can test out of the first two years of college and save thousands off your degree. Anyone can earn credit-by-exam regardless of age or education level.

To learn more, visit our Earning Credit Page

Transferring credit to the school of your choice

Not sure what college you want to attend yet? has thousands of articles about every imaginable degree, area of study and career path that can help you find the school that's right for you.

Create an account to start this course today
Try it risk-free for 30 days!
Create an account