What Is Life? - Lesson Plan

Instructor: Kerry Gray

Kerry has been a teacher and an administrator for more than twenty years. She has a Master of Education degree.

This lesson plan will help teachers introduce the definition of life through the scientific lens. Students will watch a video lesson, learn scientific terms, and engage in collaborative work.

Learning Objectives

After this lesson students will be able to:

  • define life
  • identify examples of evolution, natural selection, and mutation
  • make predictions of future mutations related to climate change


This lesson will take approximately 45-90 minutes.

Curriculum Standards


Communicate scientific information that common ancestry and biological evolution are supported by multiple lines of empirical evidence.


Construct an argument based on evidence about the simultaneous coevolution of Earth's systems and life on Earth.


Determine the meaning of symbols, key terms, and other domain-specific words and phrases as they are used in a specific scientific or technical context relevant to grades 11-12 texts and topics.


  • DNA
  • evolution
  • life
  • mutation
  • natural selection
  • RNA

Lesson Instructions

Activate prior knowledge by asking students if they believe that life exists on other planets. Have students stand for their position and justify their answers. Guide students to differentiate between life and intelligent life. Explain to students that today's lesson is about defining life.

Watch The Basic Nature of Life as a class. Pause at 0:57 to ask the following:

  • What are some examples of living things on Earth?
  • Why is it difficult for scientists to define life?

Continue the video lesson. Pause at 1:44 to create a class definition of life.

Watch video until 3:03. Ask:

  • What is DNA?
  • What is RNA?

Watch the remainder of the video with the class.

  • What are mutations?
  • Why are mutations vital to the continuation of life?
  • What is natural selection?
  • How do mutations and natural selection lead to biological evolution?

Use the printable worksheet to evaluate student mastery of content.

Mutation, Natural Selection, or Evolution Activity

Materials needed: access to computer/printer/internet/video equipment

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