Natural Selection Lesson Plan

Instructor: Dana Dance-Schissel

Dana teaches social sciences at the college level and English and psychology at the high school level. She has master's degrees in applied, clinical and community psychology.

Use our video lesson to teach students about natural selection, and help students examine Darwin's ideas of natural selection by evaluating their traits. Consider extra activities and related lessons for deeper exploration of this topic.

Learning Objectives

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

  • define natural selection and related concepts, such as overproduction, variation, selection, and adaptation
  • analyze the principles of evolution in terms of personal traits and the traits of the general population


1 to 1.5 hours

Curriculum Standards


Determine the central ideas or conclusions of a text; trace the text's explanation or depiction of a complex process, phenomenon, or concept; provide an accurate summary of the text.


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 9-10 texts and topics.


Compare and contrast findings presented in a text to those from other sources (including their own experiments), noting when the findings support or contradict previous explanations or accounts.

Key Vocabulary

  • Charles Darwin
  • Natural selection
  • Overproduction
  • Variation
  • Selection
  • Adaptation


  • Begin by asking students to list the traits, both physical and behavioral, that they share with their immediate family members. Discuss their responses and list some common ones on the board or poster paper.
  • Now, show the video lesson How Darwin's Observations Showed the Process of Natural Selection, pausing at 1:49.
    • Have the students compare their own previously discussed traits to those of their grandparents. Discuss these similarities and dissimilarities briefly.
    • Next, ask students to list any traits they have that are different from those of their parents and grandparents. Discuss these differences and write some of the common ones on the board or poster paper.
  • Continue playing the video lesson, pausing again at 2:59.
    • Ask students to list two animals that overproduce. Discuss their responses.
  • Resume the video lesson and pause at 3:40.
    • For a collaborative element, have students move about the learning space to document the many different variations in the student population. (This can go beyond hair color, eye color, and skin tone by including things like height, shoe size, attached or detached earlobes, the ability to roll one's tongue, and so on.)
    • If working with an individual student, have them list people in their circle of family, friends, neighbors, etc. and record some physical attributes of each one. Alternatively, you can find a few images online of groups of people whose physical characteristics can easily be observed. For the next task, students can use information from their own circle or from the images you provide.
    • When all students have completed their tallies, have them share their findings and discuss.
  • Continue playing the video and pause at 4:19.
    • Revisit the original list of traits you created together. Using the information gleaned from the video lesson regarding selection, why do students think these specific traits were passed on to them from their parents? Discuss their responses.
  • Resume the video and pause it at 4:38.
    • Review the list of traits you created together that represent those they share with their grandparents. Do these represent adaptation? Discuss thoughtfully.
  • Play the remainder of the video lesson.


  • This activity can be conducted by dividing students into two groups, with one group researching height and the other weight. Alternatively, individual students can select either height, weight, or both to complete independent research.
  • Tell students to use the Internet to research the average height or weight (depending on their group or selection) of an adult male and an adult female in 1600, 1700, 1800, 1900 and 2000.
  • When all students are finished gathering their data, ask them to share the information. Does this data support Darwin's theory? Why or why not? Discuss evidence and reasoning to support student responses.

Discussion Questions

  • Does evolution explain why some animals become extinct?
  • Does physical attractiveness factor into Darwin's theory?


  • Have students conduct research on endangered animals in your area. What are the factors that have placed them on the endangered list? Do these match up with Darwin's theory?
  • Have students trace the evolution of human beings. Are there any changes that natural selection cannot explain?

Related Lessons

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