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 these as a class and list some common ones on the board.
  • 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 as a class.
    • Next, ask students to list any traits they have that are different from those of their parents and grandparents. Discuss these differences as a class and write some of the common ones on the board.
  • Continue playing the video lesson, pausing again at 2:59.
    • Ask students to list two animals that overproduce. Discuss these as a class.
  • Resume the video lesson and pause at 3:40.
    • Have students move about the classroom 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.)
    • When all students have completed their tallies, have them share their findings for class discussion.
  • Continue playing the video and pause at 4:19.
    • Revisit the original list of traits on the board. 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 this as a class.
  • Resume the video and pause it at 4:38.
    • Review the list of traits on the board representing those they share with their grandparents. Do these represent adaptation? Discuss as a class.
  • Play the remainder of the video lesson.


  • Divide students into two groups. One group will research height, and the other weight.
  • Tell students to use the Internet to research the average height or weight (depending on their group) of an adult male and an adult female in 1600, 1700, 1800, 1900 and 2000.
  • When both groups are finished gathering their data, ask them to share it with the class. Does this data support Darwin's theory? Why or why not? Discuss as a class.

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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