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Evolution Lesson Plan/Activity for Middle School

Julia is a kindergarten teacher who loves bringing the world of learning to children.

An evolution lesson plan for middle schoolers

An evolution lesson plan for middle schoolers

Goals and Objectives

The goal of this lesson plan is to teach students about evolution, specifically how a mutation can be a crucial factor in the survival of a species and how these mutations have a role in natural selection.


After completing the lesson, students should be able to:

  • Identify and understand the various elements of natural selection.
  • Understand that changes in the environment affect the survival of a species.
  • Determine whether chance plays a role in natural selection
  • Understand that variations can emerge through a mutation

Introducing the Lesson

Begin the lesson by throwing a paper airplane around. Explain that while throwing paper airplanes isn't normally allowed, today, the class will be making and using them to learn about variations and natural selection.

Materials Needed

  • Loose leaf/notebook paper
  • Printer paper
  • Classification and verification sheets
  • Analysis sheets
Paper planes can be used to describe evolution

Paper planes can be used to describe evolution

Instructions for Building Paper Planes

Let your students know they will each be designing and constructing a paper airplane. Their goal is to create a plane that will survive to the final test.

Explain the tests to the students before they begin constructing their planes:

  1. In the first test, you will fly your plane 10 feet. If your plane survives, it will go on to the next test. If it does not survive, you will create an offspring of one of the survivors.
  2. The survivors and offspring face a second trial of 15 feet. The survivors will go on to the final round and those that did not survive will create offspring of survivors to go to the final round.
  3. The final test will be at 20 feet. Survivors will be judged for a prize based on beauty, distance and uniqueness.

Remind students that they should try to design a plane that can fly at least ten feet. Allow them time to construct a plane out of the provided paper given the following criteria:

  • Each student should put their name on their plane.
  • Each plane must have wings (no wads of paper.)
  • At least one sheet of paper should be used to create a plane.
  • Only paper may be used (no “add-ons.”)
  • Each plane should be the student's own design, and it can be decorated with pen/pencil designs.

After the planes are constructed, give students a small amount of time to practice flight and make modifications.

Experiment: Testing the Planes

Divide students into pairs to fly their planes. Allow each student two attempts to fly their plane. Their plane must cross the ten-foot line before touching the ground. Any planes that hit the wall or ceiling during flight do not "survive."

Students whose planes do not survive are to group up and design "offspring" of planes that did survive. Allow the students to choose a surviving plane and observe it. They may not touch or unfold the surviving plane but can ask questions of the student who created the plane.

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During the next test, planes must fly 15 feet successfully in order to survive. Planes that survive will move into the final round. Students whose planes do not survive are to design "offspring" of surviving planes.

In the final round, students are given two attempts to successfully fly their planes 20 feet.

A more sophisticated design, but how well does it fly?

A more sophisticated design, but how well does it fly?

Discussing the Findings

Discuss the findings with the class:

  • Were all of the airplanes exactly the same?
  • What made them different? (allow for answers and include a lesson on variation in the population)
  • Did all of the offspring survive in the second trial to reproduce for the third trial?
  • What ‘variations’ helped those survive and reproduce? (Prompt for answers such as wing size, length, width.)

Summarizing Evolution Through Natural Selection

"In species, such as our airplanes, we see that natural selection affects what characteristics survive. We noticed that planes with _____ characteristic did not survive and that the offspring did not have any of those characteristics.

A species changes or evolves over time. Evolution builds on what already exists, so the more variety there is, the more there can be in the future. Species develop over time with characteristics that help them to survive, and any characteristic that causes them to be weak is eliminated over time.

In the final test, we did not have any planes with _____ characteristic because of natural selection."

Another thing that students will notice is that not every plane was the same. There was a variation in the population of planes—not all planes had the same design.

© 2012 Julia Shebel


Catherine Toops on January 24, 2013:

Evolution should not be a touchy subject! More teachers should be thinking of engaging ways to teach it, not teach around it. Way to go!

cashmere from India on January 20, 2013:

Beautiful way to explain evolution. I got my son a desk calender which has a fold an aircraft a day activity in it. We've made about two dozens planes since the new year and he's enjoying it greatly.

collegedad from The Upper Peninsula on December 30, 2012:

I'm stealing this one! Evolution can be such a touchy subject. This fun approach allows the students to draw their own conclusions about natural selection. Perfect!

Kelly Umphenour from St. Louis, MO on September 03, 2012:

Very fun and awesome idea! Bet my girls would love to try making one:). My girls are 11 and 12 - perfect ages for this project!

Spunk Nellie from New York, NY on July 18, 2012:

Cool idea. My own biology teacher did something along the lines of this but his activity was way more complicated and didn't teach the lesson quite as well, I don't think. Airplanes were inspired.

Nathan Bernardo from California, United States of America on July 17, 2012:

Good ideas here, well connected to lesson, and sounds like fun too. Well spelled out plan, and it would provide good experience for the students.

Teresa Coppens from Ontario, Canada on July 17, 2012:

Wonderful lesson for middle schoolers who all love to build paper airplanes. A wonderful way to take a natural tendency and turn it into scientific inquiry!

Rebecca Mealey from Northeastern Georgia, USA on July 17, 2012:

Very cool! This is an engaging activity and sure to keep middle schoolers interested. An interesting and very "different way to teach natural selection!

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