If you want to spark your student’s interest in the sciences, there’s no surer way than teaching them about dinosaurs. Dinosaurs are fascinating; they’re big, bad, and so different from the animals that exist with us today. Back in the day I was taught about dinosaurs through hour-long slideshows. How many children do you know that can keep their butt glued to the carpet for an hour non-stop? It’s time to reinvent the dinosaur lesson plan.

A great place to start a lesson plan on dinosaurs is by explaining to your students that dinosaurs lived a long time ago (65 million years ago). Define what the word “extinct” means. It is also crucial to explain that humans did not exist at the same time as the dinosaurs. You should also explain to your students how we know about dinosaurs from their remains that we find in the earth. Introduce fossils! We also know about the types of plants that existed and other animals (ex: mastodons and sabertooth tigers) from fossils that paleontologists find.

Chicago Field Museum

Chicago Field Museum
Image: Oscar Shen via Flickr

What did the world look like during that time? Show them a picture of Pangaea, the supercontinent that was made up of all the continents on earth. Explain how the continents drifted apart. Providing illustrations is a great idea for this part. If you really want to go in depth into this topic, a great activity is to have your students piece together Pangaea like puzzle pieces.

Include your students in this! What makes a dinosaur a dinosaur? You can go on to discuss as a class how lizards, whales, turtles, and crocodiles are similar to dinosaurs.  Bringing dinosaurs figures and comparing them to lizard, whale, turtle, and crocodile figures can make this part engaging, kids love to touch things with their hands!

Next introduce dinosaurs. Teaching resources recommend teaching about: Tyrannosaurus rex, Stegosaurus, Triceratops, Apatosaurus, Velociraptor, and Iguandon. This is where you bring in interesting facts about their size (comparing it to ex: the size of a car, bus etc.), their speed, and diet. Teaching about dinosaurs also means teaching students about the difference between carnivores, herbivores, and omnivores.


Image: Eric (EJP Photo) via Flickr

Explain the mechanics of their bodies. For example: carnivores walked on two legs and; how dinosaurs’ large skulls or tails helped in balance. There are numerous ways you can go about this: creating posters with images (creating webs connecting to the dinosaur characteristics, printables, depending on their grade level, researching an assigned dinosaur (time to use an iPad anyone?), and watching videos.

If you are looking for a hands-on assignment, why not be a paleontologist for the day? Hide dried chicken bones in sand boxes. Have your students use paint and toothbrushes to dig up “dinosaur” bones. This would be a great activity to go along with a lesson plan about what paleontologists do.