What Are Endangered Species?

3, 4, 5

The purpose of this lesson is for the learners to understand the meaning of endangered species and to explore what causes some plants and animals to become extinct. 

PrintTwo Forty-Five Minute Class Periods

The learner will:

  • reviewthe basic needs of all living things.
  • identify what happens whenthe basic needs of people, animals, and plants are not met.
  • know and understand the definitions of endangered species, extinct, basic needs, and habitat .
  • explore some of thereason why living things become extinct.
  • identify some of the things people can do to prevent endangered animals from becoming extinct.
  • 25 index cards (or recycled paper cut in eighths) labeled "food"
  • 25 index cards (or recycled paper cut in eighths) labeled "water"
  • 25 index cards (or recycled paper cut in eighths) labeled "shelter"
  • chart paper
  • permanent marker
  • computer with Internet access
Home Connection 

After Day One, learners ask family members and/or do research to find names of plants and animals that are endangered or extinct. They bring names to class on Day Two.


US Fish and Wildlife Service http://www.fws.gov/endangered/


  1. Anticipatory Set:

    Ask the learners, "What are the three basic needs for all living things to survive?" (food, water, shelter). Tell the students that these three basic needs are printed on the index cards they are going to use in a simulation. Have the students line up in order to draw three random cards from the shuffled pile to determine what is available to them in this competitive environment today.

    Say to the learners, "If you pick one of each card (food, water, and shelter), go to the back of line. You will get to keep playing. If you do not get all three needs met, you must sit down (out of line) and watch the others continue to play."

    Keep the game moving quickly and continue to play (reshuffling cards) until most of the learners are sitting down. Lead the learners in a reflection discussion and make inferences about how this is like real life for animals and what keeps them from getting their basic needs met.

  2. Write the word endangered on chart paper or the display board.Have the learners share what they know about the word. Listen to their responses and guide them to define endangered as "when a species of living thingsis 'in danger' of dying out." Write the definition next to the word.

  3. Write the words extinct,basic needs, and habitat on the chart paper or the display board and have the learners share what they know about these terms. Following their sharing, write the meanings next to the words (extinct: when a species that has died out and none of its kind is living anywhere on Earth; basic needs: food water, and shelter; habitat: the environment that best suits an animal or plant because it provides their basic needs).

  4. Ask the learners what could happenif a plant or animalwas moved out of its habitat. Discuss the possible outcomes. Lead the learners to conclude that in orderfor plants and animals to survive and flourish, they need to live in a habitat that supplies them with their basic needs. (Note: This may introduce a discussion about the role of zoos or about invasive species that destroy other species when people introduce them into foreign habitats.)

  5. Have the learners share why they think it is important to protect endangered plants and animals from extinction.

  6. Tell the learners that some laws have been enacted to protect endangered plants and animals. Ask them if they think a law is a goodway to prevent extinction. Discuss.

  7. Challenge the students to come to the next class period with the names of any plants or animals that are endangered or extinct. They can do researchor ask their families and friends for names of plants and animals. If possible, they can find out what caused the endangerment.

  8. Day Two

  9. Ask the students to share the names of plants and animals that are endangered or extinct. Review the definitions learned on Day One.

  10. Ask the students to think about what human actions could move a species from endangered to extinct. Brainstorm ideas such as cutting down trees, poaching, depleting nutrients in the soil, building on an animal or plant's habitat, polluting, etc.

  11. Tell the students to get out a piece of paper and number it from one to five. Ask them to think for a minute quietly about possible things people can do (including them) to protect endangered species from extinction. Then tell them to move around the room asking others what they propose. As they get ideas, they write them on their list. When they havefive differentideas, they sit down. Wait to debrief until everyone is sitting down.

  12. Debrief by asking students to name the different ideas they got from one another.Tell the students that you are going to show them a slideshow. In this slideshow they will find out more about what causes endangerment and what can be done about it. Tell them to write ideas as they listen and watch.

  13. Show the Endangered Species information on the US Fish and Wildlife Service website.

  14. Brainstorm action people can take to protect endangered plants or animals from becoming extinct. Record these ideas on chart paper or the display board.

  15. Discuss the merits and feasibility for each of the suggested ideas.


Teacher observation of learner understanding and participation in group discussions.

Cross Curriculum 

Read about the service-learning project called Save the Bonneted Bat by Florida students who were taught using this Endangered Species--It's Not Too Late unit of lessons to guide student learning and action.

Mr. Lockett is a middle school teacher from Florida who said, "I value teaching service and philanthropy to students because it combines learning goals and community service in ways that integrate meaningful service and instruction with reflection that enrich students' learning experiences, civic responsibilities, and strengthens our communities."


Philanthropy Framework

  1. Strand PHIL.III Philanthropy and the Individual
    1. Standard PI 01. Reasons for Individual Philanthropy
      1. Benchmark E.5 Give examples of actions students can take to improve the common good and list or describe responsibilities that go with those actions.