Why is learning about the structures and functions of living things so important? Let’s think about this for a moment… Survival is the ultimate goal for all living things. Would you agree?
If you’re unsure, imagine these scenarios… An Asian elephant is lazily drinking from a dusty watering hole. An eastern copperhead slithers through the undergrowth, hunting for its next meal… A bee drops pollen from a nearby honeysuckle as it buzzes back to its hive.
Each of these organisms is naturally equipped with structures and functions that help it not only survive, but thrive. The following activity will solidify these concepts for any student.
Review the Meaning of Structures and Functions
Hold up a newly sharpened pencil for the class to observe. Ask the students to list the various structures a pencil has (lead tip, wooden body, eraser). Then ask them to determine the function of each of the structures that they thought of (writing, holding, getting rid of mistakes).
Transfer this thought process to the structures and functions of living things by asking for a volunteer. Have this child stand in the front of the room. Challenge the other students to come up with a list of structures and functions that this person possesses. For instance, the person may have eyes to see, ears to hear, hands to hold things, and hair to keep them warm. Remind them to think about the functions related to how it helps the person survive.
Structures and Functions of Living Things Activity
- Sharpened pencil
- 4 Organism Cards (included in the FREE download below)
- Student Handout (also included in the freebie)
- Grab your FREE Structures and Functions of Living Things worksheets. Click the image above or scroll to the bottom of this post.
- Set one Organism Card out in four separate areas around your classroom.
- Divide the class into four mixed-ability groups. Have each group sit in a different area, so they look at only one card at a time.
- Set a timer for 4-5 minutes.
- With their group, students will first read the facts printed on their Organism Card.
- Next, as a group, each student will fill out a T-chart on their handout, brainstorming the structures and functions of the organism that they’re looking at.
- Challenge the students to look past the obvious structures and functions and find some that are unique to that particular organism. For instance, go beyond saying that a Gentoo penguin has eyes to see. Instead, ask students to think about what structures make penguins different compared to other animals. (Penguins have feathers that trap air to insulate them from cold temperatures.)
- After the time has expired, each group will rotate to another table with a new Organism Card. They will follow the same procedure for that organism.
- Continue in this manner until each group has rotated to every Organism Card.
- After the four rotations are complete, each student will have a variety of examples of structures and functions of living things.
Structures and Functions of Living Things – Discussion Questions
The students return to their seats and discuss the following questions to help gauge their level of understanding:
- Name two structures and functions of the prickly pear cactus. How do these structures help it to survive in its environment? (Possible answers: The flat, fleshy pads/leaves are used for water storage so that the cacti do not dry out and die in the heat. Spines protect the cacti from the herbivores that try to eat them.)
- What do you think it means to adapt? (Change or adjust to something new)
- Then try to connect this idea to plants and animals. What do you think is an “adaptation?” (A gradual process where an organism becomes better able to survive in its environment.)
- Can you think of an example of how an organism uses its adaptations for survival? (E.g. Hibernation of bears, migration of birds, and penguins huddling to keep warm).
- ***Challenge Question: We have spoken a lot about the structures we can see on various types of plants and animals. Can you think of some internal structures and their functions? (Answers will vary but could include: heart circulates blood, the spine provides support and balance).
Get Creative! – Extension Activity for Structures and Functions
Have the students turn their handouts over to reveal an engaging activity. This activity will further enhance their understanding of the structures and functions of living things. Students will use the space provided to design an imaginary version of themselves.
Students will draw themselves with interesting structures and functions from other plants and animals. For example, they may draw themselves with a neck as long as a giraffe’s neck (to eat from tall trees), bright blue skin like a tree frog (to warn predators to stay away), thorny spines like a cactus (to protect themselves), and wings like an eagle (so they can fly). Then, after drawing the new versions of themselves, students will need to label each of the structures and functions they included in their drawing. This is the students’ opportunity to stretch their thinking and creatively show what they have learned. Finally, If some kids want to share, they can explain their drawings to the class.
By completing this activity, your students will have a deeper understanding of the structures and functions of living things. This will provide a solid foundation for them as they continue learning about life sciences throughout the years.