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  • Subject:
  • |
  • Grade(s): 6-8
  • |
  • Duration: Two class periods

Lesson Plan Sections


Students will understand the following:
1. Snakes thrive in almost every region of the world.
2. Different types of snakes have different physical characteristics that help them survive and succeed in their particular habitats.


For this lesson, you will need:
Research materials on snakes
Computer with Internet access


1. Ask your students to share any experience they have had or any prior knowledge they have about snakes. Tell them they are going to become amateur herpetologists , or snake experts. (Herpetologists also study amphibians.)
2. Let students know that their goal, as a class, will be to create a snake field guide, with each student contributing a section on one particular type of snake.
3. Divide your class into groups, giving each group time to use available research materials, including the Internet. Instruct students to work together to do preliminary research on snakes in order to discover which type of snake each individual student would like to study in depth.
4. Have each student submit a list of three snakes, in order of preference, that he or she would like to study. Then make assignments, so that there are no duplications.
5. Once assignments have been made, help students to develop their research plans. Students should plan to research topics such as physical characteristics, habitat, range, speed, size, prey, predators, behavior, biology, and if they wish, any legends or stories associated with their snakes.
6. Have each student produce a written description of her or his snake, suitable for inclusion in the class field guide. The description should be accompanied by illustrations or photocopies of pictures of the snake.
7. When all descriptions have been revised, polished, and proofread, compile them, in alphabetical order, into a folder or binder that other students or other classes can use to find out more about snakes.

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Adaptations for Older Students:
Have older students do more in-depth research on snake anatomy, accompanying their field guide pages with labeled diagrams, as well as pictures.

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Discussion Questions

1. Describe some of the various physical characteristics that can be found in snakes. How do these variations help snakes survive in their diverse habitats?
2. Compare a snake's senses to a human's. How are they similar or different? What advantages and disadvantages do they offer?
3. Discuss the locomotion of a snake. Compare their motion to that of worms and caterpillars.
4. Explain how scientists can determine whether two similar organisms—like the South American and Central American bushmaster snakes—are actually members of separate species.
5. Explain how the Earth's physical features cause separate species to evolve from common ancestors.
6. Describe the particular events in the process of sloughing and its importance to the growth of the snake.

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You can evaluate your students on their field guide pages using the following three-point rubric:
Three points: description well organized, complete, and error-free
Two points: description lacking in organization, incomplete, with some errors
One point: description disorganized, vague and sketchy, with numerous errors
You can ask your students to contribute to the assessment rubric by determining what types of information should be included in each description.

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Herpetologist's Heyday
Divide your students into small groups, and send each group on a fact-finding mission. Assign each group a different basic herpetology concept. These may include, among others, the latest first aid for snakebites, the uses of snake venom, snakes of North America, venomous snakes, constricting snakes, snake reproduction, and snake biology. Ask each group to investigate its herpetology concept and prepare a HyperStudio or PowerPoint presentation for the rest of the class. Alternately, you can ask the groups to prepare an illustrated written report, which can then be combined with the materials developed in the "Snake Field Guide" activity.

Snake Symbolism
Throughout history, snakes have symbolized a wide variety of ideas for different cultures and groups, from Native American tribes to the American Medical Association. Have your students research snake symbolism at different periods in history, being sure that each student chooses a different snake symbol. What have snakes stood for? Where do they appear in culture, politics, religion, and other areas? When research is complete, each student should prepare a brief description and illustration of the symbolic snake he or she has studied. The class can then work together to categorize their results by the qualities and ideas the symbols have embodied throughout history—some of which include eternity, evil, health, and change—and create a class compendium of snake symbols.

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Suggested Readings

Herp Help
Lenny Flank, Jr. Howell Book House, 1998.
Don't look to Martha Stewart if you're thinking about inviting a reptile or amphibian into your home—Lenny Flank would make a much better host! More than a basic introduction to reptilian biology, this book tells the interested hobbyist how to house snakes, feed them, and breed them in captivity. It also provides an appendix of useful resources for the budding herpetologist.

The Fascinating World of Snakes
Angels Julivert. Barron's, 1993.
This compelling, detailed book describes the physical characteristics, habits, and natural environment of various kinds of snakes.

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The World of Snakes
Includes information, visuals, quicktime videos.

The Electronic Zoo
Resources and links to related sites for different types of snakes.

World Famous San Diego Zoo
A database of facts and descriptions.

Snake Quiz
A fun quiz identifying a snake every week. Responses can be entered online.

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Click on any of the vocabulary words below to hear them pronounced and used in a sentence.

speaker    brill
Definition: A transparent scale that covers the eyes of snakes.
Context: A snake's brill becomes milky white in appearance, clouding its eyes, when the snake is ready to slough its skin.

speaker    Jacobson's organ
Definition: A sack-shaped organ, found in the mouth of all reptiles, that sends chemicals from the tip of the tongue to the brain.
Context: A snake uses its Jacobson's organ to literally taste the air.

speaker    nocturnal
Definition: Active at night.
Context: Nocturnal snakes prefer to do their hunting after the sun goes down.

speaker    pit organ
Definition: A concave heat-sensing organ just below the eyes on some snakes that allows them to track their prey with 100 percent accuracy.
Context: Using its pit organ, a snake can track a quick moving rodent almost effortlessly.

speaker    sloughing
Definition: The process by which a snake crawls out of its skin, enabling it to grow larger.
Context: A snake often rubs up against a rough rock to begin the process of sloughing its skin.

speaker    venom
Definition: A protein mixture made in modified salivary glands that destroys body tissue or attacks the nerve or muscle tissue of prey.
Context: The venom of some snakes can do incredible damage to unsuspecting prey.

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This lesson plan may be used to address the academic standards listed below. These standards are drawn from Content Knowledge: A Compendium of Standards and Benchmarks for K-12 Education: 2nd Edition and have been provided courtesy of theMid-continent Research for Education and Learningin Aurora, Colorado.
Grade level: 6-8, 9-12
Subject area: science
Understands the genetic basis for the transfer of biological characteristics from one generation to the next.
Benchmark 6-8:
Knows that reproduction is a characteristic of all living things and is essential to the continuation of a species.

Benchmark 6-8:
Knows that the characteristics of an organism can be described in terms of a combination of traits; some traits are inherited and others result from interactions with the environment.

Benchmark 9-12:
Knows the chemical and structural properties of DNA and its role in specifying the characteristics of an organism (e.g., DNA is a large polymer formed from subunits of four kinds [A, G, C, and T]; genetic information is encoded in genes as a string of these subunits and replicated by a templating mechanism; each DNA molecule in a cell forms a single chromosome).

Grade level: 6-8
Subject area: science
Understands how species depend on one another and on the environment for survival.
Benchmark 1:
Knows that organisms can react to internal and environmental stimuli through behavioral response (e.g., plants have tissues and organs that react to light, water, and other stimuli; animals have nervous systems that process and store information from the environment), which may be determined by heredity or from past experience.

Benchmark 2:
Knows ways in which species interact and depend on one another in an ecosystem (e.g., producer/consumer, predator/prey, parasite/host, relationships that are mutually beneficial or competitive).

Benchmark 3:
Knows relationships that exist among organisms in food chains and food webs.

Grade level: 6-8, 9-12
Subject area: science
Understands the basic concepts of the evolution of species.
Benchmark 6-8:
Knows that the fossil record, through geologic evidence, documents the appearance, diversification, and extinction of many life forms.

Benchmark 6-8:
Knows basic ideas related to biological evolution (e.g., diversity of species is developed through gradual processes over many generations; biological adaptations—such as changes in structure, behavior, or physiology—allow some species to enhance their reproductive success and survival in a particular environment).

Benchmark 9-12:
Knows that heritable characteristics, which can be biochemical and anatomical, largely determine what capabilities an organism will have, how it will behave, and how likely it is to survive and reproduce.

Benchmark 9-12:
Knows how natural selection and its evolutionary consequences provide a scientific explanation for the diversity and unity of past and present life forms on Earth (e.g., recurring patterns of relationship exist throughout the fossil record; molecular similarities exist among the diverse species of living organisms; the millions of different species living today appear to be related by descent from common ancestors).

Grade level: 6-8
Subject area: science
Understands the nature of scientific inquiry.
Understands the nature of scientific explanations (e.g., emphasis on evidence; use of logically consistent arguments; use of scientific principles, models, and theories; acceptance or displacement based on new scientific evidence).

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Mary C. Cahill, middle school science coordinator, Potomac School, McLean, Virginia.

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