ALEX Lesson Plan

Camouflage, Countershading, & Adaptations

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  This lesson provided by:  
Author:Daniel Schaeffel
System: Hoover City
School: Hoover City Board Of Education
The event this resource created for:ASTA
  General Lesson Information  
Lesson Plan ID: 34491


Camouflage, Countershading, & Adaptations


The students will investigate camouflage and countershading as an example of penguin adaptation. Then students engage in an experiment to demonstrate the effectiveness of blubber as an insulator against the cold temperatures penguins typically experience. Students will learn about a variety of external penguin structures and explore the insulating value of an internal structure, blubber.

This lesson was adapted from the NSTA at this link.

This lesson results from a collaboration between the Alabama State Department of Education and ASTA.

 Associated Standards and Objectives 
Content Standard(s):
SC2015 (2015)
Grade: 4
9 ) Examine evidence to support an argument that the internal and external structures of plants (e.g., thorns, leaves, stems, roots, colored petals, xylem, phloem) and animals (e.g., heart, stomach, lung, brain, skin) function to support survival, growth, behavior, and reproduction.

Alabama Alternate Achievement Standards
AAS Standard:
SCI.AAS.4.9- Identify basic parts of plants and animals.

Local/National Standards:


Primary Learning Objective(s):

Students will construct an argument from evidence explaining how the internal and external structures (blubber and countershading) of a penguin function to support survival.

Additional Learning Objective(s):

 Preparation Information 

Total Duration:

31 to 60 Minutes

Materials and Resources:

For each student:

science notebook


For each group:

4 quart-size resealable plastic bags

1½ cups solid vegetable shortening

large dishpan of ice water

2 rubber bands


paper towels (for cleanup)

Technology Resources Needed:

The teacher will need access to a computer and projector, in order to show the video.

Students will need access to the internet to complete the lesson introduction and exit ticket. The lesson introduction and exit ticket can also be done on paper, though, if needed.


The teacher must be knowledgeable about the following:

For animals, being able to adapt to their environment is important for survival. An adaptation (in this case blubber) is any characteristic of an organism that helps it survive and reproduce in its environment. The better an animal adapts to its environment, the greater its chances of survival.

Animals have both internal and external structures that serve various functions in growth, survival, behavior and reproduction. A penguin’s feathers serve as a form of camouflage called countershading. Countershading helps penguins blend in with their surroundings and hide from predators and prey. A penguin’s white belly serves as camouflage from underwater predators looking up, and its black back serves as camouflage for predators looking down.

Safety:  Inform students that in a science lab or during science experiments, nothing should ever be put into their mouths.



1. Begin the lesson by having students answer the following Google Drawing question sheet. Each student has their own box in the drawing.

2. Show students a photo of a penguin or, if possible, a plastic penguin or stuffed toy penguin. Discuss the coloring of the penguin, guiding the discussion to the black side and white side. Ask students, “Why do you think the penguin is black on one side and white on the other?”

3. Watch this video. Then ask students, “How do you think countershading assists the penguin in blending in with its environment?” (Countershading helps penguins blend in with their surroundings in order to hide from both predators and prey. Ask, “When an animal blends in with its environment, what is that called?” Then explain that their white bellies serve as camouflage for underwater predators looking up, and their black backs serve as camouflage for predators looking down.)


Ask one student from each small group to gather the experiment supplies.

Guide the class through the experiment using the following steps:

1. Spoon the shortening into one plastic bag.

2. Turn an additional plastic bag inside out and place it in the bag with the shortening.

3. Zip the two bags together, forming a pocket in the center.

4. Evenly spread the shortening between the bag layers by gently squeezing.

5. Repeat step 3 with the two remaining bags and no shortening.

6. Have a student in each group place one hand inside each bag. Secure each bag onto the student’s hand by placing a rubber band around the opening.

7. Instruct the student to dip both hands into the ice water and determine which hand is kept warmer. (The hand in the “blubber mitt” will feel warmer.)

8. Repeat steps 6 and 7, allowing each group member an opportunity to test the blubber mitts and make observations. Have students record their observations in their science notebooks.


1. Discuss the students’ questions and observations. Ask students, “How did the experiment help you to understand how blubber helps a penguin survive in cold environments?” Have them record their response to this question in their science notebooks.

2. Explain that being able to adapt to their environment is important for animal survival. An adaptation is any characteristic of an organism that helps it survive and reproduce in its environment. The better an animal adapts to its environment, the greater its chances of survival.

3. Explain that the mother penguin feeds her young with milk that is very high in fat. The milk helps the baby produce a layer of blubber under its skin. The blubber helps keep the penguin warm. As the baby grows, the layer of blubber becomes thicker, providing warmth and protection from the cold ocean waters. (Note: Be sure students understand that not all penguin species live in cold temperatures. Some penguins, like Galapagos penguins, live in warm climates. These penguins typically have bare patches around their eyes and can raise their wings to release heat.)


Assessment Strategies


The students will be evaluated using their science notebooks, teacher observations, and this Google Form Exit Ticket.

In their science notebooks and during the experiment discussion, students should be able to construct an argument from evidence explaining how the internal and external structures (blubber and countershading) of a penguin function to support survival. 



Challenge students to choose one type of these animals and make a model to show how their camouflage or countershading help the animals protect themselves.


Challenge students to investigate other adaptations that help penguins survive.

Record responses/models in their science notebook.


Students who need remediation can watch this National Geographic Kids You Tube Playlist.

View the Special Education resources for instructional guidance in providing modifications and adaptations for students with significant cognitive disabilities who qualify for the Alabama Alternate Assessment.