At some point in their lives, most people will develop at least one close and familiar bond with an animal. Forming these bonds results in more comprehensive emotional development, along with other significant and tangible benefits.

Through interactions with animals, children will deepen their compassion and empathy, learn about vital needs (water, food, shelter, space and comfort) and discover new types of similarities and differences by comparing animals with each other and with people.

Ideally, every classroom would be able to have a classroom pet to help nurture these skills and reinforce lessons about responsibility, leadership and teamwork. However, if you’re not at a school where this is a possibility—or even if you are!—you can get the next best thing with this collection of animal-themed activities for elementary schoolers!

1. My Favorite Animal

One thing all students have in common is they all have a favorite animal, whether it’s an animal they saw in a movie or read about in a book. Another thing all students have in common is they love sharing information about things they know a lot about, including their favorite animals.

Ask students to bring in a picture of their favorite animal or find a picture online to show the class. Next, have them stand up and share about their favorite animal. Make sure they explain what their favorite animal is, when they first found out about their favorite animal (or met their favorite animal!) and why that animal is their favorite.

2. Animal Story Time

There are thousands of amazing children’s books and books for young readers that tell the story from the viewpoint of an animal. From stories based on real animals in historical events to stories about real animals in fictional situations, choose any one of them and renew your students’ love of reading.

tip Many popular books about animals offer free reading guides, comprehension quizzes or activities on the publisher’s website for the book. This is a valuable resource when you’re looking for a way to build out your lesson plan.

3. It’s So Kafkaesque!

We realize Kafka’s The Metamorphosis is too bleak and disturbing for elementary students, but it has such a good opening line: “As Gregor Samsa awoke one morning from uneasy dreams, he found himself transformed in his bed into a gigantic insect.”

See if any of your students can outdo one of the masters of 20th century existentialist literature by writing their own take on a similar premise! Ask your students to imagine they wake up one morning and find themselves transformed into a non-human animal, then write about the answer to one or more of these story-starting questions.

  • What kind of animal are you?
  • Why did you turn into that animal?
  • What will your family/friends think about your new form?
  • How will your pets react?
  • How do you feel about being an animal instead of a person?
  • How will you go to school?
  • What’s the first thing you’ll do in your new form?
  • Will this change any plans you’ve made for your life?

While Kafka went dark with the idea, you can expect to get stories from your students about how they turned into goldfish and spent the day with their pet goldfish or about how impressed their friends are ever since they turned into a crocodile!

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4. Study Schoolyard Microhabitats

Use what you can learn about microhabitats to help your students better understand macrohabitats. A microhabitat is any small section of a larger habitat, such as a tide pool in the ocean or a rotting log in a forest.

Students can choose an area of the schoolyard to focus on and then take notes in as much detail as possible. They should be looking for things like what kind of macrohabitat is it most like and what flora and fauna do they see—or see evidence of!

You can assign this as homework or an over-the-weekend project by asking students to do this activity in their own backyard, garden or favorite park and then have them share what they’ve learned with the class.

5. Make Up an Animal

Tell your students to imagine they’ve just discovered a new animal. They’re going to be interviewed on a popular podcast about their discovery, and they need to make sure they have their answers ready in advance.

  • Where did they discover the animal? 
  • What kind of animal is it—is it similar to another animal, a combination of multiple animals or an all-new, never-before-seen animal?
  • What does the animal eat? 
  • Where does it live? 
  • How does it communicate with others of its kind? 
  • Does it get along with other animals or not?
  • Is it dangerous to people?
  • What’s the most important thing to know about this animal?
  • What have they decided to name the animal?

Add even more fun to the experience of making up animals by helping your students become published authors! Collect their writings and drawings of their animals into a bestiary with one of our FREE classbook publishing kits. We’ll even provide an ideal timeline and project reminders so you can stay on track from planning to publication!


6. Which Animal Am I?

When students need to get up and move around for a little bit, break up the day by playing this classic party game with an animal theme! Write the names of animals on sticky notes. Each student puts a sticky note on their forehead without reading the name of the animal on the sticky note. Their task is to figure out which animal they are by asking questions of the other students, but the other students can only answer with “yes” or “no.”

The game can be played in a few different ways: until a set time limit is reached, until everyone has figured out which animal they are or any other way you want to play it. If you’re playing using a time limit, be sure to make some extra sticky notes so anyone who guesses correctly very quickly can be another animal for the rest of the time!

7. Freshwater vs Saltwater

Maybe your class is feeling very comfortable with identifying different geographic habitats. Maybe all of your students can tell the difference between a desert and a plain without even breaking a sweat. In that case, throw them a colorful curveball by asking them to tell the difference between marine habitats!

Find pictures of different fish and aquatic plant life. Print the pictures individually on standard-sized pieces of paper. Label one side of the board “freshwater” and the other side “saltwater.” Have students take turns randomly selecting a picture, then have them decide whether it’s from a freshwater habitat or a saltwater habitat and put it up on the corresponding side of the board.

Bonus: Include some plants and animals that can live in both freshwater or saltwater, like salmon in different parts of their life cycles and occasionally bull sharks when they swim into a freshwater river because they felt like doing that one day.

8. KWL Charts

Have students fold a piece of paper into three sections, then unfold it and use the creases to split the paper into thirds. At the top of the paper, they should write the name of the animal they’ll be learning about. Students should choose an animal they’re already a bit familiar with and want to learn more about, or you can assign animals randomly.

The first of the three sections is K: What I know. The second of the three sections is W: What I want to know. The third of the three sections is L: What I’ve learned.

In the first section, students should write three to four facts they know about their animal. In the second section, students should write three to four things they want to know about their animal. As they research to learn the answers to the second section, they’ll fill in the third section with what they’ve learned about their animal.

students-feeding-giraffe9. Guess That Animal

Make up flashcards that say the name of an animal on one side and three to four facts about the animal on the other side. Students work in groups with one person drawing a card, looking at the name of the animal and then keeping the name secret while they read the facts out loud.

The rest of the group takes turns guessing the animal. Whoever guesses right gets to keep the card; if no one guesses right, the person reading the card keeps it. The game continues until all the cards have been drawn and kept. Who got the most cards?

You can involve students in the card-making process by assigning them each four to five animals to find three to four facts about each, and then have them write the facts and animal names on the cards. Tie this activity to another lesson by having a theme for your animals, like using animals in the water when your class is learning about the ocean or birds when your class is learning about birds.

10. Compare Life Cycles

Learning about the similarities and differences between various animals helps young learners start to build their larger understanding of how the world fits together.

One way to compare the life cycles of animals is by comparing animals of the same species, like learning about the development of box turtles, sea turtles and snapping turtles. While similar, they’ll have some obvious physical differences that students will be able to readily identify.

Another way to compare the life cycles of animals is by comparing animals of different species, like learning about the development of snapping turtles versus the development of vultures. While very different, they’ll have some surprising physical similarities that students will be excited to discover.

11. Draw Animals

There are tons of detailed, in-depth and kid-friendly video tutorials available online that can show your students the tricks to drawing a realistic dog, a fancy fish or any other animal they might be interested in bringing to life with their artistic talents. Once everyone has drawn their animals, have them color in the details and then display them in your classroom, on the bulletin board, in the hallway or on your classroom door!

12. Field Trip!

If you’re looking for a way to go overboard for your end-of-year class trip, consider making your day’s curriculum all about animals and visit the aquarium, the zoo or even a local park! Any of these locations is an outstanding opportunity to see wildlife your students wouldn’t normally have a chance to see in real life—or a chance to count how many different types of birds they can see at the local park.

Class trips take tons of time and effort to plan and execute flawlessly, and we know you’re up to the task! Make sure to start planning as early as possible and give parents plenty of time to pay for tickets early and sign any necessary paperwork. If you are unable to plan an actual field trip to the zoo or aquarium, your class can take part in a virtual field trip that you can find online!

Finding different “keys” to unlock your students’ natural curiosity and send their desire to learn into hyperdrive is a skill that turns good teachers into life-changing mentors. Learning about animals can be one of the keys you use to engage your students during class.

For more lesson plans, worksheets and other helpful resources for your classroom, check out our online Teacher’s Lounge and be sure to sign up for your FREE classbook publishing kit!