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In the Classroom > Picturing America Lessons

Adaptations for Survival

Lesson created by: Stephanie Recore

Grade Level: 7-9 (Lifeskills special education)


6-A John James Audubon; Robert Havell, American Flamingo, 1838

American Flamingo

John James Audubon (1785-1851). Robert Havell (1793-1878), Engraver after John James Audubon. American Flamingo, 1838. Hand-colored etching and aquatint on Whatman paper, from 'The Birds of America' (plate CCCCXXX1). Plate: 97 x 65 cm (38 3/16 x 25 9/16 in.)sheet: 101.28 x 68.26 cm (39 7/8 x 26 7/8 in.) Gift of Mrs. Walter B. James, 1945.8.431. Image courtesy of the Board of Trustees, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.


  • Students will understand that organisms may have changed over time to adapt to their surroundings in order to survive.

Focusing Statement

Today we are going to look at adaptations of one specific organism - the flamingo. We are going to look at John James Audubon's painting of the "American Flamingo" and make a list of adaptations the flamingo has made to survive in its habitat.

Examining Expressive Content

  • What can you tell me about the painting? What do you notice?
  • Why do you think Audubon positioned the flamingo this way? What method did he use to create the painting?
  • Why do you think Audubon set out to paint the birds of America?

Teaching Plan

  1. Students will research background information on John James Audubon using books and websites such as the following:
  2. Students will take notes using a graphic organizer about his life and his painting career, paying special attention to any references about the "American Flamingo" painting.
  3. Students will watch several video clips from the Discovery Education site on Audubon as well.
  4. Students will create a visual to share the information they learned about Audubon, such as a poster or pamphlet.

Putting It All Together

Students will revisit the painting, identifying each adaptation and the corresponding body part. They will take this knowledge, coupled with their knowledge about how Audubon painted his birds that they learned during research on him, and recreate their own versions of the American Flamingo painting using a variety of media (paint, construction paper, colored pencils, crayon, charcoal, etc.). Students will then label each body part on the painting and explain how it was adapted for survival in the environment.



Massachusetts Science & Technology/Engineering Standards

  • Life Science Standard 10: Give examples of ways in which genetic variation and environmental factors are causes of evolution and the diversity of organisms.
  • Life Science Standard 18: Recognize that biological evolution accounts for the diversity of species developed through gradual processes over many generations.

Common Core Standards

English Language Arts Standards » Reading: Informational Text

Grade 7
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.7.7†Compare and contrast a text to an audio, video, or multimedia version of the text, analyzing each mediumís portrayal of the subject (e.g., how the delivery of a speech affects the impact of the words).

Grade 8
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.8.7†Evaluate the advantages and disadvantages of using different mediums (e.g., print or digital text, video, multimedia) to present a particular topic or idea.

Grades 9-10
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.9-10.7†Analyze various accounts of a subject told in different mediums (e.g., a personís life story in both print and multimedia), determining which details are emphasized in each account.

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