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9th, 10th, 11th, 12th, AP® / College


Science, Biology

Resource Types

  • Lesson Plan
  • Worksheet
  • Video, 2 minutes, 15 seconds, CC, Subtitles
  • Video, 49 seconds, CC, Subtitles
  • Video, 55 seconds, CC, Subtitles
  • Activity - Classroom

Regional Focus

South and Central America


Google Docs, PDF, YouTube Video

How Can We Explain Evolutionary Relationships among Species?

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  • In this lesson, students learn how environmental factors drive the adaptations of Galápagos finch populations, make observations, analyze genetic and phylogenetic data, and make predictions about the evolution of finch populations.
  • This resource contains background information, key concepts, student learning targets, a list of materials, teaching tips, extension activities, and an answer key.
Teaching Tips


  • Students will use their problem-solving and critical thinking skills in this lesson.
  • There are graphs of bird songs that students can evaluate, along with images and video clips.

Additional Prerequisites

  • This activity is expected to take two 50-minute periods to complete and possibly more if the extension is included.
  • Students should understand DNA sequences and how they affect natural selection before completing the activity.
  • The portions of the activity that relate to the video clips require access to the Internet.
  • There are two additional videos about natural selection related to finches and lizards that students can explore.


  • Students can complete the activity individually, in pairs, or in groups.
  • This lesson also includes an extension activity where students can apply what they have learned. The extension activity consists of six comprehension questions and three short video clips.
  • Have students consider what effects climate change can have on natural selection, genetic diversity, and events that may speed up natural selection or create genetic bottlenecks.
  • Have students consider the implications of research on natural selection for species conservation and climate policies.
  • This lesson connects to AP/IB Biology and AP/IB Environmental Science classes, as well as general science and common core classes.
Scientist Notes
This activity tasks students with determining how environmental factors influence trait development and speciation among finches in the Galapagos Islands. Throughout, the activity guides students to the traits most important for survival without being prescriptive, allowing each individual to draw their own conclusions from the facts presented. In addition to comparing physical traits, students also analyze spectrograms of finch songs and compare DNA sequences. An extension activity uses the case study of anole lizards in the Caribbean to further study the process of adaptation and speciation, and the similarities between the evolution of Galapagos finches and Caribbean anoles are highlighted. This resource is well sourced, with several peer-reviewed references cited, and is recommended for teaching.
  • Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS)
    • LS1: From Molecules to Organisms: Structures and Processes
      • HS-LS1-1 Construct an explanation based on evidence for how the structure of DNA determines the structure of proteins which carry out the essential functions of life through systems of specialized cells.
    • LS4: Biological Evolution: Unity and Diversity
      • HS-LS4-4 Construct an explanation based on evidence for how natural selection leads to adaptation of populations.
      • HS-LS4-5 Evaluate the evidence supporting claims that changes in environmental conditions may result in: (1) increases in the number of individuals of some species, (2) the emergence of new species over time, and (3) the extinction of other species.
  • Common Core English Language Arts Standards (CCSS.ELA)
    • Reading: Science & Technical Subjects (6-12)
      • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RST.11-12.7 Integrate and evaluate multiple sources of information presented in diverse formats and media (e.g., quantitative data, video, multimedia) in order to address a question or solve a problem.
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