It’s easy to start a discussion about fossils and paleontology: just ask your students to name their favorite dinosaurs. Everybody’s got one!
Depending upon the grade(s) you teach, your discussion may revolve around characteristics and classification of specific dinosaurs, the concept of extinction, the field of paleontology, or much more. We’ve amassed a wealth of links and ideas that we’re sure will help you get your class excited about learning more. So… start digging!
If you have any ideas for new discussion starters on this topic, you’re invited to share with us in the comments section below.
People sling the word “dinosaur” around an awful lot, without knowing precisely what it means—or how dinosaurs differed from the archosaurs that preceded them, the marine reptiles and pterosaurs with which they coexisted, or the birds to which they were ancestral. Why were dinosaurs so big? What did they eat, where did they live, and how did they raise their young? This article, “12 Frequently Asked Questions about Dinosaurs,” is an excellent starting place for a discussion.
What DON’T We Know?
Were dinosaurs warm-blooded or cold-blooded? Which one was the first? The biggest? The fuzziest? How did certain species learn to fly?
This article explores the Ten Biggest Unsolved Dinosaur Mysteries, and will give your students plenty to consider.
There are countless excellent websites about dinos, fossils, and paleontology—too many to share! But one of our favorites for younger students comes from the American Museum of Natural History. Their Big Dig website includes card games, videos, hands-on activities, interviews with paleontologists, fun interactive reconstruction games and more.
We also enjoyed the expansive collection of fossil photographs at Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History. If your students are working at fossil identification, this is the place to start!
What’s in a Name?
The word dinosaur is from the Greek deinos (terrible) and sauros (lizard). Some names are short; others are tongue twisters. Take a look at these common roots found in dinosaur names:
Dinosaurs Among Us
The evolution of life on Earth is full of amazing episodes. But one story that really captures the imagination is the transition from the familiar, charismatic dinos that dominated the planet for around 170 million years into a new, small, airborne form that still survives today: birds!
The fossil record of this story grows richer by the day. So rich, in fact, that the boundary between the animals we call birds and the animals we traditionally called dinosaurs is now practically obsolete. A special exhibit at the American Museum of Natural History in New York explains how this extraordinary story continues today.
New insights about the asteroid thought to have killed off the dinosaurs suggest it may have just been the final blow, and that the reptiles were already suffering from a finicky climate prompted by volcanic eruptions long before the meteorite struck. This National Geographic article, “What Killed Dinosaurs,” is a great primer.
Where to start? There are thousands of excellent sites for learning more about fossils and dinosaurs. Here are just a few of our favorite finds:
- Extinction Over Time Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History
- Paleobiology Collections National Museum of Natural History (NMNH)
- Mammoth Extinction from Science NetLinks
- Dinosaurs in Our Backyard NMNH
- The Making of Mass Extinctions Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI)
For even more, don’t miss our Fossils & Dinosaurs TV link!
And last but not least, we had to share this awesome illustration from artist Ray Troll!