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Curriculum - Science - Lesson plan - Trust your instincts

Secondary Analysing animal behaviour teaches pupils about learnt, instinctive and reflex actions - and, in turn, the trials of life

Secondary Analysing animal behaviour teaches pupils about learnt, instinctive and reflex actions - and, in turn, the trials of life

What the lesson is about

These are the first three lessons in a ten-part series covering animal behaviour by analysing the instincts and habits of some familiar species. The series aims to develop pupils' understanding of biological explanations for why animals behave the way they do. It is aimed at Year 8 pupils.


  • Pupils know the difference between learnt, instinctive and reflex behaviour.
  • Pupils know the importance of instinct and reflex to survive.
  • Pupils can describe the factors affecting woodlice behaviour.
  • Pupils can test ideas and evaluate scientific evidence.
    • Getting started

Show pictures of assorted animal behaviour and discuss them to bring out the definition of behaviour as a response to a particular circumstance or stimulus.

Brainstorm other types of behaviour, asking for examples from pets or people. Discuss which have been learnt and which are instinctive. Give a definition of instinct as an unlearned, hardwired behaviour, such as birds migrating or cats stalking prey.

Give pupils cards each depicting a different animal behaviour. Ask them to sort the cards into instinctive or learnt behaviour. Where it is instinct, ask them to write down why that behaviour might be useful.

Discuss their answers. Point out that some automatic actions are not instinct but reflex: instinct tends to involve the whole animal and may last some time, while reflexes tend to involve only part of an animal and are brief.

Group pupils into pairs to carry out a series of observations. Ask them to shine a torch into their partner's eyes to see the pupils contract; tap a stick below the knee to see their leg jerk and clap hands in front of their face to see them blink.

Taking it further

Ask the class where they would find woodlice. What sort of conditions do they prefer? How can you test this? Ask the pupils to plan an investigation into the conditions woodlice prefer. Discuss these ideas and come up with an agreed method. Get the pupils to make a prediction.

Carry out the investigation. The suggested method is to have a chamber with four sections, two light, two dark and one of each containing a drying agent and water-soaked cotton wool. Put 10 woodlice into the chamber and record how many are in each section every minute for 10 minutes.

Draw a bar chart of the results. Explain the meanings of accurate, valid and reliable. Draw up a conclusion. Was the prediction correct? How could the test be improved? Why would woodlice prefer dark, damp conditions?

Where to find it

The 10-week scheme of work, smartboard file and worksheets, originally uploaded by eleanorvickers, can be found at

See also.

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