Evolution by Natural Selection

In this simulation activity, Evolution by Natural Selection, principles of natural selection are demonstrated by a simulation involving different color pompoms and student feeders equipped with different types of feeding implement. Students analyze results to see how different traits contribute to fitness in different habitats. Additional examples and questions help students to understand the process of natural selection, including three necessary conditions for natural selection to take place.

Download Student Handout: PDF format or Word format

Download Teacher Preparation Notes: PDF format or Word format

The Teacher Preparation Notes provide instructional suggestions and background information and explain how this activity is aligned with the Next Generation Science Standards.

The attachment below provides a shorter version of the Student Handout with only one habitat in the simulation. This version may be suitable if you have a small class, a limited amount of class time, or students who require close supervision.

We invite comments on this activity, including suggestions for other teachers who are planning to use the activity and any questions you have. If you would prefer to send your comments or questions in a private message, please write Ingrid Waldron at iwaldron@sas.upenn.edu 

See also a complete list of activities:
Hands-on Activities for Teaching Biology to High School and Middle School Students


NaturalSelectionSHO2.docx2.97 MB


Teresa's picture

I will try this!

Hi, I am looking for an activity for natural selection to field test with my students and share to my colleagues. This is perfect lesson for me to start with. I will let you now how it works. I might tweak some parts to fit with my students.


iwaldron's picture

2013 revision of Evolution by Natural Selection

The major changes in our new version of Evolution by Natural Selection include:

  • revised procedures in the Student Handout to improve student understanding of the process of natural selection by engaging students more actively in generating and analyzing the data for the hunter part of the simulation
  • revised questions to enhance student understanding of natural selection
  • a streamlined version of the simulation and Student Handout which may be more suitable if you have limited time or resources
  • a handout of instructions for student helpers, available in the Teacher Preparation Notes (if you decide to use student helpers)
iwaldron's picture

2012 revision

In this revision of the Student Handout we have made a variety of changes to improve flow and clarity. One major change is that we have reduced the number of colors of pom-poms and the number of types of feeding implements in order to reduce the time spent in carrying out the simulation and data analysis and increase the proportion of time devoted to understanding natural selection. In addition, we have clarified the Teacher Preparation Notes and added a section with Suggestions for Discussion.

Carol's picture


Thank you for posting these handouts. My high school students enjoyed this activity. I used felt covered with feathers for the habitat. I have a small class, so the "hunter" element had to be altered. I gave one student 10sec. to use each tool and then added the second generation based on her results.

The additional examples on the handout were also helpful.

Seeking AB1 Student's picture

Biology Lab Experiement regarding Natural Selection

Can you explain in detail how the following experiment should be done:

In this experiment the deck of cards represents a school of fish. The number on the cards indicates the weight of each fish. These fish live happily together until a new predator (the teacher) is introduced to their school. This particular predator weighs 20 pounds. As most predators are, this fish is fairly cautious and will not eat any fish greater than or equal to 1/2 its body weight. Also, any of the small fish in the school (defined as being less than 1/4 the weights of the predator) are able to hide from the predatory fish.
Using this information, go through your school of fish (deck of cards) and remove all of the fish eaten by the predator.
1. Describe the composition of the final deck and explain the results based on NUMBER - % - POPULATION.

1. What are the 5 componet of natural selection?
2. Define the 3 types of natural selection demonstrated in the lab experiments.
3. What form of natural selectin did experiment 3 demonstrate? Explan

Thank you for your timely response.

iwaldron's picture

2010 revisions

We have improved the questions and logical flow in the Student Handout and the instructions for carrying out the activity in the Teacher Preparation Notes.

Ingrid Waldron


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