Hands-on Activity: Compare Human-Made Objects with Natural Objects

Contributed by: Center for Engineering Educational Outreach, Tufts University

Quick Look

Grade Level: 3 (3-5)

Time Required: 1 hour

Expendable Cost/Group: US $0.00

Group Size: 0

Activity Dependency: None

Subject Areas: Science and Technology

The Sydney Opera House in Australia.
The Sydney Opera House, a human-made structure
Copyright © Wikimedia Commons http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/4/40/Sydney_Opera_House_Sails.jpg


In small groups, students experiment and observe the similarities and differences between human-made objects and objects from nature. They compare the function and structure of hollow bones with drinking straws, bird beaks, tool pliers, bat wings and airplane wings. Observations are recorded in a compare & contrast chart, and then shared in a classroom discussion, along with follow up assessment activities such as journal writing and Venn diagrams.

Engineering Connection

Engineers find many brilliant ideas by observing the mechanisms seen in natural systems and bodies. This activity encourages students to make such observations and identify how they might be applied to designing human-made products for everyday use.

Learning Objectives

  • Observe that many human-made objects get their basic design from nature.
  • The importance of function in design.

Educational Standards

Each TeachEngineering lesson or activity is correlated to one or more K-12 science, technology, engineering or math (STEM) educational standards.

All 100,000+ K-12 STEM standards covered in TeachEngineering are collected, maintained and packaged by the Achievement Standards Network (ASN), a project of D2L (www.achievementstandards.org).

In the ASN, standards are hierarchically structured: first by source; e.g., by state; within source by type; e.g., science or mathematics; within type by subtype, then by grade, etc.

  • Things that are found in nature differ from things that are human-made in how they are produced and used. (Grades 3 - 5 ) More Details

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  • Tools, materials, and skills are used to make things and carry out tasks. (Grades 3 - 5 ) More Details

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  • People have made tools to provide food, to make clothing, and to protect themselves. (Grades 3 - 5 ) More Details

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  • Compare, contrast, and classify collected information in order to identify patterns. (Grades 3 - 5 ) More Details

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  • Technological advances have made it possible to create new devices, to repair or replace certain parts of the body, and to provide a means for mobility. (Grades 3 - 5 ) More Details

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  • Identify and describe characteristics of natural materials (e.g., wood, cotton, fur, wool) and human-made materials (e.g., plastic, Styrofoam). (Grades Pre-K - 2 ) More Details

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  • Identify and explain some possible uses for natural materials (e.g., wood, cotton, fur, wool) and human-made materials (e.g., plastic, Styrofoam). (Grades Pre-K - 2 ) More Details

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  • Compare natural systems with mechanical systems that are designed to serve similar purposes, e.g., a bird's wings as compared to an airplane's wings. (Grades 3 - 5 ) More Details

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Materials List

  • models of bones
  • drinking straws
  • tubes
  • pictures/models of bird beaks
  • tool pliers
  • pictures/models of airplane wings
  • pictures/models of bat wings
  • paper
  • picture/model of a bee's nest
  • Velcro
  • burrs
  • Nature Got There First by Phil Gates

Worksheets and Attachments

Visit [www.teachengineering.org/activities/view/human_natural_sue] to print or download.

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Introduce students to some vocabulary terms such as evolution, adaptation, survival, biomimicry, etc.

Then ask them the Investigating Questions.



Gather materials and make copies of the worksheet.

With the Students

  • Read and discuss key points from the book, Nature Got There First, especially pages 7-50.
  • Give the children time to explore the materials, and compare their similarities and differences.
  • Have students (in teams, if desired) fill out the compare and contrast chart (the worksheet).
  • Encourage students to fill in the chart by using the provided objects, as well as others that they know about or can imagine.
  • Conclude with a class discussion comparing and sharing ideas. See the Assesment section for additional suggeted evaluation methods.


adaptation: The process or state of changing to fit new circumstances or conditions.

biomimicry: Copying or imitating the special characteristics of naturally existing things (animals, plants, etc.) in human-made designs, products and systems. From bios, meaning life, and mimesis, meaning to imitate.

evolution: The natural or artificially induced process by which new and different organisms develop as a result of changes in genetic material.

survival: Continuation in life or existence.


Evaluation methods:

  • Worksheets (chart): Evaluate the completed worksheet charts. All students should be able to identify common objects. Advanced students should be able to describe the common objects as well as others that they thought of on their own.
  • Journal Entry: Ask students to think of and describe in writing some nature-made/human-made connections that were not discussed in class. Gauge students' ability to brainstorm beyond known/obvious objects.
  • Venn Diagrams: Assign students to expand on a few items from their Compare & Contrast Chart by creating Venn diagrams to more specifically identify in-common vs. unique characteristics.

Investigating Questions

  • How are things found in nature similar to human-made objects?
  • Why are objects in nature designed the way they are?
  • Why do many human-made objects resemble those found in nature?
  • Why do things in nature look the way they do (for example, birds' beaks, bee's hive, armadillo)?

Activity Extensions

As homework, assign students to find three other human-made (engineered) objects that are designed after something in nature.

Activity Scaling

For younger grades, have students draw and label the objects as well as compare them.

Additional Multimedia Support

See many more examples in the Biomimicry: Natural Designs activity.


© 2013 by Regents of the University of Colorado; original © 2005 Worcester Polytechnic Institute

Supporting Program

Center for Engineering Educational Outreach, Tufts University

Last modified: August 23, 2017


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