Functional Homes

By George Latos, August 31, 2006

Grade Level

  • Elementary School


  • Product Design

Subject Area

  • Language Arts
  • Science

Lesson Time

Three fifty-minute class periods


Students will observe and reflect on the homes built and used by various life forms—either bodily forms such as a clam shell, or deliberate structures like a termite mound or beaver dam. They will discover the benefits of the “homes” to the creature and its life and try to apply the natural designs to human uses.

National Standards

Standard 2. Uses the stylistic and rhetorical aspects of writing Standard 4. Gathers and uses information for research purposes
Standard 1. Understands connections among the various art forms and other disciplines
Standard 6. Knows how visual, aural, oral, and kinetic elements are used in the various art forms
Standard 6. Understands relationships among organisms and their physical environment
Standard 7. Understands biological evolution and the diversity of life


Students will:
  • explain the benefits of the design of the “homes” of various species
  • analyze human-made shelters
  • use biomimicry to design a shelter for humans that incorporates the same principals of design as their chosen animal shelter
  • write an explanation of their design and build a prototype from materials readily available in the school art room



Materials will vary from project to project, but the students can use inexpensive materials in order to build their model.


biomimicry-the copying or imitation of a natural phenomenon's or environment's efficiency and survival mechanisms in manufacturing processes or in applied case-based reasoning habitat-the natural environment of an organism; place that is natural for the life and growth of an organism shelter-something beneath, behind, or within which a person, animal, or thing is protected from storms, missiles, adverse conditions, etc.


  • Introduce the students to the concept of animal homes. Use examples of homes that are part of the animal: clam shell, turtle shell, etc. along with examples of homes built by animals like a bird’s nest, termite mound, ant hill, beaver dam, etc.
  • Brainstorm with the class and make a list of both types of homes on the board.
  • Discuss and record the features and benefits of each “home” and explain how both types of home protect the animal and provide it with shelter.
  • Provide materials for further study: books, websites, photos, artifacts, etc. to foster further investigation. The students should be allowed to use these materials throughout the lesson, especially when they are adapting the natural structures for human uses.
  • Compare and contrast different types of human-made homes like teepees, condos, high-rise apartment buildings, houses, etc.
  • Discuss the features and benefits of different homes and write notes on the board. Discuss links to the shapes, structures, and colors of these man-made buildings to some of the animal “homes” discussed previously.
  • Have the students choose an example of an animal home to adapt for human use. Go over the vocabulary word “biomimicry” and inform the students that they will be using biomimicry to complete their project. Make connections with existing examples such as an army shelter may be like a turtle shell; a high-rise building may be like a termite mound, etc.
  • Encourage creative thinking in adapting the natural structures for human use and allow the students to use all available research materials. They should create an outline of the connections and links they make between the animal structure and the human structure and sketch designs of their new structure.
  • Once the students have finished their research and outlines, they should choose a design to mimic and build a model of the design.
  • Ultimately, the students will write an essay explaining the original natural design and its relationship to the new structure for human use.


The writing can be assessed by grade level standards and local expectations. The assessment of the model project can be conducted with the attached rubric. Attention to construction and form and function should be somehow inferred from the subject and specific item that is being imitated.

Enrichment Extension Activities

Students can expand on the subject by bringing in objects that suggest biomimicry in daily life. Examples may include sports helmets imitating exoskeletons, kaleidoscopes imitating bug eyes, or swim fins from fish fins. A collection can be assembled and displayed for other students.

Leave a reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.