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Four-Winged Dinosaur, The

Viewing Ideas

Before Watching

  1. Use a map to locate where scientists found the Microraptor fossils. Using a world map, have students first locate China and then the Liaoning Province (the southern portion of Northeastern China). Explain to students that Liaoning Province is the source of many unusual fossils, including feathered dinosaurs. Ask students what might make the area a good source of fossils. What conditions do students think would be best to preserve fossils? (Most fossils are found in sedimentary rock, which forms when sediment, such as rock particles or organic matter, become compressed and cemented together as it piles up. Fossils can also be found in amber, tar pits, frozen ground, or preserved during a catastrophic event happened, such as a volcanic eruption that produced a lot of fine ash. The Liaoning fossils are so well preserved because the victims were killed by volcanic eruptions of suffocating gas and then buried quickly by volcanic ash. This allowed the preservation of very fine details of soft tissues, like feathers. It also favored the preservation of small animals, which usually do not fossilize because they decompose quickly when exposed to the elements.)

  2. Explore the time period when the Liaoning fossils were formed. Have students use the University of California Museum of Paleontology online time line to locate the geologic time period in which the Liaoning fossils were formed (130 million years [plus or minus 5 million years] ago during the early Cretaceous Period). Assign groups to research what happened in the periods before and after in terms of development of insects, mammals, birds, amphibians, and plants. Ask each group to place a self-stick note on a time line at the front of the class that indicates the period researched and photos of the organisms that were evolving at that time. Find the time line at

  3. Research the structure and function of feathers. If you have samples of feathers, bring them in. Have students discuss the functions of feathers (flight, insulation, defense, display, camouflage, waterproofing). Group the class into small teams and assign each team one of the following birds: penguin, ostrich, peacock, duck, snowy owl, and robin. Ask students to research the physical characteristics and function of feathers in the bird they are assigned. Their research should include an examination of the bird's habitat and the role feathers play as an adaptation to that habitat. After students have finished their research they should present their findings to the class, incorporating pictures or illustrations of their bird, its feathers, and its habitat if possible.

  4. Evaluate the evidence for the evolution of flight. While the majority of scientists agree that birds evolved from dinosaurs, how flight evolved is still being debated. As they watch the film, have students take notes on the two main theories about how flight evolved. Have half the class take notes on evidence supporting and refuting the theory that flight evolved from dinosaurs who took flight from the ground up and the other half take notes on evidence for and against the theory that flight evolved from reptiles that glided among the treetops.

After Watching

  1. Discuss evidence for the evolution of flight. Have students summarize what each theory proposed and outline the evidence supporting and refuting each theory. What types of fossil evidence was used to support or clarify these theories? Ask students for a show of hands of which theory they believe is most plausible. Choose some students from each camp to defend why they chose that theory.

  2. Draw a dinosaur model based on its skeleton. Point out that the scientists in the video created several models of Microraptor based solely on fossils. Explain that similar techniques are used to model all dinosaurs, since we have no way of knowing what they actually look like. Direct students to the American Museum of Natural History's "Drawing Dinos" Web site at

    The site provides detailed suggestions on how to draw a dinosaur based on its skeleton. Print out at least one copy of the "Dino Skeletons for You to Draw!" page for each student, and hand out the page along with tracing paper and colored pencils. (Students can also draw a model based on other skeletons. They just need to find a skeleton picture that gives a side view of the animal.)

    Have students use the information on the site to create their dinosaur drawings. When students are finished, discuss the process. How similar or different are the final drawings? Was the task easy or difficult for students? Why or why not?

Links and Books


NOVA—The Four-Winged Dinosaur
Features articles, interviews, interactive activities, and resources to accompany the program.

All About Birds: Feather Structure
Provides a diagram of the parts of a feather and explanations of the different kinds of feathers found in birds.

American Museum of Natural History: Liaoning Diorama
Includes descriptions and images of the fossil finds, feathered dinosaurs, and Liaoning Forest 130 million years ago.

Natural History Museum: DinoBirds
Features descriptions of fossil finds as well as information on evidence linking dinosaurs to birds.

The Dinosaur Museum: Making a Feathered Deinonychus Sculpture
Illustrates in a slide show how scientists created a life-sized model of Deinonychus.


Dinosaurs with Feathers: The Ancestors of Modern Birds
by Caroline Arnold. Clarion Books, 2001.
Traces the relationship between dinosaurs and modern birds starting with the discovery of the first Archaeopteryx fossil in 1861.

Rise of the Dragon: Readings from Nature on the Chinese Fossil Record
by Henry Gee (editor). University of Chicago Press, 2001.
Gathers together 16 articles from Nature magazine on recent fossil finds in China.

Feathered Dinosaurs
by Christopher Sloan. National Geographic Children's Books, 2001.
Examines the development of feathers and avian characteristics from dinosaurs to birds. Includes text, drawings, photos, and diagrams.

Feathered Dinosaurs of China
by Gregory Wenzel. Charlesbridge Publishing, 2004.
Examines a number of feathered dinosaur fossils found in Liaoning Province. Includes a map and a glossary.

Taking Wing
by Pat Shipman. Simon and Schuster, 1998.
Provides a history of the bird origin debate from the discovery of Archaeopteryx in the 1860s until just before the first feathered dinosaurs were discovered in the mid-1990s.

Unearthing the Dragon
by Mark Norell and Nick Ellison. Pi Press, 2005.
Recounts the personal account of AMNH paleontology curator Mark Norell in his hunt for feathered dinosaurs in China.

Viewing Ideas Author

Margy Kuntz has written and edited educational materials for 20 years. She has authored numerous educational supplements, basal text materials, and trade books on science, math, and computers.

Teacher's Guide
Four-Winged Dinosaur, The

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