U-G-L-Y? I've Got a Great Alibi


There are important reasons why certain “ugly” animals look the way they do. Their features help them survive in the great outdoors. In this lesson students will explore their reactions to these less than lovely creatures. After observing how these animals’ unique features help them survive, students will re-visit their initial reactions to see if their perceptions of “ugly” animals have changed. Students will also design and conduct a survey to analyze whether humans’ attitudes about beauty impact animals.

Grade level: Grades 9 – 12

Subject areas: Science, Mathematics, Language Arts

Learning objectives:
Students will be able to do the following:

  • Analyze people’s perceptions of ugly animals.
  • Examine how certain features help animals survive.
  • Design and conduct a survey to answer a question regarding people’s attitudes.


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Level III [Grade 9-12]

Language Arts


Standard 1. Uses the general skills and strategies of the writing process

6. Uses strategies to adapt writing for different purposes (e.g., to explain, inform, analyze, entertain, reflect, persuade)

Standard 8. Uses listening and speaking strategies for different purposes

Level IV [Grade: 9-12]

1. Uses criteria to evaluate own and others’ effectiveness in group discussions and formal presentations (e.g., accuracy, relevance, and organization of information; clarity of delivery; relationships among purpose, audience, and content; types of arguments used; effectiveness of own contributions)

4. Adjusts message wording and delivery to particular audiences and for particular purposes (e.g., to defend a position, to entertain, to inform, to persuade)

5. Makes formal presentations to the class (e.g., includes definitions for clarity; supports main ideas using anecdotes, examples, statistics, analogies, and other evidence; uses visual aids or technology, such as transparencies, slides, electronic media; cites information sources)

7. Uses a variety of verbal and nonverbal techniques for presentations (e.g., modulation of voice; varied inflection; tempo; enunciation; physical gestures; rhetorical questions; word choice, including figurative language, standard English, informal usage, technical language) and demonstrates poise and self-control while presenting


Standard 6. Understands and applies basic and advanced concepts of statistics and data analysis

1. Selects and uses the best method of representing and describing a set of data (e.g., scatter plot, line graph, two-way table)

Standard 9. Understands the general nature and uses of mathematics

1. Understands that mathematics is the study of any pattern or relationship, but natural science is the study of those patterns that are relevant to the observable world

4. Understands that theories in mathematics are greatly influenced by practical issues; real-world problems sometimes result in new mathematical theories and pure mathematical theories sometimes have highly practical applications

Life Sciences

Standard 6. Understands relationships among organisms and their physical environment

1. Knows how the interrelationships and interdependencies among organisms generate stable ecosystems that fluctuate around a state of rough equilibrium for hundreds or thousands of years (e.g., growth of a population is held in check by environmental factors such as depletion of food or nesting sites, increased loss due to larger numbers of predators or parasites)

Standard 7. Understands biological evolution and the diversity of life

1. Knows that heritable characteristics, which can be biochemical and anatomical, largely determine what capabilities an organism will have, how it will behave, and how likely it is to survive and reproduce

4. Knows that the basic idea of evolution is that the Earth’s present-day life forms have evolved from earlier, distinctly different species as a consequence of the interactions of (1) the potential for a species to increase its numbers, (2) the genetic variability of offspring due to mutation and recombination of genes, (3) a finite supply of the resources required for life, and (4) the ensuing selection by the environment of those offspring better able to survive and leave offspring

ISTE Technology Standards
National Educational Technology Standards

7. Routinely and efficiently use online information resources to meet needs for collaboration, research, publication, communication, and productivity. (4, 5, 6)

Procedures for Teachers


Introductory Activity

The purpose of this activity is for students to analyze their concepts of beauty.

Time for completion: 15 minutes

  1. Pass out the “True Beauty” organizer. Ask students to write a personal definition of the words “ugly” and “beautiful” in their organizers. After students have completed writing their definitions, have them share and discuss the commonalities and differences of their responses. Students will be using the “True Beauty” organizer in Activity One.


Activity One

The purpose of this activity is for students to examine how the beauty, or lack of beauty, in an animal impacts their perception of that animal.

Time for completion: One 50-minute class

In preparation for this activity, gather together the following materials:

  • Five photographs of “ugly” animals glued onto 4×4 cards. These photographs should include images of the star-nosed mole, alligator snapping turtle, adjutant stock, proboscis monkey and naked mole-rat.
  • Five photographs of “beautiful” animals such as baby harbor seals, male peacocks, swans, etc., glued onto 4×4 cards. The Nature website may be a good source for these images
  • A set of two smiley face images glued or drawn onto 4×4 cards
  • A set of two frowning face images glued or drawn onto 4×4 cards You may make multiple sets so that all the students may complete this activity at the same time, or make one set and have students take turns.
  1. Divide the class into pairs. Give one person a smiley face card, a frowning face card and the set of ten animal photographs. Make sure that the cards are well shuffled. Instruct them not to show the photographs to their partner until they are ready to begin, and to place the smiley face and frowning face cards face up on the table in front of them. Give the second person in the pair a smiley face card and a frowning card. Tell them to hold one card in each hand.
  2. Tell students that they are going to be shown a photograph of an animal, and when they see the photograph, they will hold up either the smiley face or the frowning face based on their reaction to the photograph. After their partner has held up the smiling or frowning face card, instruct the student holding the animal cards to place the card beside the smiling or frowning face, based upon which card their partner held up. In other words, if the student shows their partner a photograph of a baby harbor seal and the partner holds up a smiley card, they will then place the photograph of the seal beside the smiley face card.
  3. Ask students to continue in the same manner until all of the animal cards have been used. Tell students that they should go through the picture cards as quickly as possible. Students should give an instant response to the animal image. After students have finished, ask them to write down the names of the animals that were placed in each category in their “True Beauty” organizers. Tell students to switch places and repeat the activity.
  4. After students have finished, ask them to share the results in a whole-class discussion. Ask students to draw some conclusions as to how they perceive beauty in animals.
  5. View the clips from “The Beauty of the Ugly” program that feature the “ugly” animals on the cards. Ask students to record in their “True Beauty” organizers an explanation of how these features that may be considered unattractive in these animals actually help them to survive.
  6. Have students repeat the animal photograph activity a second time. Record the results in the “True Beauty” organizer. Ask students to respond in writing to the last question in the organizer.

Activity Two

Time for completion: Three – 50 minute class periods and several homework assignments

In this activity, students will create a survey to draw conclusions about people’s attitudes toward ugly animals. They will design a survey, analyze the data from the survey, create graphs and present their findings to the class.

  1. Watch “The Beauty of Ugly” program from 05:20 to 06:52. Call attention to the last line, “But we’re a lot harder on animals that don’t conform to our ideal of physical perfection.” Ask students if they think this attitude has an impact on the average person’s desire to preserve and protect “ugly” animals versus people’s desire to protect and preserve more attractive animals. Tell the students that they are going to design a survey to investigate whether there are any differences in people’s desire to protect the health and safety of “ugly” animals versus “beautiful” animals.
  2. Divide the class into small groups. Pass out and review the “Do Humans’ Attitudes about Beauty Impact Animals?” survey organizer and the “Survey Presentation” rubric.The websites listed below contain helpful information on creating and analyzing a survey. Depending on your students’ ability level, you may choose to review the information as a class, or have the individual groups refer to them as needed.
  3. After students have completed analyzing the survey results, ask them to present their findings to the class.
  4. When all the groups have finished presenting, involve students in a whole-class discussion about the similarities and differences between the groups’ surveys and the survey results.

Assessment Suggestions
The “True Beauty” organizer may be used to assess Activity One.
The “Survey Results Presentation” rubric may be used to assess Activity Two.

Extension Activity
Investigate what people in various cultures do, or have done, to change their physical characteristics. Discuss the positive and negative impacts on the participating people’s bodies and social standing in the community.

About the Author
Laurel Blaine is founder of Digital Narratives LLC, a curriculum design company. In addition to content development, Digital Narratives also works with young people to enhance their literacy skills as they explore the power of digital storytelling. Over the past decade, Laurel has created educational materials for a diverse range of clients including The Kennedy Center, Oakland East Bay Symphony, Learning Matters/Listen Up! and Smithsonian’s Cooper-Hewitt Museum.

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