1. Display the illustrations to help students understand one way a fossil forms.
Scroll through the color illustrations and read aloud the captions to help students understand how fossils form. Explain to students that, over millions of years, fossil remains become crushed or broken. They are often incomplete, and scientists must work very carefully to put them back together. Tell students they are going to make a skeleton model of a Tylosaurus, a giant sea reptile that lived more than 65 million years ago.
2. Have students prepare their work areas.
Have students lay each black-and-white illustration of the Tylosaurus on a flat, clean surface. Then ask them to cover it with waxed paper and secure it to the surface with tape. Have students gather the other materials they will need.
3. Have students construct the skeleton model.
Have students use toothpicks and pasta to form the skeleton. Direct them to start with the spine, or backbone. Then to add other pieces to make the skull, tail, and paddles.
4. Have students glue the pieces together.
Have students glue the pieces together and then allow the model to dry completely. Help students to carefully lift the dry model off of the drawing. Then have them use scissors to trim away the waxed paper.
5. Have students compare their models to their original drawings.
Have a whole-class discussion. Ask: How similar or different are your finished model and the original drawing? Why?
Subjects & Disciplines
- construct a skeleton model of an extinct species
- Hands-on learning
- Visual instruction
National Standards, Principles, and Practices
National Science Education Standards
- • (K-4) Standard D-1:
- Properties of earth materials
What You’ll Need
Materials You Provide
- Pasta in assorted shapes
- Transparent tape
- Waxed paper
The resources are also available at the top of the page.
Background & Vocabulary
When scientists discover fossil remains, they must work very carefully in order to put them back together.
Recommended Prior Activities
|Term||Part of Speech||Definition||Encyclopedic Entry|
remnant, impression, or trace of an ancient organism.
|Encyclopedic Entry: fossil|
image or impression of an object used to represent the object or system.
For Further Exploration
The audio, illustrations, photos, and videos are credited beneath the media asset, except for promotional images, which generally link to another page that contains the media credit. The Rights Holder for media is the person or group credited.
Mary Crooks, National Geographic Society
Patricia Norris, National Geographic Society
Amy Grossman, National Geographic Society
Christina Riska, National Geographic Society
adapted from National Geographic’s Sea Monsters: A Prehistoric Adventure poster activity “Toothpick Tylosaurus”
For information on user permissions, please read our Terms of Service.
If you have questions about licensing content on this page, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org for more information and to obtain a license.
If you have questions about how to cite anything on our website in your project or classroom presentation, please visit our FAQ page.
Some media assets (videos, photos, audio recordings and PDFs) can be downloaded and used outside the National Geographic website according to the Terms of Service. If a media asset is downloadable, a download button appears in the lower right hand corner () of the media viewer. If no button appears, you cannot download or save the media.
Text on this page is printable and can be used according to our Terms of Service.
Any interactives on this page can only be played while you are visiting our website. You cannot download interactives.