Your self-led ‘Living Things and their Habitats’ or ‘Evolution and Inheritance’ visit

Manchester Museum is a fabulous place to get ‘up close’ to the real thing in your science teaching, whether that’s Stan the T-Rex, examples of animals from around the world, or a colony of endangered live frogs!

Practical notes

We expect  our Natural History galleries, Vivarium, and Fossils galleries to remain open throughout our redevelopment 2018-21. Book your self-led visit now to bring your class to Manchester Museum. Don’t forget to check out the FAQs too!

We have lots of ideas and suggestions below to support your self-led visit, as well as the option to discuss your plans by email, telephone or on a pre-visit with our Primary Learning CoordinatorMore general resources can also be found here

Wrap-around your visit

You might like to consider combining art and science through a joint ‘Drawing from Nature’ visit with our friends up the road at the Whitworth, with an Art School workshop at the gallery the morning, then a ten minute walk after lunch to put your drawing skills in practice in the inspiring galleries at the museum.

Video resources

Our new working scientifically video resources, created by local primary schools in partnership with SEERIH, are a great way to introduce a visit to us at key stage 2. They reveal how this real-life setting uses fair testing, observation over time, secondary sources and more to care for, learn from and understand our collection – from frogs and insects to dinosaurs and mummies!

New for 2020: Enhance your visit with our natural history story competition!

Manchester Museum’s collection of 2.5 million insects – currently showcased in a brand new exhibition – is a fantastic resource for inspiring stories for all ages.

Children can enter their ideas in our story competition to help us create the next great creepy-crawly chronicle! Deadline on Monday 9 March 2020.


On-gallery activity ideas for your self-led visit

Younger children

Our Explorer Sacks provide stories, poems, looking tools, toys and puppets to help you explore the animals and dinosaurs in Manchester Museum with younger children. Please book in advance to reserve them for your group.

Living Things

Living, Dead and Never Alive!

Manchester Museum is a GREAT place to explore this. Challenge children to find examples of all three. Use their findings to address misconceptions and to stimulate debate. For example, was a fossil alive? (fossilised ‘remains’ are actually made of minerals!)  Does taxidermy count as ‘dead’? (the skin was part of a living creature, but the insides are now made of plaster or sawdust)

Investigating Plant Parts

Bring your own drawing utensils and paper and ask students to walk around the Nature’s Library gallery and identify or draw the following parts of plants they find there:  leaves, flowers, petals, fruit, roots, bulb, seed, trunk, branches, stems

Consider what makes a plant a plant (i.e. photosynthesis) – are sea sponges plants? Are seeds plants? Are stick insects plants? Are corals plants? Why or why not? What kind of habitat would different plants need?

Object stories

Link to literacy and get children exploring the variety of life and inventing creative stories with our activity sheet for Nature’s Library gallery.

Adaptations and Habitats

Three Wishes

Ask children to choose their favourite animal in the galleries and note how they adapted to meet three basic needs: air, water and food (including meat/plant-eating).

Extend by considering what else they are adapted to do, e.g. catching prey, hiding from predators, seeing in the dark, etc.

Where in the World?

Animals are adapted to live in their particular environment. Give children images of different habitats (e.g. polar, desert, rainforest, city, cave…) and challenge them to find 3 species that could live there. They’ll need to give you evidence in the form of the adaptations! e.g. “I think that a crane could live in water due to its long legs.”

Combining Adaptations

Identify some adaptations of animals in the gallery, and then use them to build your own animal! Take an adaptation from 3 or 4 different animals (either the Vivarium or Nature’s Library would work well) and create your own “frankenanimal”. For example, imagine the combination of big eyes from the lemur leaf frog to see in the dark, unusual feet of the chameleon to climb on branches easily, and the poison of the golden poison dart frog to fend of predators. Bring your own pens and paper to draw what the animals would look like.

What kind of habitat would this animal live in? What layer in the forest would it be in? What would it eat? Is there anything that would eat it?

Imagine Building Habitats

We have live amphibians and reptiles at Manchester Museum, and we had t create realistic habitats here for them to live in. Ask students what makes a habitat. Temperature? Sunlight? Water features? Rainfall? Food?

Look at the exhibits in the Vivarium gallery. Vivariums look different depending what habitat they’re trying to recreate. What kind of habitat is each vivarium trying to recreate? What layer of the rain forest does it look like? What is the lighting like? What are the plants like?  Is there a water feature? What does the ground look like (sand, soil, wet, dry etc)?

Find an animal in Nature’s Library and ask students to imagine building their own habitat for that animal, if it were to come to live at Manchester Museum. How would this be done for an arctic animal? An aquatic animal? Why is it important for museum workers to be so careful about these details when recreating habitats in the Vivarium?

Predators and Prey

Ask children to find and sketch 3 predators and 3 prey animals. Look closely at their features. Can they identify features of predators and prey?

Follow up by making WARNING signs (e.g. to be put up in a rabbit classroom) – ‘Watch out for predators: spot them by their sharp claws, forward-facing eyes…’ etc.! 

Connecting Plants with Animals

Connect animals that have evolved special adaptations to certain plants: Can you find specific bird species evolved to eat certain types of seeds? What about pollinators – are there certain insects or animals that are connected with specific plants? Certain insects that have evolved special camouflage to fit in with plants, how many can you find in the gallery?

Endangered and Extinct

Changing Habitats

Identify extinct and endangered species, consider threats to animals and write a ‘lonely hearts’ column for a species of your choice with our handy activity sheet for the Living Worlds gallery.

Conserving Habitats

How do we decide which species to conserve? Do we save species that are already in trouble (rare, endangered, critically endangered)? The golden toad which is now extinct, (see the golden toad exhibit in the Vivarium), was once common in its range. In the late 1980s it disappeared within a year. Ask your students to pick an animal in the gallery they would like to protect and explain why they chose it.

I-Spy Amazon

The amazon exhibit in theVivarium has an estimated 100 animals living inside, but they can be difficult to see due to their adaptations! Try I-Spy to see how many animals, or how many species, you can find in a defined period of time (i.e. 1 minute).

Now consider what products humans could make from the things found in this exhibit. i.e. paper, houses from the trees, products from the animals themselves… what happens if we use too many of the things in this exhibit? It starts to look like the golden toad exhibit. Why can’t animals just adapt to a new habitat if we destroy their old one?


Our Fossils gallery is a great starting point for teaching evolution. It is arranged chronologically, from the first single-celled organisms to the modern bison via t-rex, ichthyosaur and swamp forests. There’s also a really handy teaching display that shows how the leg of the horse has evolved.

Your theory of evolution

Comparing prehistoric species on the Fossils Gallery to modern species on the Natural History galleries is a great way for pupils to see evolution in action:

Stand under Stan the t-rex. Ask children which modern creatures is Stan most like? Chances are they might think of reptiles (such as crocodiles) or large predators (such as lions and tigers).  Tell children that many scientists now think that modern birds like chickens and pigeons evolved directly from dinosaurs.

Consider the features of modern birds (visiting Nature’s Library on the 2nd floor might help). Can children develop a ‘Theory of Evolution’ by finding other evidence for the evolution of dinosaurs to birds in the Fossils gallery, and present their own steps in a timeline? (For example, the little compsognathus fossil looks just like a little chicken, and the velociraptor model has feathers!)

You could extend this by asking children to develop ‘evolutionary theories’ for other animals.

See also: ideas for ‘Rocks and Fossils’, and ideas for ‘Classification’ and ‘Animals including Humans’.

Have you tried any of these ideas? Do you have any other suggestions? Comment below!

Remember to book your visit!