MnSTEP Teaching Activity Collection > MnSTEP Activities > Investigating Wolf Behavior

Investigating Wolf Behavior

Emily Wolf
Osakis High School
Osakis, MN
Based on photos and film clips from the Ely International Wolf Center Website
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In this classroom activity, students investigate documented wolf behavior in photos and short movie clips. They identify and describe different behaviors, body language, and facial expressions and categorize them as submissive or dominant. Through class discussion, students will also identify pack roles and the possible advantages and disadvantages of this pack structure.

Learning Goals

Students will be able to identify pack roles based on observational evidence, describe characteristic wolf behaviors, and define submissive and dominant behaviors. Observational skills are further developed in this activity.

Key Concepts: Wolf behavior can be observed to identify pack structure. Some animal behaviors aid in survival.

Vocabulary Words: Submissive behavior, dominant behavior, alpha pair

Context for Use

This activity is most appropriate in a classroom setting with a projector and screen. Class size will determine the number of small groups of 3-4 students for group observations and discussion. The activity should be completed in about a 50 minute class period and may be used as an introductory tool in wolf biology. Using printed photos, this activity may be adapted for other settings or in rooms lacking projection capabilities.

Subject: Biology:Ecology
Resource Type: Activities:Classroom Activity
Grade Level: Middle (6-8)

Description and Teaching Materials

This lesson may be used in a classroom with a projector and screen. Pictures and movie clips of wolf behavior may be downloaded and prepared in a power point for class presentation. Small dry erase boards and markers are provided to each small group of 3-4 students.

To introduce the activity, I will divide students into small groups or use existing groups in the seating arrangement. I will comment on observations and how evidence can be used to test our ideas and perceptions. Students will then be directed as follows:
Observe the first photo. Record and discuss what you see with your table partner. What are the different behaviors you have observed? What do these behaviors communicate to other wolves?

Observe the second photo and record your observations.

Class discussion of observations and then address the question: Why do wolves behave differently?

Introduce the terms alpha pair and dominant and submissive behaviors.

How can we identify the alpha or dominant wolf and the submissive wolf? Make a list of criteria you will use in your observations. Observe several more photos and movie clips.
- Identify the alpha pair and describe characteristic behaviors.
-Identify submissive wolves and describe characteristic submissive behaviors.
Student should answer the question, "What evidence do you have for dominant versus submissive behaviors?"

In small groups discuss: What are the advantages of these behaviors? Record your answers on the dry erase boards. As a class discuss how these behaviors may help wolves survive and successfully reproduce.

(Optional) Homework Assignment: Observe three to four humans and record their body language. What does the evidence suggest to you about what the person is communicating?

Teaching Notes and Tips

Always preview movie clips, photos, and power points to avoid undesirable technical problems or inappropriate materials. If students are struggling with observations try listing ten or so observations and then request five more. Lastly, try to allow students to test their observations and interpretations by asking, "if the wolf is an alpha, what would it do?" or "if that is so, what would that look like?"


Students will be formatively assessed based on their observations, discussion, and interpretations of wolf behavior so that improvements and clarifications may be made immediately. Further summative assessment may be completed as part of a unit test.


Grade 7 MN Standard IV.E.3. The student will explain how biological adaptations in structure, function and behavior enhance the reproductive success and survival of a species in a particular environment.

References and Resources