Dinos in the Dark

This nonfiction article is written for use with upper-elementary students (grades 4-5). Two modified versions are available for students in grades K-1 and grades 2-3. As always, consider the reading level and needs of your students when selecting a version for classroom use. In this article, your students can learn about adaptations that allowed dinosaurs to survive in cold and dark polar environments. Printable pdf files allow you to print this story in either text or a foldable book format. Your students can listen to the story while they read our electronic book version. Related activities provide tips for integrating this story with your science and literacy instruction.

The article also provides an opportunity for students to practice using context clues to define vocabulary terms. Lessons and online tutorials listed in the Related Activities section provide instruction and support for students as they learn to identify and use context clues.

Interested in other nonfiction articles for your students? Browse all twenty sets from the Beyond Penguins and Polar Bears collection on our Stories for Students page!

Dinos in the Dark

Flesch-Kincaid Reading Level = 5.7

When you think of dinosaurs and where they lived, what do you picture? Do you see hot, steamy swamps, thick jungles, or sunny plains? Dinosaurs lived in those places, yes. But did you know that some dinosaurs lived in the cold and the darkness near the North and South Poles?

This surprised scientists, too. Paleontologists used to believe that dinosaurs lived only in the warmest parts of the world. They thought that dinosaurs could only have lived in places where turtles, crocodiles, and snakes live today. Later, these dinosaur scientists began finding bones in surprising places.

One of those surprising fossil beds is a place called Dinosaur Cove, Australia. One hundred million years ago, Australia was connected to Antarctica. Both continents were located near the South Pole. Today, paleontologists dig dinosaur fossils out of the ground. They think about what those ancient bones must mean.

What was the climate like at Dinosaur Cove then? It was cold! The average temperature was probably around 30 degrees F. The weather would have been like the weather in southern Alaska. How could dinosaurs have lived in such cold temperatures?

And that’s not all. Dinosaur Cove was located near the South Pole. This means that for several months each year, the Sun never rose. Instead, Dinosaur Cove was plunged into a dark, cold winter night that didn’t end until the spring or summer.

Go or Stay?

In other parts of the world, dinosaurs probably migrated away from the winter’s darkness. But the animals at Dinosaur Cove lived on a peninsula of land. They were blocked to the north by a huge lake. To the south and east was the ocean. The only way out was to the west, but it was too far for most of the animals at Dinosaur Cove to migrate. So they couldn’t travel each year when the long night came.

To survive, these dinosaurs had to adapt. How did they change over time? Imagine you are a dinosaur at Dinosaur Cove. If you happen to have larger eyes, you will have a better chance of surviving than will a dinosaur with small eyes because you can see in the dark. Your children will probably have big eyes, too. As time goes by, there will be more and more dinosaurs with bigger eyes.

Big eyes helped the dinosaurs see evergreen trees in the darkness. Since these trees didn’t lose their needles in the winter, they were food for the plant-eating dinosaurs. Big eyes also helped the dinosaurs watch out for predators that would have hunted them.

Dino Blood?

Even with big eyes, though, the dinosaurs at Dinosaur Cove faced another problem – the cold. Turtles, snakes, and crocodiles are all reptiles. Almost all of them live in the warmer parts of the world, and for good reason. Their bodies don’t produce their own heat, so they stay at the same temperature as their surroundings. We say these animals are “cold-blooded,” but their blood doesn’t have to be cold. It’s just as warm as the air or water around them.

If reptiles get too cold, they become sluggish and slow. Some paleontologists wonder if maybe dinosaurs were more like birds than reptiles. If dinosaurs were “warm-blooded” like birds, then they could have made their own heat. That would explain how dinosaurs might have survived through the cold, dark winters at Dinosaur Cove.

The Last Dinosaurs?

But that brings up another mystery. Most paleontologists think the dinosaurs died out because the world got very cold very quickly. Maybe a giant rock from space (an asteroid) slammed into Earth and threw up a cloud of dust. Or maybe ash from volcanoes blocked out the Sun. Either way, the world became too cold for the dinosaurs to survive.

But what if some dinosaurs could survive cold polar winters? Could they also survive on a colder planet? What if the descendents of the animals at Dinosaur Cove survived the extinction? Could they have been the last dinosaurs on Earth?

The wonderful thing about science is that each new answer creates more questions. Maybe one day you will become a paleontologist and travel to the coldest parts of the world to search for the bones of Earth’s last dinosaurs. Be sure to pack a sweater!

Modified versions of this text are available for grades K-1 (Flesch-Kincaid Reading Level = 1.8) and grades 2-3 (Flesch-Kincaid Reading Level = 3.8). See below for links to all three versions in text, book, and electronic book forms.

Printable Files

Print the text-only version of this article for grades: K-1 2-3 4-5
Print a foldable book version of this article for grades: K-1 2-3 4-5

Notes for assembling the book:

You can put this book together a couple of different ways. You can print out the pages, cut them in half and then order the pages back to front. Fold the stack in half and then staple the spine of the book. Pairs of pages can then be stapled or glued along the right edge.

You can also assemble the book as a foldable book.

To assemble the K-1 or 2-3 books this way, print the two pages and align the document pages so that the following book page numbers are in the lower right-hand corner: front page and page 4. (The cover page should be on top and page 4 on the bottom). Set your copier to copy single pages into double pages and run the two pages in the order specified. Cut along the dotted line in the center of the double-sided page, place the book pages in order, fold, and staple along the spine.

To assemble the grades 4-5 book this way, print the four pages and align the document pages so that the following book page numbers are in the lower right-hand corner: front page, page 6, page 2, and page 4. (The cover page should be on top and page 4 on the bottom). Set your copier to copy single pages into double pages and run the four document pages in the order specified. Cut along the dotted line in the center of the double-sided page, place the book pages in order, fold, and staple along the spine.

Electronic Book

Dinos in the Dark

Grades K-1 Electronic Book
Articulate Version
Flash Version

Grades 2-3 Electronic Book
Articulate Version
Flash Version

Grades 4-5 Electronic Book
Articulate Version
Flash Version

In the Articulate version, click on the small arrow at the top of each page for the narration. The large arrow at the right will take you to the next page.

In the Flash version, the play button (in the top right hand corner) will play an audio file of the text on that page, while the pawprint (bottom right hand corner) will turn to the next page. Please note that the audio files take a moment to load on each page. Once the file has been loaded, a play button will appear in the top right hand corner of the page. To minimize the delay on each page, you can open the file and read through the article first. Once each page’s audio has loaded, it remains loaded until you close the browser window. By preparing the article ahead of time, you can have students start at the beginning of the book and read without delays. If you don’t have Flash, you can download it for free from the Adobe web site.

We’ve also created a literacy set that includes all of the illustrated and electronic books in one convenient location!

Related Activities

These lessons and activities can help you integrate this article into your science and literacy instruction. For additional ideas, please see Learning About Fossils Through Hands-On Science and Literacy in the Science and Literacy department of this issue.


Dinosaur Unit
This unit includes seven lessons about dinosaurs, including extinction, fossils, types of dinosaurs, meat and plant eaters, life cycle, and change. The lessons integrate science, language, math, and art through literature, activities, and centers. Spanish translations are also provided. This unit is designed for students in grades K-2.

Discovering Dinosaurs
In this lesson, students examine images of dinosaur remains and tracks and make inferences about the dinosaurs represented. This lesson helps students understand the nature of scientific theory and how scientists can interpret fossil evidence in different ways. This lesson is designed for students in grades 3-5.

Context Clues

Text Talk: Julius, the Baby of the World
The importance of reading aloud to children is a long-established tenet of reading instruction. This lesson supports the language development and reading comprehension of children in kindergarten through second grade. Through the use of the text talk strategy, students explain, develop, and expand upon story ideas. This lesson is designed to help students learn how to gain meaning from decontextualized language.

Acquiring New Vocabulary Through Book Discussion Groups
This lesson explores various ways in which you can foster students’ vocabulary skills through direct instruction and small-group discussions. While reading the text Pink and Say by Patricia Polacco, students identify words that are unfamiliar to them. Working collaboratively in small groups, they discuss the meaning of these new words using context clues from the text, prior knowledge, and print and online resources. They then apply their knowledge of the new vocabulary to further their understanding of the text. This particular lesson can be modified and reused for other areas of the curriculum, with moderate preparation and researching of topic-related resources. Extensions are included to further expand vocabulary acquisition and reading comprehension. This lesson is designed for students in grades 3-5.

Learn New Words Using Context
With guided practice students will use context clues to determine meaning of unfamiliar words in short passages. When students have completed the practice activities, they will read a newspaper or magazine article, picking out unfamiliar words and using context clues to decide what the word means. As a group activity they will share the article, the words, and their meanings with the class. This lesson is designed for students in grade 4 and up.

Context Clues (Learning Upgrade)
This animated video teaches students how to use context clues to define new vocabulary.

This article was written by Stephen Whitt. For more information, see the Contributors page. Email Kimberly Lightle, Principal Investigator, with any questions about the content of this site. The content of this page was updated in June 2020.

Copyright April 2008 – The Ohio State University. This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant No. 0733024. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation. This work is licensed under an Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported Creative Commons license.

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