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The Story of Dinosaur Evolution


Jeffrey Scott Coker
Department of Biology
Elon University
Jimmie D. Agnew
Science Education
Elon University


In this case study, students write their own “evolution stories” based on information taken from a review article by Paul Sereno on the evolution of dinosaurs published in Science magazine. In the process, they learn to distinguish between the three major groups of dinosaurs based on physical characteristics; trace the ancestry of individual dinosaur species; and interpret a complex evolutionary tree that includes extinctions, speciation events, and changes in the number of taxa over time. The case was designed for use in non-majors introductory science courses, but could also be used in majors’ courses.


  • Distinguish between ornithischians, sauropodomorphs, and theropods on the basis of physical characteristics.
  • Trace the ancestry of individual dinosaur species from the common ancestor.
  • Interpret a complex evolutionary tree which includes extinctions, speciation events, and changes in the number of taxa over time.


Dinosaurs; dinosaur evolution; extinction; speciation; evolutionary tree; dinosaur classification; lizard-hipped; bird-hipped; ornithischian; sauropodomorph; theropod

Topical Areas


Educational Level

High school, Undergraduate lower division



Type / Methods

Interrupted, Journal Article



Subject Headings

Evolutionary Biology  |   Biology (General)  |   Science (General)  |  

Date Posted


Teaching Notes

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Teaching notes are intended to help teachers select and adopt a case. They typically include a summary of the case, teaching objectives, information about the intended audience, details about how the case may be taught, and a list of references and resources.


Kathy Hallett

Carmel High School
Carmel, IN
The link to the dinosaur anatomy dictionary is invalid.

Editor, National Center for Case Study Teaching in Science

In response to Kathy's comment, above, unfortunately, Internet sites come and go. Jeff Poling no longer maintains his Dinosauria On-line site or the Anatomical Dictionary that was part of that site. This dictionary was mentioned in the teaching notes to this case by the case authors as a helpful resource for students and teachers. When this happens - when an Internet site that is cited in one of our cases is no longer available - we suggest that teachers look for alternate resources. We did a quick Google search and found a few possible sites that could be used instead, with the first one listed below our top pick: