UCMP Lessons  

Not Just a Theory

Author: Judy Scotchmoor

Overview: Evolution is often challenged by those who oppose its teaching or do not understand it. One of these challenges is that evolution is just a theory. This activity addresses this misconception.

Lesson Concepts:

Grade Span: 10–16 and in teacher workshops


Advance Preparation: none

Time: 10–15 minutes

Grouping: Appropriate for large group discussion

Teacher Background:

Theories that might be suggested include: cell theory, atomic theory, heliocentric theory, theory of plate tectonics, germ theory, theory of evolution. In science, theories are the end points. “They are understandings that develop from extensive observation, experimentation, and creative reflection. They incorporate a large body of scientific facts, laws, tested hypotheses, and logical inferences. In this sense, evolution is one of the strongest and most useful theories we have.” (Teaching about Evolution and the Nature of Science, National Academy of Sciences. 1998.)

Explore this link for additional information on the topics covered in this lesson:

Vocabulary: theory


  1. Have participants write down a definition of the word “theory.” Have them share their definitions with those sitting next to them. Discuss the differences. Bring out in the discussion that there is the “popular” definition of theory and then there is another definition used by the scientific community.
  2. Have participants come up with as many scientific theories as possible, while you list them on the board. Then hold up the card with the words: just a theory. Ask them if this card belongs in front of any of the theories listed. Discuss.

Updated November 7, 2003

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