Natural Selection

Review Darwin’s theory of Evolution by Natural Selection, and see it illustrated with a selection game in the famous lecture theatre.

  • Credit: Tim Mitchell


We have developed a series of clips to explore the Life Fantastic with your students. The pages are intended for use as a prompt to help you prepare when exploring these topics in lessons. Teachers have told us that the videos and questions best suit being used as a topic introduction.

On this page you will find an overview of the topic covered by the clips, a brief summary of each clip, related questions and how the topic links to the curriculum.  This is one of eight available resources on developmental biology. For more topics see the teaching resources list.


Topics in the videos

  • Understand what is meant by the terms natural selection and evolution
  • Understand that characteristics that aid survival (and reproductive fitness) will be selected during evolution and will be inherited by the next generation
  • Understand that these characteristics may arise by mutations in the genome
  • Explain how characteristics that are selected will increase in number in populations
  • Consider evolution from both the predators' and the preys’ perspective 

The material in this resource is supported by video clips from the CHRISTMAS LECTURES 2013.

Curriculum links

This resource is suitable for Key Stages 3 and 4 and AS/A2 level. Full curriculum links are given at the bottom of the page.

Clip 1 - Natural selection: the game

Using a demonstration designed to illustrate natural selection and the struggle for life, Alison Woollard delves deeper into Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection. This video first introduces Darwin’s own summary of his great idea before doing an experiment to test it. In a game of competing for sweets, Alison introduces ‘mutations’ and ‘adaptations’ to the competing children and demonstrates that some individuals are better adapted than others to collect sweets from the canopy. The winners are ‘naturally selected’ and are better adapted to survive and reproduce, with their descendents flourishing in the evolutionary race.

Running Time: 7 min 11 secs

Summary questions

  • What are examples of characteristics that will influence how the children will do in the selection game? (Height, sight, use of hands, from 2:22)
  • What happens to the children that don’t get enough sweets? (Die/become extinct, 4:44)
  • What did the kneeling children do to improve their survival? (They jumped and adapted,5:24)
  • What happens to the children that get the most sweets? (Survive and reproduce, 6:40)

Background and discussion questions

  • Who is the speaking in the box? (Charles Darwin) What theory did he propose? (Evolution by natural selection)
  • Pause the video before the game starts at 3:54 – which pair of children will collect the most sweets?
  • Suggest some other characteristics that might affect the results. (Speed of movement, strength when pulling on the sweets etc.)
  • Why didn’t the blindfolded children do well? (Couldn’t see) Why didn’t the boxing glove children do well? (Couldn’t grab)
  • Can you give a real-life example of natural selection?
  • Why do you think Dr Woollard made everyone kneel to start with? (To create a fair test by controlling the variables in the experiment i.e. height at the start)

Clip 2 - Natural selection: the prey adapts

Alison finds a hidden element to the natural selection game – prey that has adapted to be hidden from the predators. The black sweets in the selection game were missed by the players; they were camouflaged, demonstrating that evolution by natural selection works at lots of different levels.

Running Time: 1 min 3 secs

Summary questions

  • Why did no-one pick the black sweets? (They were camouflaged)

Discussion questions

  • If the black sweets were competing with the red sweets, who do you think would win that evolutionary race? What would happen to the red sweets?
  • Can you think of some real-life examples of prey adaptations?

Curriculum links


Under ‘Inheritance, chromosomes, DNA and genes’ in ‘Genetics and Evolution’, this resource expands upon the idea that organisms compete with each other to drive natural selection, and variation in organisms and/or the environment influences the competition.


The clips give a novel and visual explanation of Darwin’s theory of natural selection. The concepts of variation in characteristics, and selection and inheritance of advantageous characteristics are illustrated by a selection game. The game illustrates how advantageous characteristics influence an organism’s fitness during its lifetime and how this affects its reproductive success. The resource covers AQA GCSE Biology 4401/ Science 4405 Unit 1: Biology 1 B1.4.1 ‘Adaptations’ and B1.8 ‘Evolution’ and Science B 4450 Unit 1: My world section ‘Life on our planet’ points 5-8; Edexcel GCSE Biology 2BI01/ Science 2SC01 Unit B1 Topic 1 ‘Classification, variation and inheritance’ 1.11-12; OCR GCSE Biology A J243/ Science A J241 Unit A161 Module B3 ‘Systems in balance – how do different species depend on each other?’  B3.1, 2, 3 and 5.

The video clips also provide a spring board to consider how DNA evidence supports Darwin’s theory according to Edexcel GCSE Biology 2BI01/ Science 2SC01 Unit B1 Topic 1 1.1.18 and OCR GCSE Biology A J243/Science A J241 Unit A161 Module B3 ‘How has life on Earth evolved?’ B3.2 10-11.


The clips and resource provide a framework to consider examples of evolution and selection beyond antibiotic resistance and bacteria. Appropriate for AQA GCE Biology AS 1411 Unit 2 BIOL2 ‘The variety of living organisms’ section 3.2.10 and OCR GCE Biology AS Unit F212 Module 3 ‘Biodiversity and Evolution’ 2.3.3.

Watch the full lectures

View the full CHRISTMAS LECTURES, Life Fantastic, along with behind the scenes footage, and related content, at the Ri Channel (