• Audience
    Early years, Primary school
  • Learning stage
    Early Stage 1, Stage 1, Stage 2, Stage 3
  • Learning area
    English, Science
  • Type
    Learning journey, Teaching resources

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Learning journeys offer a scaffolded approach to exploring a topic both in the classroom and at the Museum. Follow our learning journey to deepen your students’ knowledge and understanding of tyrannosaur dinosaurs. Tyrannosaurs – Meet the Family has now ended at the Australian Museum and is currently touring the world.

Dinosaurs are a group of land-dwelling reptiles with a set of physical features that distinguish them from all other reptiles. They include the extinct animals we know from fossils and the birds we see today. Reptiles are air-breathing vertebrate animals, lay eggs and have scales for skin. Investigate the main physical features of dinosaurs here.

What key feature distinguishes dinosaurs from other reptiles? Reptiles, such as crocodiles and lizards, have legs that sprawl out to the side. Their thigh bones are almost parallel to the ground. They walk and run with a side-to-side motion. Dinosaurs, on the other hand, stand with their legs positioned directly under their bodies. A hole in the hip socket permits this upright stance.

Fossils are the remains or traces of plants or animals preserved in rocks, soil, ice or amber. Fossilisation is the process of forming a fossil. Fossilisation of a whole plant or animal is very rare. Usually only the hard parts of plants such as seeds and wood and the bones and teeth of animals become fossilised.

Tyrannosaurs are a group of carnivorous theropod dinosaurs with four main features (mostly found in the jaw, skull and hips) that distinguish them from other dinosaurs. We call all the species in the superfamily Tyrannosauroidea ‘tyrannosauroids’ or simply tyrannosaurs. Tyrannosauroidea is divided into at least two families. Proceratosauridae contains several small, early tyrannosaurs, like Guanlong. Most of the larger, later tyrannosaurs were members of Tyrannosauridae, including the well-known Albertosaurus and Tyrannosaurus.

Tyrannosaurs – Meet the Family tells the story of the tyrannosaurs: their evolutionary history, the habitats in which they evolved and their distribution in location and time – in other words, what makes them such fascinating and special creatures. The exhibition is an innovative, multimedia experience showcasing the tyrannosaur family tree. There are over 10 life-sized dinosaur specimens on display, including one of the oldest tyrannosaurs, Guanlong wucaii. Showcasing an array of fossils and casts of tyrannosaur specimens, the exhibition is designed to provide a snapshot of dinosaur life and show how this group became the world’s top predators with their massive skulls, powerful jaws and bone-crunching teeth.

Some key highlights of the exhibition:

  • An Australian-first immersive multimedia experience featuring large-scale projections of dinosaurs running through Sydney streets.
  • The tyrannosaur family tree
  • A chance to meet Guanlong wucaii – the newly discovered feathery relative of T. rex.
  • Discover and learn how recent scientific findings confirm the links between dinosaurs and birds.
  • Use of multi-touch technologies to compare their own arm strength to that of a mighty T. rex.
  • Grasp the enormous scale of geological time in the context of human evolution.

Some of the species showcased in the exhibition include:

Albertosaurus; Alioramus; Appalachiosaurus; Bistahieversor; Daspletosaurus; Dilong; Dryptosaurus; Eotyrannus; Gorgosaurus; Guanlong; Juratyrant Kileskus; Nanotyrannus; Proceratosaurus; Raptorex; Sinotyrannus; Stokesosaurus; Tarbosaurus; Teratophoneus; Tyrannosaurus; Xiongguanlong; Yutyrannus; and Zhuchengtyrannus

What are tyrannosaurs?
Some features of other dinosaurs are shared with tyrannosaurs.

  • Stood on two legs: All tyrannosaurs stood on two legs but so did many other dinosaurs.
  • Tail: All tyrannosaurs had tails but so did every other dinosaur.
  • Small arms: Most tyrannosaurs had small arms but so did many other dinosaurs.
  • Ribs and torso: All tyrannosaurs had ribs but so did every other dinosaur.

Some features were specific to tyrannosaurs.

  • Fused nasal bones in skull: Only tyrannosaurs had fused nasal bones in their skulls. This strengthened their snouts and gave them a stronger bite.
  • Teeth: Only tyrannosaurs had D-shaped teeth at the front of their upper jaws. These were good for scraping and pulling, while other teeth could slice, tear and crush.
  • Hip features: Only tyrannosaurs had a ridge of bone above the leg socket at the top of their hips, where their strong leg muscles attached.
  • Hind limb: Tyrannosaurs had relatively long hind limbs compared to other theropods (meat-eating dinosaurs).

Some might think that all tyrannosaurs had two fingers like T-rex. However, early, more primitive tyrannosaurs had three fingers on each hand. It was only the advanced tyrannosaurs (those in the family Tyrannosauridae) that had two-fingered hands.

Through this learning journey, students will:

  • learn some of the features that define dinosaurs and tyrannosaurs.
  • learn how some animals, such as tyrannosaurs, are grouped or classified.
  • understand what a family tree is relation to tyrannosaurs.

NSW Curriculum outcomes:

STe-1WS-S, ST1-1WS-S, ST2-1WS-S, ST3-1WS-S, ENE-OLC-01, EN1-OLC-01, EN2-OLC-01, EN3-OLC-01.

Prepare your students

  • What do you know about dinosaurs?
    Brainstorm ideas about dinosaurs and other prehistoric animals and how we know they existed (fossils). Provide your students some pictures or models of dinosaurs. In groups, students can discuss the following questions:

    What do you think it is? How do you think it moved?
    What did it eat? How did it find its food?
    Does this animal have senses like yours? What features does this creature have that tell you it could taste, see, smell and hear?

    As a whole class students think of ways the pictures or models of dinosaurs could be grouped.

  • What makes a dinosaur a dinosaur?
    Share a picture of a prehistoric lizard (eg. Megalania), a dinosaur and a marine reptile, and compare their stances. Notice that lizard legs extend out from the sides whilst dinosaur legs are directly underneath their bodies. Show this illustration to demonstrate all dinosaurs had a hole in their hip socket which allowed them to stand this way, and which distinguishes them from other reptiles.

    Call on volunteers to show to the class that prehistoric lizards walked using the stance with legs extending out from the sides – students can take a crawling position and then move their arms and legs out to the side. They should shift their weight from side to side as they move awkwardly!

    Then call on volunteers to demonstrate a dinosaur stance, with arms and legs positioned directly under the body. This should show that the dinosaurs could walk faster and less awkwardly.

  • What is a tyrannosaur?
    See the ‘background information about the exhibition’ section for detailed information about features specific to tyrannosaurs. As a class, answer the following question.

    What features make tyrannosaurs different from other dinosaurs?

    Ask your students to find pictures of tyrannosaurs, and dinosaurs that are not tyrannosaurs (you can search for some on our website). Pair them up and get them to compare the differences between tyrannosaurs and other dinosaurs. As an extension, ask each pair to research where in the world tyrannosaur fossils have been found and mark them on a world map; or read the book, Tyrannosaurus Drip by Julie Donaldson and David Roberts (ES1-S1).

At the Museum

  • Use our Dinosaurs exhibition insights, conversation starters or a mixture of both, which offer an informal approach to learning that encourages your students to connect, share and reflect to the specimens and items on display.

    We recommend that your students work in small groups, however, it is up to you how you implement and manage the activities.

  • Visit and explore the Tyrannosaurs – Meet the Family exhibition. The exhibition is divided into five themes or sections:

    1. What’s a tyrannosaur? This area explores the features that define a tyrannosaur
    2. Meet the Family. This area shows there were many tyrannosaurs and at least two families.
    3. Explore the Family. This area compares and contrasts tyrannosaur relatives.
    4. T. rex - The Ultimate. This area explores how T. rex evolved as the top-end predator.
    5. T. rex - Legacy. This area explores the evolution, survival and extinction of T-rex.

Back in the classroom

  • Journal entry
    Ask students to reflect on their visit to Tyrannosaurs – Meet the Family by writing a journal entry or drawing a picture about the trip to the Museum.

    What were the highlights? Describe what you saw? What did you learn?

    Compare and contrast
    Ask students to choose one of the following pairs of tyrannosaur species: Aviatyrannus vs Tyrannosaurus; Guanlong vs Yutyrannus; Dilong vs Sinotyrannus; Xiongguanlong vs Bistahieverson; Aviatyrannus vs Tarbosaurus. Then ask them to create a table to compare the two dinosaurs using the table headings: size, hunting techniques, habitat, treatment of young, eggs or live births.

    Which is stronger? Why or why not?

  • Write a story
    Imagine what life would be like if the Tyrannosaur dinosaurs came back. Create and write a story with the title, “What if the tyrannosaurs came back.” Include some illustrations as appropriate.

    Palaeontologists determine which dinosaurs are related by looking for unique features that animals share. Animals with like features are grouped together. Distribute a range of prehistoric animals and other objects to students. Ask groups to find creative ways to sort them (meat eater/plant eater, small/large etc.). Have groups compare their sorting methods and discuss the different ways they classified their dinosaurs.

    Learn more about fossils. Students can then make their own impression fossil based on the Australian Museum collections using our classroom activity.

    Use our classroom activity to help you create your own dino-rama.

  • Dinosaur teeth
    Palaeontologists can tell a lot from the size of a dinosaur’s skull, and from the teeth in it. The teeth provide the best clues (apart from fossil dung) as to what dinosaurs ate eg. Tyrannosaurus rex had sharp, knife-like teeth most likely used to rip meat off its prey. Other dinosaurs like Muttaburrasaurus had flat grinding teeth used to grind up plants.

    Using mirrors, ask students to explore their own teeth and identify which ones they think are used for chopping, stripping or grinding foods. Draw and label the teeth shapes and compare to those on some dinosaurs. If appropriate, students can experiment using their own teeth to strip or grate, chop, and grind or chew a fresh carrot.

    Create your own exhibition
    Students can set up their own exhibition about dinosaurs, Tyrannosaurs, or another identified theme. Use our classroom activity about how to create an exhibition in your classroom or school to guide you.