• Audience
    Secondary school
  • Learning stage
    Stage 4, Stage 5, Stage 6
  • 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 syllabus outcomes: SC4-14LW; SC4-15LW; SC5-12ES; SC5-15LW; BIO11-10; BIO11-11; EES11-9; EES12-12.

Prepare your students

  • Brainstorm ideas about dinosaurs
    Using secondary sources, such as the Australian Museum’s dinosaur fact sheets, ask small groups of students to identify 5 species of dinosaurs. For each species, ask the group to research its scientific name, size, age, sites of fossil discoveries, habitat in which it lived and the food it ate.

    Go around the room and ask each group to describe one of their dinosaurs.

    Are there any features, locations or habitats that the different species had in common? What were some of the common dinosaurs your class identified, and is there any link between them?

    Brainstorm why some features might be shared between different species.

  • 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.

    Thinking back to your brainstorm, categorise the dinosaur that each group shared as either a dinosaur, prehistoric lizard or marine reptile. How many were actually dinosaurs?

  • What is a tyrannosaur?
    See the ‘background information about the exhibition’ section for detailed information about features specific to tyrannosaurs. As a class, briefly think about what features make tyrannosaurs different from other dinosaurs.

    Some dinosaurs are instantly recognisable, no matter where you are in the world. They appear in movies, TV shows, books and comics. Tyrannosaurs, in particular, hold a fascination for many readers, watchers and museum-goers. Discuss why tyrannosaurs still hold such an interest amongst the thousands of biological and geological discoveries. What role do museums play in appealing to and catering for this interest for audiences?

At the Museum

  • Use our Dinosaurs conversation starters and exhibition insights, 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

  • Bird or tyrannosaur?
    Ask students to reflect on their visit to Tyrannosaurs – Meet the Family and identify the reptile-like and bird-like features of tyrannosaurs. Justify why birds were included in an exhibition on tyrannosaurs. To get started, discuss some of myths and misconceptions that exist around birds and dinosaurs.

  • Looking back
    Ask students to create a geological time scale, placing the following tyrannosaur species in the correct period: Aviatyrannus, Guanlong, Tyrannosaurus, Yutyrannus, Dilong, Sinotyrannus, Xiongguanlong, Bistahieverson, Aviatyrannus, Tarbosaurus. Use the dinosaur fact sheets. As you work, think about what evidence has been gathered to determine this information.

    Once you have created your geological time scale, look for any generalised trends between the species. Can any statement be made about changes in the size and form of tyrannosaurs over time?

    Palaeontologists determine which dinosaurs are related by looking for unique adaptations that animals share. Animals with like features are grouped together. This grouping helps us understand species diversity.

    Distribute a range of dinosaurs, prehistoric lizards and other animals 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. If you get stuck, think about what the animal does to survive or reproduce.

  • What do you do?
    A lot of science has been conducted to bring Tyrannosaurs – Meet the Family to life! Research a field of science from the following list and think about how that scientist may have contributed to understating tyrannosaurs, their relatives and the period they lived: palaeontologist; geologist; evolutionary biologist; geophysicist; biochemist; climatologist. You might like to start by looking at the evidence and data that these scientists collect.