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KS3 Science: Life on Earth (1979)

Cheetah vs Wildebeest. Challenge students to produce a commentary for this wild chase

Main image of KS3 Science: Life on Earth (1979)
Author Ryan Deneven-Lewis
Topic Reaction time, senses and impulses, speed and distance
Curriculum linksNC KS3 Biology

Life on Earth was an ambitious, 13-part series which aimed to trace the development of life in all its forms since primordial times, illustrated with a multitude of examples from species surviving today and narrated by David Attenborough. In this clip a cheetah tracks and chases down a young wilderbeest.

Students will most likely be aware of programmes like The Blue Planet (2001) and Planet Earth (2006). Life on Earth is the blueprint for these later series and used a mixture of tricks and techniques, including time-lapse photography, to capture nature in all its forms. Natural history programmes like this are a useful starting point for considering the contribution of television to our scientific understanding and interest as well as more specific topics.



Watch the clip through as a class before giving pupils a short amount of time (4 minutes) to write a sports commentary for the clip as if it was an Olympic race (they might respond better to the analogy of football commentary). Pupils should be encouraged to use appropriate keywords relating to reaction time and the nervous system.

In addition, pupils should describe include information about the senses the cheetah uses to track the wildebeest, what happens inside the cheetah's nervous system and the signals. Pupils can then present their commentaries (in their best John Motson voices, of course!) to the rest of the class, talking as the clip is played back.

To stretch pupils a little more, they could be given stop watches to watch the clip, calculating the time it takes the cheetah to catch the wildebeest. Having provided pupils with a figure for the distance covered by the cheetah in order to catch the wildebeest, pupils should be able to calculate the speed at which the animal was running.


Some more ideas

  • More able pupils (KS5) maybe provided with data on the wildebeest how fast it can run and the length of time a cheetah can run of top speed. Pupils then calculate how much of a head start it would have needed to get away from cheetah.
Video Clips
2. The cheetah and the wildebeest (3:22)

Related Films and TV programmes

Thumbnail image of Life on Earth (1979)Life on Earth (1979)

Read more about this programme

See also