8. Ecosystem Organization - Lesson Plan

Lesson Plan

  1. I began this lesson with a visualization exercise. When all students are seated, instruct them to close their eyes and imagine an animal, anything they want as long as it lives in the wild (not a dog, cat, horse or other domesticated animal) and they know something about it.
  2. First have them think about their animal alone as an individual. What does it look like? How does it move?
  3. Then imagine this animal interacting with others of its kind. Does your animal live alone or in a group? How does it take care of its young? How does it interact with other adults of its species?
  4. Next think of other types of living things your animal might interact with. What does it eat? What eats it? Does it depend on grasses or trees for shelter or making a nest? Does it compete with other types of animals for food?
  5. Next think of the non-living things that your animal interacts with. Where does it live? Where does it find water? What type of soil does it live on? What is the weather like where it lives?
  6. Finally, think about your organism in relationship to the whole planet Earth. Imagine a picture of the Earth from space. Where on the planet does your animal live? How does its life affect the lives around it? Hoe does its life affect you?
  7. Have the students open their eyes. Tell them that in their imaginations they zoomed out from one individual organism to the whole planet. Ecologists who study organisms and their environment think about organisms and their environment at different levels of “zoom”. Some study at small groups of the same kind of animal – like Jane Goodall who studies chimpanzees in Africa. Some study a whole type of ecosystem, like rainforests or deserts and all the creatures that live within it. Some study the whole planet. Today we will be thinking of the words ecologists use to describe the various levels of “zoom” and will be drawing a picture to illustrate these different levels.
  8. Give students the blank student copies of the Ecosystem Organization Pyramid while you put the Teacher version on the overhead. (If you are short on time, you can give students the Teacher version directly and not have them copy the words and definitions.) Discuss each of the words that defines each level of the organization and have students copy the words and definitions onto their copy. Allow lots of time for questions, showing pictures of biomes, and discussion of the different levels. In particular, pay attention to the fact that the top 3 levels only include living things while the bottom 3 levels include the nonliving environment as well.
  9. Tell students that they should now fill in the center of their pyramid with drawings of their animal within each level. For example, the top should be a picture of their animal by itself as an individual. The next teir should show their animal with others of its species. And so on. If you choose, it is helpful for students to use the right side of the pyramid for a short caption explaining their picture. For example, the second teir might say, “Kody the Koala and the koala bear family and friends that live in his forest.”
  10. Students who take longer to finish the drawings can take them home to finish as homework.