Lesson plans for three stages of learning:
Introduce the concept of an ecosystem
Here’s an excellent lesson plan for doing so. You’ll need the fabulous book The Wolves are Back by Jean Craighead George for the basic lesson. They go on with further awesome activities. This lesson plan is aimed at grade 5.
When I presented this lesson to my 1st-3rd grade class, I simplified it a bit and only the 3rd grade students did the follow-up activities. I also suggest that if your class enjoys skits and theater you allow the older students to create and perform some. With my group being so young, I had a whole-class movement activity after reading the story.
For the movement activity, 1-3 students played the part of each animal described in the book. We imagined our classroom was Yellowstone, designating different areas as meadows, forest, river, etc. Then each student or group was helped to find their correct place in the ecosystem with and without wolves. Finally, we “animated” the ecosystem, changing it back and forth from wolves to no wolves several times. It was simple, yet fun, exciting and memorable even to the youngest.
Learn About Producers, Consumers, and Decomposers
I like to continue with this lesson plan. It’s intended for grade 5 and a particular geographic area, but the main lesson could apply to any location and the rest is so well-written it is worth the very minimal changes to adapt it.
Build a Food Web
Now that your students know about ecosystems and are familiar with the terms producers, consumers and decomposers, I suggest an activity designed to demonstrate the connections that form a food web, and how much its members rely upon each other. For this activity, each member of the class becomes an animal member of the ecosystem. For my class, I created a material with cards for each student describing each organism and its role in a wetlands, pond or stream ecosystem. I printed the cards, and also printed the animal’s name large on the back of the card for other students to see. You can download my product here, or create your own.
- Have the group, including you, sit or stand in a circle. Tell them you are going to build a food web together.
- Hand out the cards, one to each child.
- Take a ball of yarn or string, and holding the end toss it to a member of the ecosystem which you consume or which is consumed by you. That person holds onto the string and tosses the ball to another, and so on until you have an interconnected web including all members of the class.
- Explain that they have just created the connections that form the food web of this ecosystem. For upper level students, these are the paths energy takes as it is transferred throughout the ecosystem. Now do a few activities to experience and understand the connections, such as tugging on the web and asking who feels it.
- Have a student drop their part of the string, then another, and another, asking the students to comment on what is happening to the web.
- If your class has a good sense of humor, you might conclude at the end that the mass of tangled string created by such a small sampling of organisms shows just how complex our ecosystem is, and our inability to untangle it just how impossible it is to separate out the role of one organism.