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        5-8, 13+

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        The Coral Reef Ecosystem

        Students examine a coral reef ecosystem to learn about its living and non-living parts and how they interact. They apply what they have learned to explore the world's biomes, including how the animals in each are adapted to their environment.

        Lesson Summary


        In this lesson plan, students examine a coral reef ecosystem to learn how the living and non-living parts of an ecosystem interact. Students view videos depicting those interactions, details of the coral reef food web, and energy exchange. They compare the various species living on the coral reef and predict how the features they possess make them suited to living there. They discuss how the elements within an ecosystem allow diverse species to survive and become adapted to a particular environment. Finally, they apply what they have learned and explore the world's biomes, including analyzing how the animals in each are adapted to their environment.


        • Become familiar with the components of a coral reef ecosystem
        • Understand the components of an ecosystem and how they interact
        • Recognize the features of a species that allow it to survive in a particular ecosystem
        • Compare and contrast the traits of species in a variety of ecosystems

        Grade Level: 6–8

        Suggested Time

        • Four to six class periods

        Media Resources


        • Coral Reef Ecosystem Handout PDF Document
        • Craft materials for creating original creatures. For example: pipe cleaners, pom poms, popsicle sticks, glitter, buttons, modeling clay, cardboard, feathers, wire, recyclable materials, paint, markers, glue, etc.
        • Coral Reef Observations PDF Document

        Before the Lesson

        • Arrange computer access for all students, preferably to work individually or in pairs.
        • Print and copy PDF Documents for each group.
        • Be sure to have enough craft materials for each student.
        • Create a fictional ecosystem for the class to work with. Provide specific characteristics of the ecosystem. For example:
          • Insects are plentiful, but the nearest water is 500 yards away.
          • There are both plant-eaters and meat-eaters living nearby.
          • The area contains both short bushes with edible berries and medium-height leafy trees, as well as many scattered rocks.
          (You may want to model this ecosystem after one nearby that the students are familiar with or can visit.)
        • Record the features of this fictional environment on chart paper where the whole class can see it.

        The Lesson

        Part I: Researching Ecosystems

        1. Have students read the background information in the Coral Reef Ecosystem Handout PDF Document.

        2. Work with students to come up with a definition of the term ecosystem. Then ask them: How does a habitat differ from an ecosystem?

        3. Ask students to create a list of living vs. non-living components of a coral reef ecosystem.

        4. Discuss how the living creatures in a coral reef interact with each other, as well as with the non-living parts of the ecosystem, to create an environment that allows for the survival of various species.

        1. Do all creatures live within the same habitat in a coral reef?
        2. What must an animal obtain from its surroundings in order to survive? (food, water, shelter, protection from predators)

        Part II: Focusing on Coral Reefs

        5. Have students view the A Night in the Coral Reef QuickTime Video. While they are watching, have them list the components of the ecosystem featured in the video. Compare lists at the end of the video to see what the students were able to identify.

        6. Direct students to the Internet to research coral reef creatures and their habitats. One option is the Monterey Bay Aquarium Web site.

        Have students choose five coral reef creatures to compare, paying close attention to each creature's habitat, food source, and special characteristics [such as which are nocturnal and which are diurnal (active during the daytime)]. Ask students to record the information on the Coral Reef Observations PDF Document.

        7. When they have completed their research, have them report their findings.

        1. How are the various creatures you studied adapted to survive in their particular habitats?
        2. How do they obtain food and protection from it?

        8. Have students view the Energy Flow in the Coral Reef Ecosystem QuickTime Video. This video segment describes the energy flow in a coral reef, including its food web.

        9. Introduce the concept of food webs and ask students to use the information they have gathered to predict how their creatures interact.

        1. Which creatures contribute to the survival of others by providing shelter?
        2. Who does each creature prey upon?
        3. Which creatures live on the energy of the Sun?
        4. Have students check their predictions against the information gathered from the Monterey Bay Aquarium site or whatever site they used.

        10. Choose one of the creatures from the ecosystem. What would happen if that creature no longer lived in this ecosystem? How would that affect the other creatures? How would that affect the interconnectedness of the food web?

        Part III: Applying Knowledge

        11. Present your fictional ecosystem to the students. Ask them to brainstorm the characteristics that would allow a creature to survive in that environment. A list of ideas should be recorded in their science notebooks. Then, ask them to invent fictional creatures that have the characteristics necessary for survival in that environment. You may choose to model your fictional ecosystem after a nearby area, but emphasize that their creatures are to be fictional.

        12. Next, give students access to the various craft materials you have collected and ask them to create their fictional creatures.

        13. Finally, have students share their creatures with the class and explain the special characteristics that allow them to interact with the ecosystem and survive in it. Ask them: What would most likely happen to your creature if the conditions within the ecosystem were to change? Have them choose one factor to change and describe how it would affect their creature.

        Check for Understanding

        1. Choose either the Desert Biome QuickTime Video or the Arctic Tundra QuickTime Video for students to watch. These videos provide information about two specific types of environments and the adaptations organisms have that enable them to survive there.
        2. Have students visit the Biomes Flash Interactive to view the different types of biomes found on Earth. Discuss how scientists developed the classification system for biomes.
        3. Have students choose one of Earth's biomes on which to focus. In their science notebooks, have them record information about the conditions found there: for example, the average temperature and amount of rainfall, the kinds of shelter an animal might find there, food sources, etc. Then have students predict what types of animals might be found in that biome.
        4. After students make their predictions, provide them with resource materials so they may check their predictions and make a list of at least five animals that do live in that particular biome.
        5. Have students record their answers to the following questions in their science notebooks, then discuss as a class.
        • What characteristics make the animals you have chosen well-suited for the biome in which they live?
        • How do the animals in the biome rely on each other and on the plant life in the biome?


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