In this lesson, students learn about habitats and biodiversity by collecting data about the plants and animals that live in their community and by working together to create a nature guide for their neighborhood. First, they watch an animated video that models science process skills such as making observations and recording data, and then they practice these skills in a related outdoor activity. Students then explore the biodiversity near their school by participating in a biodiversity scavenger hunt. Finally, students work together to identify some of the plants and animals they found during the scavenger hunt, and collate their data in a nature guide.
- Three 60-minute class periods
- Understand that biodiversity is the variety of living things in a given place.
- Show that there are many different kinds of living things in any area, and they exist in different places on land and in water.
Prep for Teachers
- Read through the entire lesson and print enough copies of the two handouts for each pair of students in your class.
- Gather a collection of resources about the plants and animals that live in your state. You might check out field guides from the library, find resources from your state’s cooperative extensive office, or check in with a nature or environmental organization in your city or state. Other helpful resources include sites such as the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology’s Merlin Bird ID app, the “What Tree Is That?” resource from the National Arbor Day Foundation, or the “What Tree Is It?” guide from the Ohio Public Library Information Network. To identify flowering plants, check out the state-by-state lists at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center at the University of Texas at Austin or the Discover Life guide to wildflowers. The National Audubon Society publishes a variety of online nature guides and apps as well.
- This lesson depends on access to an outdoor setting where students are likely to see a variety of plants and animals. In advance of the lesson, be sure to scout out places where the outdoor activities will work well, such as a neighborhood park, schoolyard, or even a walk through the neighborhood. Notice what kinds of living things (plants and animals) you find and where you find them. Be sure you also troubleshoot any safety concerns, such as traffic, poison ivy, or sharp objects.
- Biodiversity Bingo Card handout [Biodiversity Bingo Card handout (Spanish)]
- Books about plants and/or animals (such as general nonfiction books about plants and animals, field and nature guides to wildlife identification)
- Notebooks or clipboards with paper (one per pair of students)
- Magnifying glasses
- Computers for each group of students
- Chart paper
Today your students will practice science process skills such as making observations and recording and communicating information. They will use these skills and others in a group project to make a nature guide to the plants and animals that live near your school.
1. At the beginning of class, hold up one of the books about the plants and animals that live in your state and ask for a volunteer to describe what it is. If students need prompting, ask “What do you think this book is about?”
2. Have a short discussion about the information you can find in books about plants and animals. Ask students: “How do you think the people who wrote this book learned about the plants or animals in it?” Explain that one way in which people learn about plants and animals is by observing them—noticing what they look like, how they behave, how they change over time, and in what kinds of habitats they live.
3. Tell students that over the next few days they will take on the role of nature writers putting together a guide to the plants and animals that live near your school. First, they will learn how to be careful observers and note takers.
4. Show the Zoom In video. After the video, talk about some of the science process skills the kids modeled. How did they describe what they saw, and which senses did they use? What kind of information did they record in their notebooks? How did they use drawings as well as words to describe their observations?
5. Next, tell students it’s their turn to practice what the kids in the video just showed them. They will find a place outdoors where they can sit down and spend a minute simply listening and looking. Have pairs of students go outside and choose something to observe closely, such as a spider web, the bark of a tree, or a squirrel. They should take notes in their notebooks or make drawings that show what they are observing, just as nature writers do. What does it look like? If it’s an animal, what is it doing? How big is it? If it’s a plant, where is it growing? What color is it, and what does it feel like? Are any animals walking or crawling on it, eating parts of it, or using it in some other way? Remind students that nature writers pay attention to the details of plants and animals, as well as their surroundings. Encourage them to use descriptive language that helps readers to form an image in their minds. “A gray squirrel with a fluffy tail scrambled up the rough bark of the tree,” for example, is more descriptive than simply “a squirrel ran up a tree.
6. When students return inside, have a sharing session in which each pair tells the class about their observations.
Today your students will survey an outdoor location around your school and document the diversity of plants and animals living there.
1. Challenge the class to name as many plants and animals as they can that might be seen on a walk around the block. Jot their answers on chart paper. You and your students will compare this list to what was actually observed at the end of the lesson.
2. Show the Biodiversity Bingo video and tell students they will be doing a similar activity. After the video, hand out bingo boards and quickly review the organisms on the boards to be sure students recognize each one. Students may need help recognizing that “animals with 6 legs” are insects, such as ants, ladybugs, and bees; “animals with 8 legs” are spiders; and “animals with 2 legs” can be either birds or people.
3. Explain how bingo works: working in pairs, students will look for the items in the squares and put an “x” through each item they find. When they have crossed off five squares in a row, they shout “BINGO!”
4. Head outdoors and show students the boundaries you would like them to keep to as they explore. Bring the chart paper with you, as well as a blank sheet and marker.
5. When students have completed the bingo activity, remind them that today they are nature writers looking for details and descriptions that will help people identify the plants and animals that live near the school! Have them return, individually or as a pair, to one of the items they crossed off. Instruct students to make sketches of the item and to write descriptions about it in their notebooks. Try to have each student pair observe a different organism, so that you will return to class with a representative sample of the different living things in the area you surveyed.
If the item is a plant, have them note:
- What the leaves look like: are they smooth, wavy, or pointy?
- What color are the leaves? Bright green, dark green, reddish-brown?
- What shape are the leaves?
- How big are the leaves, compared to your hand?
- If it has flowers, how many petals do the flowers have?
- What color are the petals?
- How large are the flowers?
- Do the leaves or flowers have a scent? Can you describe it?
- Where is it? What do the surroundings look like? What other plants and animals live near it?
If the item is an animal (remind students that invertebrates, such as worms and insects, are animals too), have them note:
- What color is it?
- How big is it? (encourage students to use comparisons here: as big as a cat, the size of my pinkie finger, as big as an ant, etc.)
- Where is it? What do the surroundings look like? What other plants and animals live near it?
- How does it move?
- Does it make any sounds? Describe them.
As students are making these observations, circle among groups and makes notes of your own about the organisms they are studying so that, if needed, you can help identify them later.
6. When students have finished, gather the group and have a discussion about the students’ findings. [You may choose to have this discussion outdoors, where you can reference the plants and animals in your setting, or you may head back indoors if your outdoor setting has too many distractions, such as traffic noise or other students.] Point to each square and have students raise their hands if they crossed it off. As a class, were your students able to cross off every square? While this isn’t the goal of the activity, it’s a helpful indicator of both the diversity on your site as well as your students’ observation skills.
Then, ask students to name all of the plants and animals they did find. Record their answers on another piece of chart paper. Finally, hold up the piece of paper on which you recorded the plants and animals that students predicted they would find. How do their actual findings compare with what they predicted? Are there more kinds of plants and animals around the school than they previously thought?
Then, introduce the term “biodiversity.” Ask for a volunteer to explain how the findings of this activity reflect biodiversity—the variety of living things in a given place. How much biodiversity did students find at your setting? How might your location affect biodiversity?
Today your students will put together the data they collected yesterday and assemble a class nature guide to the plants and animals around the school.
1. Review the plants and animals students recorded in their notebooks during Part II.
2. Explain to students that each pair is responsible for creating an informational page for a classroom nature guide to the plants and animals around your school. These pages should include:
- a full-color drawing of the organism, showing features such as the number and shape of leaves and petals, or, in the case of animals, its color, the number of legs, and its size.
- written descriptions of the organism's features and additional notes from students’ observations, such as what the organism was doing and where it was located.
- additional notes about the organism that students will learn from other resources. What kind of climate does the organism require? Does it live in other parts of your state? Other parts of the country? If it’s an animal, what does it eat? Does it have predators? Where does it go in the winter? If it’s a plant, what kind of plant is it—a small flowering plant, a tree, or a shrub? Do animals depend on this plant for food or shelter? How does the plant survive the winter?
3. Distribute books and other resources about the plants and animals that live in your region, and make a variety of plant and animal identification websites available on the computer.
4. Have students use those resources to identify and name the organisms they studied, to the best of their ability. Remind students that they are nature writers and should use descriptive language to help their readers visualize what they are describing.
5. When students have finished creating their pages, gather them together and make enough copies for each student. While you are making copies, have each student make a cover for what will become his or her personal copy of the nature guide; then make a cover for the version with the original pages that summarizes this class project. Bind the original pages together with the cover you made and display it somewhere in your classroom or in the hallway, where others may see it too.
If you have additional technology resources available, you could photograph the plants and animals that students observed and create an informational website about the nature surrounding your school. Students could produce written descriptions, short audio recordings, or even short videos about the plants and animals they observed.
Ask students to name three different living things they would be likely to find around your school. Where else might they see these organisms? Have a short conversation about biodiversity. How did working on this project help them learn about biodiversity? Loop back to Part II of the activity and show students the list of their original predictions. How much more biodiversity did your students actually document than they predicted? Did taking on the role of nature writers help them to more closely observe the plants and animals around the school?
Next Generation Science Standards Correlations
Disciplinary Core Ideas
- LS1.A: Structure and Function
- LS2.A: Interdependent Relationships in Ecosystems
- LS4.D: Biodiversity and Humans
Science and Engineering Practices
- Asking Questions and Defining Problems
- Developing and Using Models
- Planning and Carrying Out Investigations
- Obtaining, Evaluating, and Communicating Information
- Analyzing and Interpreting Data
- Systems and System Models
- Structure and Function