Ideas for Teaching Ecosystems

Teaching ecosystems is one of my favorite units to teach my students and it’s usually the something they love as well. Here are some ideas that I use in my classroom that you can take to your own!

Introducing Your Lesson

Usually the first time I introduce students to ecosystems I start by taking them outside. I ask them to collect something small while we are outside. Then we will go back in the classroom and I ask them to sort them based on if they think they are part of nature or not and if they are living or not. Students love the change of scenery of going outside and love discussing what they found while outside. It leads to a good discussion on what resources are part of nature and if they are alive or not.

I like introducing the each day’s lesson with a question. It’s a great way to get students in the right mindset for the day but it’s also a quick and easy way for me to quickly gauge my students knowledge on a subject. Then I can adjust my lesson based on the knowledge they seem to have (or don’t have). Sometimes my questions are very direct to see what the students know and then sometimes they require students to analyze and think critically.

Allow for Exploration

I am a firm believer that before being explicitly taught, students should be given an opportunity to explore the content and try to learn the material themselves first. This give students ownership of the process and allows the teacher to focus on clearing up misconceptions. Students also tend to learn the content better when they can teach themself and learn from their peers. Below are a list of some of my favorite go to resources for articles and videos relating to ecosystems.

I like to give my students a list or resources and have them conduct their own research on the topic. Typically I let them work in groups. This allows them to practice their research and technology skills as well as practice working in groups. Give the students a list of resources and a graphic organizer and send them on their way!

Explicit Teaching

After my students have had an opportunity to learn about a topic I like to discuss it as a whole group. It not only gets them engaged but it helps me to understand what they understood well and what they need more support with. I’ll let this conversation lead to the direct teaching portion of my lesson. I personally choose to use digital notebooks in science. I have been using digital notebooks in science since 2017 and find that it’s not only easier for me and students (no cutting and glueing) but it provides amazing visuals for students that I couldn’t normally provide with a black and white copier. In my direct teaching portion of my lesson I review key vocabulary words and make sure to explain my teaching points for the day.

Practicing What They Have Learned

Hopefully at this point students have learned a lot about a topic and are now ready to apply what they have learned. There are a ton of different ways to have your students apply what they just learned. Here are a list of my favorite ways.

Sorts– I love to do sorting activities, but when I do them I tend to do them in Google Slides. First it saves time and paper since we don’t have to cut and glue. Second it allows students to see real images. Finally, they can add their own photos from the search function.

Create a Food Web – I love to give students some pictures of different organisms from an ecosystem and have them create a food web on their desk using them. I let them use their dry erase markers and write right on their desk! Even if you don’t have pictures handy, they can simply write the name of the organisms right on their desk. Increase the rigor of this activity by asking your student to create a few questions related to their food web that another student could answer.

Venn Diagram – Venn diagrams can be a great way to help students make sense of a lot of information, but have you tried a triple Venn diagram? They are great for comparing and contrasting biomes. The first time your students do them they might need more support making sense of all the inner pieces; but you will find these to help your students to really solidify the new information they have learned.

Be the Teacher – Allow students to be the teacher by creating their own test questions based on what they just learned. I always tell students if their questions are good enough I might just really use them on a future assignment.

Formative Assessments

Every good lesson has a way to track how well students understood the lesson. Here are some of my favorite ways to assess students understanding.

Exit Ticket One of the simplest ways to check for understanding is to display a question and ask students to write down their answer on an index card. You can make it easy on yourself and just re-write the lesson’s objective in the form of a question. I like to collect students cards as they walk out the door and then I review the answers right as they walk out.

Google Forms I like using questions in Google forms because when students finish I can show a summary of the class results (without showing their names) and we can review any misconceptions there might have been.

Writing – Writing is a great way to see what students understand about a topic while allowing them to be creative as well! You can take almost any topic and turn it into a writing assignment. When teaching ecosystems my favorite type of writing is personal narratives. To show what students know about a biome have them write a personal narrative in which they end up in their favorite biome for 24 hours.

I hope you have found some ideas to help you when you teach your ecosystem unit. These resources come from my personal ecosystem lesson plans that I have been using for years. If you would like them for your own classroom, check out the links below.

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