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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3 strategies to ace the science EOG

I have been teaching 5th grade science in North Carolina for several years and I love it! Except I don’t love the science EOG. It’s brutally long and makes the science way too complicated (and not enjoyable)! Students usually love science and typically are very good at it but the EOG can be such a beast and students can feel very defeated if they don’t do well. Here are 3 strategies I use throughout the school year to help my students be successful on the EOG!

1. When in doubt, Draw it out

This is a very simple strategy but can make a huge difference in helping students to understand the question. Sometimes when students read the question on a science exam they read it so quickly that they really don’t comprehend what is happening in the question or what the question is asking them. A phrase we use in my classroom is “when in doubt, draw it out”. Students draw a quick sketch of what is happening in the question. This requires them to slow down and re-read the problem and make sure they really understand what is happening in the question. This is especially helpful for physical science type problems where it’s asking about things that are hard to see (forces, matter, heat, etc). I have found this strategy especially beneficial for my ESL students. When using this strategy it’s important to remind students that they do not need to be an artist; a quick sketch with maybe some arrows or quick notes to help them understand is all they need.

2. Focus on Vocabulary

If you have been teaching 5th grade science for any amount of time you know how many new vocabulary words students must learn! Last time I counted there were over 150 new words I had to teach during the school year (yes I really did count them)! That doesn’t include new vocabulary words from ELA, math or social studies!

In my classroom I make sure to address vocabulary often. There are a lot of great websites that you can use to teach vocabulary and great activities too. One of my favorite activities is to challenge students to define a science word in only 3-5 words. If you have to define it in just a few words it requires you to really think carefully about what that word means and focus on the most important elements.

One of the activities I love to do in the month prior to the EOG is give students a science vocabulary book. In that book it has every science vocabulary word we learn that year. Each morning leading up to the EOG I assign one page of vocabulary words. Students try to write a 3-5 word definitions of as many words as possible. If they don’t know it (or aren’t 100% sure) they should just skip it. After giving students some time I will then ask the students to tell me what words were challenging that they weren’t able to get a definition for. We will see if any other students came up with a good definition and then students can write down that definition if they need it. It gets student collaborating, supporting each other and is a great way to review all the words prior to the EOG. It also helps us with ink thinking (see next strategy).

This vocabulary book is available FREE! Click here to grab yours!

3. Teach students to INK Think

If you ever speak to any of my students (former or current) they will tell you “don’t ever turn in a science test without ink thinking first”. I must say the phrase “ink think” thousands of times in a year. I feel very strongly about it and believe many students have found success by using this strategy. When I tell students to “ink think” this is a 3 step strategy they must do for EVERY multiple choice type question on a test.

Step 1: Define every science vocabulary word

Sometimes the questions on the EOG can be written in such a challenging way even though what you are being asked is not that difficult. Sometimes it’s easy for students to just skip over unknown or unfamiliar words. This is where defining each vocabulary word comes in.

To do this students must find every science vocabulary word and write a short definition to it. This is where that science vocabulary book from above comes in handy! If students have forgotten the meaning of a word they can go back and reference it in their science vocabulary book.

When students have to define the vocabulary words it forces them to address all those words they really just want to skip over. It makes the question more clear and easier to understand.

Step 2: Simplify long & complex answers

Every time I see a multiple choice question with super long answers I cringe because I know so many students are going to read the answers so quickly and pick the best sounding one (or not read it at all – insert face palm here).

In this step students will take very long answer choices and simplify them to be more concise and to the point. Not only is it forcing them to comprehend the provided answers it’s also making it easier for students to select an answer because they can read their short snippets the wrote.

NOTE: This step doesn’t always have to be done. If the answers are already short and simple there is no need to complete this step.

Step 3: Eliminate 1-2 incorrect answers

The last step is to eliminate answer choices. In my classroom we refer to it as “slash the trash”. I have students reread the question and answers will all their notes and push them to find at least 2 answers that are most likely wrong. By having them eliminate the wrong answers they can zero in on the last 2 answer choices and pick the correct answer.

In the beginning teaching students this strategy takes time and repetition. When they are doing it on a test for the first few times it can take them awhile to do. I teach students to ink think on their very first multiple choice test of the school year. Halfway through the year they have the process down and it only takes them 1-2 minutes per question to complete.

Using these strategies throughout the year has led to outstanding results! My students growth for the science EOG typically exceeds growth and it’s so amazing how when they finish that EOG they say “that was so easy”.

I hope you have found some strategies that you can use in your own classroom! Below are some other resources you might find helpful to help your students review for the science EOG.

P.S. Don’t forget to grab the FREE science vocabulary book! Click here to grab yours!

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