Carrying Capacity Lesson Plan

Instructor: Joanne Abramson

Joanne has taught middle school and high school science for more than ten years and has a master's degree in education.

This lesson plan utilizes a short, written lesson and an engaging, kinesthetic activity to cover exponential population growth, logistic population growth and carrying capacity. The interactive simulation allows all students to actively participate in the learning process.

Lesson Objectives:

By the end of this lesson, students will be able to:

  • compare and contrast exponential growth and logistic growth
  • define the term 'carrying capacity'
  • describe different factors that can affect the size and carrying capacity of a population


1-1.5 hours

Curriculum Standards:


Follow precisely a complex multistep procedure when carrying out experiments, taking measurements, or performing technical tasks; analyze the specific results based on explanations in the text.


Determine the meaning of symbols, key terms, and other domain-specific words and phrases as they are used in a specific scientific or technical context relevant to grades 11-12 texts and topics.


Synthesize information from a range of sources (e.g., texts, experiments, simulations) into a coherent understanding of a process, phenomenon, or concept, resolving conflicting information when possible.

Key Terms:

  • Exponential growth
  • Logistic growth
  • Carrying capacity



  • Before class, make the following preparations:
    • Crumple up the pieces of construction paper into balls and place them all into the large box.
    • Prepare for a demonstration of exponential growth with the beans. Separate out each step of the exponential growth into plastic cups and label the cups with the appropriate number (1, 2, 4, 8, 16, 32, …). You need enough beans to fill the beaker and then some.
  • Begin the lesson by placing the beaker on the pie tin and adding 1 bean to the beaker. Explain to the students that you are going to be continually doubling the number of beans in the beaker. Begin adding your pre-counted beans to the beaker. With each cup, tell your students (or have them tell you) the new number of beans in the beaker. As you get close to overfilling the beaker, ask students to predict what will happen. Why? Explain that, just like the beaker can only hold so many beans, an environment can only hold so many animals. Once the capacity of the environment is filled, extra animals must either leave or die.
  • Display the video lesson Carrying Capacity of a Population: Definition & Explanation.
  • Have students watch the first section, 'Carrying Capacity of Population.' To check for understanding, ask students the following questions:
    • How are exponential growth and logistic growth the same? How are they different?
    • What is the 'carrying capacity' of an environment?
  • Have the students watch the second section, 'Fluctuations in Population Growth.' Ask students the following discussion questions:
    • What can cause chaotic fluctuations around K? What can cause a population to crash?
    • Why do you think cyclical fluctuations are considered 'stable?'
    • What is the relationship between cyclical fluctuations and damped oscillations?
  • Have the students the lesson summary.
  • To check for understanding, distribute and ask students to complete the lesson quiz.

Activity, Part 1:

  • Ask students to move the chairs and desks to the periphery of the room. Have them stand along the outside of the space that they created.
  • Distribute the balls of paper randomly in the open space.
  • Choose 1 student to walk to the inside of the circle and choose a paper ball.
  • Instruct the student to return to their original spot with their ball of paper. Explain that the student has just 'eaten,' and now has enough food to reproduce. On the board, mark that the 1st round had 1 student.
  • Without returning the paper to the inside of the circle, that student can now choose someone else, their offspring, to find some more food with them. Now two students move into the middle of the room to find a piece of food. On the whiteboard, mark that the 2nd round had 2 students.
  • Continue modeling exponential growth in this way until the entire class moves into the circle to find food.
  • Graph the growth curve the students just produced on the whiteboard with black marker.

To unlock this lesson you must be a Member.
Create your account

Register to view this lesson

Are you a student or a teacher?

Unlock Your Education

See for yourself why 30 million people use

Become a member and start learning now.
Become a Member  Back
What teachers are saying about
Try it risk-free for 30 days

Earning College Credit

Did you know… We have over 200 college courses that prepare you to earn credit by exam that is accepted by over 1,500 colleges and universities. You can test out of the first two years of college and save thousands off your degree. Anyone can earn credit-by-exam regardless of age or education level.

To learn more, visit our Earning Credit Page

Transferring credit to the school of your choice

Not sure what college you want to attend yet? has thousands of articles about every imaginable degree, area of study and career path that can help you find the school that's right for you.

Create an account to start this course today
Try it risk-free for 30 days!
Create an account