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Ecological Succession Activities & Games

Instructor: Julie Zundel

Julie has taught high school Zoology, Biology, Physical Science and Chem Tech. She has a Bachelor of Science in Biology and a Master of Education.

Studying succession is a fun way to learn about ecology, plants, animals and how the environment changes over time. This series of games and activities allows students to explore ecological succession in active, fun ways that ensure the topic will stick in their brains.

Learning About Succession

The topic of ecological succession, or the change in the organisms that inhabit an environment over time, is a topic that can be geared towards any grade level and lends itself to outdoor exploration. Scavenger hunts, plant rubbings and other activities give students the opportunity to explore ecological succession in their environment, as well as other environments, in a hands-on way.

Outdoor Scavenger Game

This activity works best in schools situated in areas that have some form of life; it can also take place during a field trip. It does not require much preparation on the part of the teacher, but it does require each team to have access to a camera.

Materials

  • Access to a camera for each student group (preferably digital)
  • Access to an outdoor region with plants or animals
  • Background information/images on the different stages of succession

Activity Instructions

  • Prior to the activity make sure students know what to look for during each stage of succession as it's designed to reinforce what was taught in the classroom.
  • Organize students into groups of 2-3 and provide them with access to a camera.
  • Tell students they need to document the following secondary successional stages:
    • Disturbance: something disturbs the landscape (fire, flood, bulldozer).
    • Weeds and grasses begin to grow.
    • Shrubs grow.
    • Small, fast-growing trees appear.
    • Slow-growing trees appear.
  • While in some areas it may be challenging to find all of the stages, students can improvise and locate as many as they can find.
  • Students should also note what animal life was indicative of each stage (insects, squirrels, etc.) and how they knew that animal was present (saw the animal, or saw evidence of the animal).
  • At the end of the activity, have student groups share their photos with the class.

Succession and Animal Habitat Game

This activity works for most grade levels and shows students how different stages of succession provide specific habitats for animals. For younger grades, make the animals and their habitat requirements simple; for older grades, include more details. The objective of this activity is for students to learn the preferred habitat of a variety of different animals by interacting with their peers while completing a worksheet.

Materials

  • Printer paper
  • Pencils
  • Pre-cut pieces of yarn (18' - 24' should work)
  • Notecards describing the specific habitat needs of a particular animal (See the table below for ideas or search the Internet for animal habitat and succession.)

Animal Habitat Benefits
Vole Grasses provide food and cover.
Red-tailed hawks Grasses provide food sources such as voles.
White-tailed deer Brush/small shrubs provides food sources and cover.
  • Worksheet to note animal types and preferred habitats. The table below may give you an idea of how to set it up.

Animal Preferred Successional Stage/Why Animal Played By…
Deer Small shrubs/provide food and cover Tina

Activity Instructions

  • Hand each student a notecard that contains the name of an animal and its preferred successional stage.
  • Have each student create a sign with his or her animal's name by folding the paper in half and using the yarn to make a 'sign necklace.' Each student also needs to jot down or memorize the successional stage and reason why the animal prefers that habitat.
  • Collect the notecards.
  • When you say 'go', each student will stand up and randomly find a partner and share his or her preferred habitat; partners can jot down the habitat on the worksheet.
  • Students repeat the process with a new partner and cannot have the same partner twice.
  • Optional: students can act out their animal with their partner instead of wearing a sign, depending on the grade level. The partners would need to guess what animal each person was representing before they shared their preferred habitat.

Plant Rubbings

This artsy activity allows students to explore their environment, note different plant characteristics and make observations about the stages of succession they observed, based on the plant characteristics.

Materials

  • Various plant and bark samples
  • Printer or tracing paper
  • Pencils and crayons
  • Clipboards

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