Ecosystem Activities

Instructor: Rachel Tustin

Dr. Rachel Tustin has a PhD in Education focusing on Educational Technology, a Masters in English, and a BS in Marine Science. She has taught in K-12 for more than 15 years, and higher education for ten years.

Ecosystems contain organisms in a food chain as well and soil, sand, water, and air. With a little ingenuity, students are able to learn about ecosystems even if your school lacks access to nature.

Mapping an Ecosystem

An ecosystem itself


  • Access to the Internet/School Media Center for Research
  • index cards
  • Yarn (red and green)


  1. Before you begin, decide what kind of ecosystem you want to map. It is a good idea to pick an ecosystem that has some influence of man on it. For example, if you pick a coastal ecosystem, try and locate it near a town. If you pick a woodland ecosystem, try to locate it near a resort. This will make it easier later when you talk about the relationship between the abiotic and biotic factors in an ecosystem.
  2. Divide your students into groups of two.
  3. Assign each team an animal from the ecosystem research. Their task is to find out what their animal eats, and what eats their animal. Have them keep research notes in their science notebooks.
  4. Have students record all the organisms they identified on an index card. They can illustrate each card, add notes, etc. as you see fit.
  5. Have the class debrief. As each team shares, post their cards on your bulletin board or a wall in your classroom. Use green yarn to connect organisms together that depend on each other. Repeat as needed to fill in the living things in the ecosystem.
  6. Once you have enough connections, explain to students that they have created a food chain for their ecosystem. But the animals are not the only part of an ecosystem. These are the biotic or living factors in your ecosystem.
  7. Now have them identify the abiotic, or non-living factors, and add them to finish off the map. Depending on the ecosystem you chose - sand, rock, water, ice, mountains, and even roads could all be abiotic factors that need to be accounted for in your ecosystem.
  8. Discuss any interconnections students see in their ecosystem between the abiotic and biotic factors. For example, is there a road that might impact organisms living in their ecosystem? Would a mountain impact the kind of organisms that can live there? Record their response on a list, and post it next to your ecosystem model in your classroom. You can even use the red yarn to mark the connections between the abiotic and biotic factors.

graphic 1

Living Ecosystem Models

When you are a teacher, you want to give your students first-hand experiences with nature and ecosystems. However, the reality for a lot of teachers is that your school may be surrounded by a concrete jungle. So as teachers, we have to get creative and find ways to create ecosystems in our classrooms to help students grasp the concept better.


  • large tray or jar
  • sand or gravel
  • water (pond or lake water if possible)
  • dechlorination chemicals used in fish tanks (if you are using tap water)
  • aquatic plants used in aquariums
  • minnows
  • tadpoles
  • basic water quality test kit (such as Lamotte)
  • grease pencil


  1. Hand each group a tray. Ask students to discuss with their group what they would need to do to turn their tray into an ecosystem. Share their ideas with the class.
  2. Explain to students that there are biotic and abiotic factors in any ecosystem Abiotic factors are the components of an ecosystem that are not alive. For example, water, air, soil, sand, and rocks are all abiotic factors in an ecosystem.
  3. Have students set up their trays with the abiotic factors including sand, rock, and water. Using pond water instead of tap water is a little easier because it has microorganisms already in it, so it will speed up the process a bit in getting the ecosystem 'healthy'. You could use the water from a healthy aquarium, which will contain similar microorganism to help break down waste etc.

Models can be setup in trays or jars, depending on the resources you have and the size of your classroom

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