Ecosystem in a Jar Lesson Plan

Instructor: Carrin Hahn

Carrin taught 3rd grade for ten years, worked as a learning specialist with K-5 students, and has a Master's degree in Elementary Education.

In this lesson, the students will learn about ecosystems, what they are, and how they work. They will also have the opportunity to create their own ecosystem in a jar.

Learning Objectives

Upon completing this lesson, the third grade students will be able to

  • Explain what an ecosystem is
  • Create an ecosystem in a jar


60-90 minutes

Curriculum Standard for Science

  • 3-LS4-3

Construct an argument with evidence that in a particular habitat some organisms can survive well, some survive less well, and some cannot survive at all.


  • Ecosystem
  • Terrestrial


  • Computers with internet access for half of the class
  • Multi-surface paints and paint brushes
  • Glass jars (at least 6 inches tall) with lids - one for each student
  • Two dice
  • Sand
  • Soil
  • Activated charcoal (from a pet store)
  • Water
  • Small fern or moss or other kind of plant for each student
  • Kitchen utility tongs

Lesson Preparation

  • Before this lesson, you will want to research to find out what kind of plants would survive within the ecosystem the students will create.
  • The jars need to be clean and dry before the students fill them!

Lesson Instruction

Split the class into two groups. Group 1 will start with lesson below, and Group 2 will start with Activity 1.

  • Have the students from Group 1 research ecosystems online for about 15-20 minutes.
  • The students should research the following questions about terrestrial ecosystems.
    • What is a terrestrial ecosystem?
    • What are some of the ecosystems within this category? What is the environment like within each one? Where are they found?
    • What kinds of things are needed for an ecosystem to thrive? What are some of the plants and animals in each ecosystem?
    • What happens if one thing is not working right in an ecosystem? Can it be fixed?

Lesson Activities

Activity 1

  • Students in Group 2 will decorate their jars with paint. They should not paint more than 3 inches above the bottom of the jar so that they will be able to see what is happening in their ecosystem.
  • After 15-20 minutes, switch the activities for Groups 1 and 2.
  • As students clean up and while the paint dries, roll two dice. If the number is odd, students must tell you a fact about a terrestrial ecosystem. If the number is even, they should tell you something they would not find in a terrestrial ecosystem. Try to give everyone a turn to share what they learned.

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