Mutualism 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.

Understanding symbiotic relationships is essential to any biology, ecology or environmental science curriculum. This lesson uses a short video, group-work and pair-work to focus on mutualistic relationships.

Lesson Objectives:

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

  • Define the terms 'symbiotic relationship' and 'mutualism'
  • Explain the characteristics of a mutualistic relationship
  • Describe a mutualistic relationship found in nature


1-1.5 hours

Curriculum Standards:


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 9-10 texts and topics.


Initiate and participate effectively in a range of collaborative discussions (one-on-one, in groups, and teacher-led) with diverse partners on grades 9-10 topics, texts, and issues, building on others' ideas and expressing their own clearly and persuasively.

Key Terms:

  • Symbiotic relationship
  • Mutualism


  • Images demonstrating mutualism that were not shown in the video, such as
    • Clownfish and anemone
    • Oxpecker and zebra
    • Borana Oromo people and honeyguide bird
  • Lined paper
  • White paper
  • Pens or pencils
  • Colored Pencils


  • Ask students to raise their hands if they have a pet. Ask students to describe some of the benefits that they receive from having a pet. Write their responses on the board. Ask students what benefits the pets receive. Add the responses to the board. Explain to students that they just described an example of mutualism. They will be learning more about mutualism in today's lesson.
  • Distribute lined paper and pencils. Instruct students to fold their paper into fourths. Explain that they will be using this paper to take notes on the following video. In the first box they will write the definitions for the terms 'symbiotic relationship' and 'mutualism'. In the following three box they will write the examples of mutualism that are described in the video. They should be sure to indicate the benefits that each species receives.
  • Begin the video Mutualism: Examples & Definition.
  • Pause at 0:17 and allow students time to write down the definition of 'symbiotic relationship'. Return to the video, and pause again at 0:32 so that students can write the definition of 'mutualism.'
  • Restart the video, this time pausing at 1:34. Allow students time to write down the example of mutualism described in the video. Ask students to share their responses. Encourage discussion by asking the rest of the class if they have something to add or if they disagree.
  • Return to the video and pause again 2:15. Have students write down and discuss the second example of mutualism described in the video.
  • Continue the video and watch it to the end. Allow students time to write down and discuss the third example of mutualism described in the video.
  • Check for understanding by showing the lesson quiz and completing it as a class.

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