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Ecosystem in a Box


Science, Social Studies  



By Tatia Williams

General Unit Objective: The learner will demonstrate an understanding of ecosystems to enable them to identify the plants, animals, soil, and habitats that exist in each with an emphasis on conservation and preservation of those ecosystems.

Note this Activity will take a minimum of two weeks.

Specific Objective: The learner will select and choose appropriate animal, plant and soils and construct a three-dimensional model of 4 ecosystems in a four sectioned box format while working cooperatively in small groups.


National Geography standard: Standard 8: The characteristics and spatial distribution
of ecosystems on Earth’s surface.

S.C. Standards 5th Grade


II. Life Science Units of Study:

Ecosystems (Aquatic/Terrestrial)

B. Populations and Ecosystems

1. A population consists of all individuals of a species that occur together at a given place and time. All populations live together and the physical factors with which they interact compose an ecosystem.

Social Studies S.C. Standard

5.11.1 Name the components of ecosystems.

5.11.2 Explain the distribution, patterns, and functioning of ecosystems.

Rationale Statement: This lesson will allow tactile-kinesthetic learners a hands-on activity that will help them identify ecosystems and the parts in those systems. Ecosystems are contained in 2 of South Carolina Standards and are needed for the PACT test. Students will use visual skills and writing skills to make lists of the animals, plants and soils they chose for their boxes. Students enjoy creating box dioramas.


          Scissors, rulers, permanent ink markers


          Cardboard pieces to fit in boxes

          One box per child either shoe or regular.

          Sand, dirt, potato flakes (snow), potting soil (dark rain forest soil)

          Magazine pictures (check for bad language) or plastic animals

          Clumps of grass, branches (trees), rocks (tundra & desert)

          Small Dixie cups

          Colored paper (can be used for trees also or animals)


          Optional for oceans: plastic wrap and blue frosting

          Optional: Paint brushes for glue

          Optional paints and brushes

          Newspaper or trash bags for table protection.


Procedure 1: Model to the students the project by using a finished product.

Read these instructions: Today you are going to start a two-week project. We have just studied the ecosystems and will be continuing to study them for the next two weeks. Today we are going to start on our shoeboxes. The first thing we must do is turn our box into four sections. You will need to cut cardboard to fit exactly in your box one way and then the other. This may require rulers. The second piece of cardboard will need to be partially cut in the middle to go over the first piece. (Model this) Inform students they will need to write the name of each ecosystem:Tundra, Rain Forest, Desert and Temperate on the walls of their boxes. Model this to the students on a box. Write the words on an overhead or the bulletin board.

Procedure 2: Break students into groups of no more then 5 and allow them to separate their boxes. Let them know before they start that after all boxes are separated they will stop, sit and listen. (Give them no more then 10 minutes to do this). Monitor and help the groups. Now make sure they go to step two and label the inside of the box into each ecosystem. Monitor this in each group.

Procedure 3: Hand out a sheet with the four ecosystems and blanks for plant, soil and animal. (See attachment 1). Using the overhead or board show how to fill in a sample paper completely.(see attachment 2). Now after modeling, direct students to use research (books and Internet) to find one animal, plant and soil for each section. Before they start pass out an Internet list of sites with this information (attachment 3). Now allow groups to research.

If time is up take up sheets to keep for the next day of instruction and store boxes in safe area making sure each child marks their name on the box in permanent ink.

Procedure 4: Soil Day: (possible day 2): Prior to start of class. Pour dirt, sand, potato flakes into 5 cups for each group also prepare glue. Place at front of class. Pick a daily group leader. You can assign letters to students on their name cards to make this easier. Group leaders will pass out the boxes or papers to each group. Get their attention. To students: Today we are going to pick a soil for our boxes. You found 4 different types of soils on your lists. Now you will glue the dirt, sand flakes, rocks, etc. into your boxes. We are providing 5 different mixtures to each group. Feel free to be creative, but share the materials in your group. Model exactly how to apply the glue and smear it across the bottom of the four sections of the box. Show how to sprinkle the soil into each section and shake it out over the newspaper. Group leaders please get your 5 soil cups and glue for your group. At this time direct them to also get paint brushes for glue (or paint) if you chose to use them. Say you may now begin.

Monitor each group. Start a checklist for each group on cooperation and work being done (see attachment 4).

Take up the boxes if time is done and store at back of class. Make sure names are still viewable.

At the end have students return to seats. Ask what types of soil did you use for each ecosystem? Randomly select answers and form a grid a piece of paper forming a graphic organizer. Take up their lists of ecosystem information.

Procedure 5: Animal Day: (day 3 possibly) Prepare the magazine cutouts, construction paper and plastic animals for each group. Make sure each group has at least 10 selections coming from the 4 ecosystems. Put into containers or plastic Baggies for each group.

To students: Today we are working on part 2 of your shoebox discovery. We are taking the part of your chart marked animals.

Your group leader in just a minute will get some samples you may chose to use. Note your animal may not be in these samples. In that case you may need to draw your animal. Markers and paper are in the packet also. When you have chosen your animal glue it into place in your box. Teacher: Model how to glue animals into place.

Direct the students to begin. Monitor groups with the checklist day. Encourage students in each group to be creative. Have them store boxes in safe location and check to make sure all are marked with names. Take up their lists of ecosystem information.

Procedure 6: Plant day. Go outside collect a sample baggie of materials. This is the perfect day to allow students to gather materials in the field. You will need to prepare the glue, construction paper and markers ahead for each group.

Tell the students they will be exploring the outside for plant samples for their boxes. Give each child a large baggie. Instruct the children to pick up small pieces preferably those that have fallen from trees. Show them how a pine need can be used to form a paper cactus (Use round tube of paper stick needles through). Model samples they can find to them from your teacher baggie. Split them into their groups. Go to a green area of the school. If none exists locate materials and bring in baggies ahead. It is advisable to make them stay with their groups. This should take no longer then 20 minutes. Return to the classroom. Have them be seated in their groups. Have the group leaders get the boxes for each group. Make them lay all materials down. Model how to glues grass and trees into boxes. Let the group leader get the construction paper, glue and markers for each group. Remind each group they may create paper plants it they want. Take up the information papers and have the boxes placed in a safe location.

Procedure 7: Take home day- Students will be instructed to get into groups. Group leaders will retrieve finished boxes. Students will be directed to write a short speech or poem about the contents of their box. Students will be reminded to use the names of the ecosystems, plants, animals, and soils in their speech or poem. (This can be used later in Social Studies Lesson Habitat Poetry). Ask them to point out the items as they read them in their box. They may need a friend to hold their box. Have groups come up and have each student randomly bring their box up and read their speech or poem. Monitor their knowledge of the words they use for comprehension. Take up the poems or speeches for comprehension evaluation. Send home the boxes. Keep the best if you like for decoration. (You can give most creative awards if you like). You may be asked if students can bring in their own pictures or animals for their boxes. This outside research or planning should be encouraged.

Resource: Note some of these activities could frustrate your slower students or those handicapped. It is therefore very advisable to monitor groups for members of varied skill levels. Definitely do not put all slower learners in one group. Be prepared to give these students more time to work on their projects. If student is severely handicapped prepare all pieces for easy grasping prior to starting and have on hand paper towels for glue removal.


1- The students evaluating their cooperation as a group will complete a checklist of group work. (see attachment)

2- Poems or speeches will be monitored for comprehension of ecosystems and their contents as necessary to complete the list later use properly in their boxes.

3- Boxes will NOT be monitored for creativity but for comprehension of ecosystems and their plant, animal, and soil components. The teacher (see attachment) will do this via a checklist for each group during group work.

4- Final Comprehension of Unit will be accessed in post-test (all questions will address content in ecobox, but primarily question 1).

Attachment 1 Table of Ecosystems Empty

Ecosystems Plants Animals Soil
Rain Forest      
Arctic Tundra      

Attachment 2 Table of Ecosystems Filled

Ecosystems Plants Animals Soil
Rain Forest


Cyprus trees

Banana plants


Rubber Trees





Heavy Clay
Arctic Tundra Limited dwarf trees

Small shrubs





Temperate Deciduous Trees

Coniferous Trees

Agricultural Products

Sea gull


Permeable Loam
Desert Cactus

Mesquite Trees


Lizard Sand

Attachment 3 Internet Web Site Suggestion List

You may use these websites to find information on your ecosystems. online dictionary discover channel online search engine search engine Search engine National Geographic Environmental Protection Agency Hawaiian Ecology Resource Fish and Wildlife Sustainable Ecosystem Project Everything you need to Know about Ecosystems epa site for students

E-Mail Tatia Williams!

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