Hands-on Ecosystem Activities for Elementary Students

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If you’re looking for some fun and engaging ecosystem activities to teach your students about food webs, food chains, then you’ve come to the right place! In this blog post, we’ll share some of our favorite science experiments and activities that are sure to get your students excited about learning.

These ecosystem activities are perfect for teaching kids about food webs and food chains. They're hands-on, engaging, and most importantly... fun! Your students will love learning about the different relationships between organisms in an ecosystem.

We know that it can sometimes be difficult to find interesting and engaging ways to teach science concepts. But with our help, teachers can make learning about ecosystems a fun and exciting experience for their students.

Before we get started on the activities to teach about ecosystems, let’s take a look at how students move through the standards for this topic.

What are the NGSS Standards for Ecosystems?

The NGSS Standards for ecosystems span several elementary grade levels.

Second-grade students learn that plants need sunlight and water to grow and learn about how plants depend on animals for pollination or to move seeds around. Here is a link to second-grade NGSS about plants and pollination.

Third graders learn about how being part of a group helps animals survive, changing environments, and populations within a habitat. Here is a link to the third-grade NGSS about Ecosystems and Biodiversity.

Fifth graders learn how organisms are related in food webs and how matter cycles between the air and soil and among plants, animals, and microbes. Here is a link to the standards for Energy Flow.

Early elementary students start out with simpler concepts and build on their knowledge of ecosystems as they progress through the grades. Ecosystems are woven throughout most elementary grades.

Ecosystem Science Units and Science Centers

We have many resources to teach about ecosystems from second grade to fifth grade. Here are a few of our science units:

What are Ecosystems?

Ecosystems are all around us! An ecosystem is made up of two parts: the living things in an area (plants, animals, fungi, and microbes)and the nonliving things in an area (air, water, and soil).

All living things are connected to their environment. They get energy from the sun, which flows through the food chain. Plants absorb energy from the sun and make their food. Animals eat plants and other animals for energy. And finally, decomposers break down plant and animal remains. This is how energy flows through an ecosystem. 

These ecosystem activities are perfect for teaching kids about food webs and food chains. They're hands-on, engaging, and most importantly... fun! Your students will love learning about the different relationships between organisms in an ecosystem.

How do you teach students about ecosystems?

A great way to introduce students to food webs is to take a walk around the school and observe the interaction between plants and animals. Engage students by discussing how an animal eats. Where does the food come from and where does it go?

Go more in depth with these hands-on activities and teaching resources and informational articles about food webs.

Hands-on Ecosystem Activities for the Science Classroom

Ecosystems and food webs are integral parts of biology and ecology. They can be studied in many ways, but one of the best ways to learn about them is through hands-on experiences. Below are some lesson ideas that can help students better understand these concepts.

Make a Food Chain

A food chain is a linear series of organisms in which each successive organism consumes the one before it. To study this science concept, students can create a simple food chain using magazine images or printed images of different animals. This will help them to see how each animal in the chain is dependent on the one before it for food.

Students can also draw a food chain using pencil and paper. Draw different animals and plants on the paper. Connect them to create a chain. Make sure to include the sun as the source of energy for the food chain. Don’t forget to label the food chain with the names of the animals!

We also have some food chain activities for third grade that you can see below.

This fun, hands-on activity will help kids learn about the otter food chain. They'll read a passage about the topic and then answer comprehension questions. It's a great way to get them interested in ecosystems and conservation!
This fun, hands-on activity will help kids learn about the the beaver ecosystem. They'll read a passage about the topic and then answer comprehension questions. It's a great way to get them interested in ecosystems and conservation!

Create a Food Web

A food web is similar to a food chain, but it shows the interconnectedness of all the organisms in an ecosystem. It includes more than one predator and prey. To study food webs, students can create a paper plate food web or a construction paper food web.

You can create a food web using construction paper, scissors, and glue. Cut out different animals and plants from magazines or find images on the internet. Glue them together to create a food web. Make sure to include the sun as the source of energy for the food web!

Students can also draw a picture of an ecosystem and then label the different organisms within it. Once they have labeled the organisms, have them identify what each one eats and what eats them.

Fifth grade is where students learn about food webs. Here are some food-web resources:

Create an Ecosystem

In ecosystems, different plants and animals interact with each other and their physical environment to form a unique community. To study ecosystems, students can create their mini-ecosystems in a jar. This will help them to see how the different components of an ecosystem interact with each other.

Have students build a model ecosystem in a jar or aquarium. There are several methods for creating an ecosystem with bottles. Most simple terrariums are essentially closed terrariums that contain plants either land or water with some good sand and composting or pond water. They can use rocks, dirt, plants, and small animals to create their ecosystem. Once they have built their ecosystem, have them observe it over time to see how the different organisms interact with each other. If students create a closed terrarium, they may also be able to observe the effects of the water cycle!

Create a habitat

Have students create a physical habitat for one of the organisms in an ecosystem or pretend to create a habitat. They will need to research the needs of the organism and then create a space that meets those needs. Once they have created the habitat, they can place the organism in it and observe it over time. Students can write about the habitat, the needs of the organism, and how the ecosystem can provide for those needs. Students can also write about how that animal interacts with other organisms within the ecosystem.

Study decomposition

Decomposition is an important process in ecosystems as it recycles nutrients back into the soil. Many important elements of ecosystems are microscopic but are hidden beneath the soil surface.

To study decomposition, have students bury different materials in soil and then observe them over time to see how they break down. Materials that decompose quickly will help to add nutrients back into the soil more quickly than those that decompose slowly.

We have some science stations all about decomposition. Creating a worm bin with your students demonstrates a part of the ecosystem. Click here for a worm bin science activity.

This fun, hands-on activity will help kids learn about decomposition. They'll read a passage about the topic and then answer comprehension questions. It's a great way to get them interested in ecosystems and conservation!

Plant a garden

Gardening is a great way for students to learn about ecosystems while also getting their hands dirty! To start, have students choose an area of your school grounds to plant their garden. They will need to prepare the soil and then plant seeds or seedlings. Once their plants are growing, have students water and weed them regularly. They can also add compost to their garden to help improve the quality of the soil

Play “What’s Eating What?”

This game is played with two or more people. One person starts by saying “I am eating ____” and names any type of organism (plant or animal). The next person then says “I am eating ____” and names an organism that eats the first organism named (for example, if the first person said “I am eating grass,” the second person could say “I am eating a cow”). The game continues until someone makes a mistake or cannot think of an organism that eats the one named before them

Ecosystems Art Project

Another great way to teach students about food webs is to create a mural or collage representing different aspects of an ecosystem. For example, you could include images of different animals, plants, trees, sunshine, etc. As a class, brainstorm all of the different interactions that take place between these elements in an ecosystem. Like, animals need plants for food, but they also help spread pollen so that plants can reproduce. Sunshine is necessary for most life on Earth to survive, but too much sun can be harmful. By creating this visual representation of an ecosystem, students will begin to understand how everything is connected and dependent on each other for survival.

Owl Pellet Dissection

Owls are amazing predators that play an important role in ecosystem health. One way to learn about owls and their role in the ecosystem is to do a pellet dissection. Pellet dissection is a process where you dissect an owl’s pellet (the undigested part of their prey that they regurgitate) to learn what the owl has been eating. This is a great activity for kids because it helps them understand the importance of predators in the ecosystem. It also allows them to get up close and personal with some owl bones!

Teach about the Changes in Ecosystems

Ecosystems are constantly changing, and these changes can have a big impact on the plants and animals that live there. For example, pollution from factories can pollute the air and water, which can damage plants and kill animals. Deforestation can also change an ecosystem by removing trees that provide homes and food for animals. This science station is all about deforestation and how forests are being regenerated. When invasive species are introduced into an ecosystem, they can throw off the delicate balance of plant and animal life.

Here are some great resources to teach about pollution, deforestation, and invasive species.

It’s important to teach people about ecosystem change. By educating people about how ecosystems work, we can help them understand why it’s important to protect our environment. Additionally, learning about ecosystem change can help us better prepare for and manage changes that are already happening or that might happen in the future.

Read about Ecosystems with these Picture Books

Ecosystem picture books are a fantastic way to introduce children to the complex and fascinating world of ecology. Through beautiful illustrations and simple text, these books can explain concepts like food webs and food chains, pollination, and the role of each species in an ecosystem. Perhaps best of all, ecosystem picture books can help instill a sense of wonder and appreciation for the natural world. These books can provide a gateway into a lifetime of discovery and learning about the incredible intricacies of nature.

Enhance your elementary science instruction with these picture books about ecosystems and biodiversity. Introduce the teaching topics of food webs, food chains, predators vs. prey, invasive species, and more. The levels of these books range from kindergarten through fifth grade. They are a great supplement to any elementary science instruction.

Each of these lessons is a way that you can teach your students about food webs, food chains, and ecosystems. By doing experiments and activities like those mentioned above, your students will gain a better understanding of how energy flows through an ecosystem and how everything is connected. They will be able to develop a deeper understanding of how they work and how they impact the world around us.

Science Curriculum for Teaching Ecosystems

What science curriculum can you use in your science classroom to teach students about the plants and animals that live in different habitats? We have several science centers, 5E lesson plans, and ecosystems unit bundles. Several resources will suit every need. Find what works best for YOU!

The units and yearlong bundles are available on my website or on Teachers Pay Teachers. Individual stations are available on Teachers Pay Teachers.

Ecosystem 5E Units for Third Grade

Ecosystem Science Stations

Included in the science stations below are several different sorting activities.

Hands-on Ecosystem Activities for Elementary Students

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