Beacon Lesson Plan Library

Ecosystem Energizers

Alice Bamberger


Students engage, explore and begin to investigate their knowlege of the flow of energy through an ecosystem by building a concept map.


The student understands how the flow of energy through an ecosystem made up of producers, consumers, and decomposers carries out the processes of life and that some energy dissipates as heat and is not recycled.


- 10 gallon aquarium or smaller clear glass bowl that can be securely covered
- Potting soil or another soil appropriate to the ecosystem you are building
- Terrarium plants such as grasses, small trees, mosses, ferns, and leaf litter
- Terrarium animals such as earthworms, crickets, mealy worms, turtle, toads, snake
- Rocks and bark or sticks for hiding
- Water source
- Light source
- 100 Index Cards
- Forceps, coffee stirrers, small spoon for digging and planting
- Pens and Pencils to record observations
- Magnifying lens (4)
- Basket or box for collecting observations
- Paper for master question handouts
- Posters showing:Florida Sunshine State Standards, Goal Three Standards
- Flow of Energy Presentation Rubric
- Cooperative Worker Rubric
- Individual Journal Rubric
- Example of concepts maps prepared by students
- Overhead of the master questions (if desired) and three rubrics
- Journal books for students or paper for them to make their own
Books and other Resources
- Collection of terrarium animal and plant pictures for identification
- Text books and other non-fiction books with resource information about ecosystems and how they work.
Presentation Supplies
- Chart Paper
- Magic Markers, crayons, glue, tape, scissors
- Blank overhead transparencies and Vis – a- Vis markers
- Access to computers and associated presentation software
- Index cards, post-it or other paper for students to jot down questions to ask the presenters for clarification.


1. Gather a selection of text books and non-fiction books that have information regarding:
- Ecosystems and how they work
- Animal and plant identification
- Energy transfer in systems, photosynthesis, water cycle, producers, consumers, decomposers
- Concept mapping
- Cooperative Learning (optional)
- Presentation Ideas (optional)
2. Prepare/refresh and post standards and rubric posters around room or
3. Prepare overhead transparencies and handouts of the three rubrics
4. Collect the supplies and materials needed for the terrarium
5. Prepare the terrarium and index card station basket Note: You may choose to have your students prepare the terrarium
6. Invite students to observe the terrarium several times of the next week and jot down any observations and questions on the index cards.
7. Collect observations from index card station
8. Read the cards and put aside any duplicate questions or observations.
9. Prepare a master list of observations in random order. Note: these observations should not be categorized on the list.
10. Duplicate the master list (class set) and make an overhead
11. Review the Ecosystem Energizers objectives and expectations with the class, including all the standards and the rubrics involved.
12. Begin the lesson with asking the students to sort their classmates' observations.


Previous week
1. A week or so before you plan to begin the lesson, bring a terrarium into class.

2. Ask students to periodically observe the terrarium and write down their observations and any questions down on the index cards next to the terrarium.

3. Tell them that you will collect the cards, read them and prepare a master set of questions and a master set of observations for them to use in a later science experience.

4. Review the master set of questions prior to duplicating for students and include questions for any significant points that may be left out from the student's questions. Refer to the standards for a guide.

Day One
1. Remind students to work in their groups of three (Note: if students have not already been working in small groups, form them into groups).

2. Explain to students that they are going to engage in an activity that is designed to use their skills of observation and questioning.

3. Refer students to the posted standards and Process Standards on the wall and/or hand out a set of the standards and process standards for each student.

4. Post for all to see or distribute the Flow of Energy Presentation Rubric that the students will use as their assessment tool. Distribute the other two rubrics and remind them to use the Cooperative Worker Rubric and the Individual Journal Rubric as assessment tools, also.

5. Discuss the expectations of those rubrics

6. Have previously developed concept maps available if students need to refresh their knowledge of what a concept map looks like and does.

7. Explain to the students that they will work as groups to develop a concept map and a presentation that shows their understanding of the flow of energy in the observed ecosystem.

8. Give the students a master set of terrarium questions and observations and ask them to sort them and create their own concept maps that illustrate the flow of energy. Note: Be sure the master set of observations and questions includes questions that include the significant concepts related to this subject.

9. Ask the students to refer to their journals and discuss with their small groups how the observations and questions connect to their prior knowledge. Remind them that they should add these connections to their concept map if appropriate. Formatively assess the student connections to prior knowledge and help them make connections if appropriate.

Day Two
1. Begin and close each class period with a short ‘connection’ period so groups can ask questions of each other or you about their findings. Encourage students to use this period to check their own knowledge and pose extension questions and/or add additional materials to their concept maps.

2. Have the students prepare their concept map presentations using whatever resources they want to use. Students can use the appropriate research materials you have provided. Post or hand-out a sample of how to document the resources so that students may use it as a reference. Reinforce that documentation must occur in order to find facts again, give validity to the text, etc. Remind each student that he/she should document in his/her journal the steps taken in the group learning process, new ideas learned and connections made to previous knowledge, as well as a reflection of his/her learning experience individually and as part of the group. Refer the student to their journal rubrics.

3. Formatively assess daily as you move from group to group the individual and group content knowledge, cooperative skills and group participation. If appropriate, stop the group work and review a concept to help those students who are having difficulty understand.

Day Three
1. Have the small group presentations

2. Ask each non-presenting group to prepare questions or points for clarification for the presenting group.

3. Each student should complete his journal and submit for assessment.

4. As a class, discuss extensions for this experience.


Students working in assigned groups collaborate to develop concept maps based on their observations of the classroom terrarium. The students present their concept maps to the class, and answer questions related to their concept maps.

They use the Flow of Energy Presentation Rubric as a self-assessment tool as well as the Cooperative Worker Rubric and the Individual Journal Rubric (See attached file).

Formatively assess the content understanding during the assignment period (using the rubric), directing students to additional resources in textbooks. All resources and textbooks should be documented using footnotes where appropriate and may include a bibliography.

Also formatively assess the cooperative learning during the assignment using the Cooperative Worker Rubric. Students have the opportunity to redo their concept maps after the presentations and related questions.

Attached Files

Flow of Energy Presentation Rubric     File Extension: pdf

Cooperative Worker Rubric     File Extension: pdf

Individual Journal Rubric     File Extension: pdf

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