Critical Conversations about Conservation

Lesson 1: Ecosystems: Don’t be Part of the Problem, Be the Solution!

North Carolina Essential Standards

4.L.1 Understand the effects of environmental changes, adaptations and behaviors that enable animals (including humans) to survive in changing habitats.

4.L.1.1 Give examples of changes in an organism’s environment that are beneficial to it and some that are harmful.

4.L.1.2 Explain how animals meet their needs by using behaviors in response to information received from the environment.

4.L1.3 Explain how humans can adapt their behavior to live in changing habitats (e.g., recycling wastes, establishing rain gardens, planting trees and shrubs to prevent flooding and erosion)

5.L.2.1 Compare the characteristics of several common ecosystems, including estuaries and salt marshes, oceans, lakes and ponds, forests, and grasslands.

Prerequiste Knowledge

Students should know that the world is made up of many ecosystems that contain living and nonliving things.


Students will be able to:

  • compare and contrast ecosystems from the United States and Africa

  • classify abiotic and biotic factors of the ecosystems and analyze the impact of these factors on the ecosystem

  • identify ways that humans use the environment to meet their wants and needs (use natural resources for food, shelter, medicine, recreation, and more)

  • determine human impact on the environment (beneficial and negative)


  • Students will write entries into their interactive science notebooks (these can be created online using Office 365 or with a traditional notebook)
  • Students will complete D-L-I-Q reflection strategy. Teacher will use this to monitor understanding and provide feedback.
  • Students will summarize their learning through a presentation of their project.


Both students and teacher will need access to internet.

Online resources:

Optional: The Wump World by Bill Peet

Prior Preparation

  • Prepare teacher PowerPoint of US and Africa before and after ecosystems.
  • Prepare and have available student rubric for project. 
  • Compile useful, grade appropriate websites to conduct research (see samples under Materials).


  1. Introduce the unit to the students. Explain to the students that over a five-lesson unit they will learn about the many types of ecosystems/environments that make up our world, how living organisms depend upon the environment to survive, and examine ways environments have been negatively and positively impacted by humans.
  2. View clips from Planet Earth: Amazing Nature SceneryClips should “wow” students with the Earth’s beauty and resources. (Optional: Read or view The Wump World and discuss the impact that the martians had on the wump’s environment. How were the martians irresponsible with Earth’s resources? How was the Earth impacted/changed by the martians actions? What type of pollution changed the Earth?)

Guided Practice

Day 1

  1. Teacher will show different pictures of US and African ecosystems (desert, grasslands, rainforest, etc) to small groups containing depictions of the living and nonliving factors.
  2. Collaboratively students will respond by orally listing things they see in the picture. Next the teacher will ask the students to revisit the picture but this time write what they see into two list (make a T-chart)on chart paper-living and nonliving.
  3. Once finished, students will share their picture and lists. The teacher will explain that the living list is considered Biotic Factors and the nonliving list is the Abiotic Factors of ecosystems.

Example of possible student responses from picture:

Living   (Biotic Factors)

Non-Living (Abiotic Factors)



animals (snake, birds, deer, etc)

dirt, soil


water (river, pond, puddle, etc)

mushrooms, fungus


While evaluating the ecosystem pictures and charts of the group, the teacher will lead discussion questions.

  1. What factors do the ecosystems have in common? Justify why those factors they are important.

  2. What factors are different? State possible reasons why?

  3. How do the biotic factors (resources) impact the ecosystem?

  4. How do the abiotic factors (resources) impact the ecosystem?

  5. Explain how these factors are important to humans?

  6. Provide example of how humans may use these factors these resources in our daily life.

In closing, have students copy both lists with five or more items from the charts into their interactive notebook. Students write a Line of Learning* (L.O.L)  about the importance of Abiotic/Biotic Factors of ecosystems and how humans utilize these resources. Teachers will use notebook entries to monitor learning and provide  feedback.

* L.O.L- After note taking, students draw a line across their paper underneath that day’s notes. Students write a “line” or more reflecting upon what they learned or discussed during the lesson.

Day 2

  1. Teacher will show pictures of US and African ecosystems in natural state.
  2. First example will be of a prairie. Students will brainstorm ways humans used this ecosystem to meet their wants and needs.
  3. Guide students to use of land through farming.  Transition to picture of the same prairie during America’s Dust Bowl.
  4. Discuss how drought and poor farming practices harmed the land. Show a picture of what South Africa’s land looked like before mining. Discuss how humans may use this ecosystem to meet their wants and needs. Guide students to think about “hidden” resources rocks and mineral.
  5. Show pictures of what South Africa’s land looks like after coal mining and discuss the impact to the soil, water, and air (abiotic factors). Share Green Peace website to view more pictures and explore the conservation efforts by humans to correct the problem.
  6. To close the lesson, have the students complete a D-L-I-Q exit ticket within their interactive notebook or on Office 365. Students will respond in 2 or more sentences about the activity.( D-What we Did, L-What you Learned, I-What was Interesting, Q-What question you have)The teacher will monitor learning and springboard questions into next lesson for review purposes.

Days 3-5

  1. Use student questions from previous lesson to review learning.
  2. Explain to students that you would like for them to take on the role of a journalist/environmentalist to report finding of how the environment is negatively impacted by human activity: pollution, over-farming, deforestation,over-mining, poaching, etc.
  3. Students will also explore conservation efforts to balance the effects. Direct students to appropriate resources and websites.
  4. Students will follow rubric to complete the task. Monitor student progress and understanding by conducting group check-ins to discuss findings or concerns.
  5. Students will present findings in PowerPoint slides to class when complete. This activity may be completed individually or collaboratively in groups.


Days 6-7

  1. Allow students to present their finding to the class.
  2. The group/or student will answer these question during their presentation. Which ecosystem are they showing and where is it located? How do humans utilize the resources (abiotic or biotic) found in that ecosystem?
  3. Explain the negative impact humans have had on the ecosystem.  Explain conservation efforts to protect the ecosystem.


For students who have difficulty researching, have grade appropriate  books or articles of conservation efforts due to human impact available.  

For advanced students, allow students to explore different conservation efforts in other ecosystems or to create a poster/public service announcement/infomercial (Animoto would be a free and engaging platform to create a infomercial)informing the public to the problem. Challenge students to discover additional conservation efforts to be part of the solution.