Initial Publication Date: August 4, 2005

Protistan Tales of Atlantic White Cedar Swamps

A WebQuest exploring the microbial diversity of Atlantic White Cedar Swamps

Introduction Task Process Resources Evaluation Conclusion Teachers


Protistan Tales of Atlantic White Cedar Swamps features a guided exploration of microbial diversity. It introduces students to the extreme habitat of the Atlantic White Cedar Swamp and encourages them to explore characteristics of the microorganisms that live there. The WebQuest applies the personification theme of Aesop's Fables as a means to acquaint students with protists. It challenges them to search for microbial "personality traits" and to implement these traits into a creative storyline. Through the use of on-line images, descriptions, videos, and reference sites, students will carefully research specific protists while independently developing observational skills essential to microbiology. Upon completion of this WebQuest, students should be able to differentiate protists based on physical characteristics and specialized forms of locomotion, describe the microbial diversity of Atlantic White Cedar Swamps, and apply learned observational skills to hands-on laboratory activities.


The core of this WebQuest addresses the following National Science Education Standards:

  • K-12 Unifying Concepts and Processes: Form and Function
  • 5-8 Content Standard C (Life Science): Structure and Function in Living Systems
  • 5-8 Content Standard C (Life Science): Regulation and Behavior
  • 5-8 Content Standard C (Life Science): Diversity and Adaptations of Organisms
  • 9-12 Content Standard C (Life Science): The Behavior of Organisms
  • 9-12 Content Standard E (Science and Technology): Understandings About Science and Technology

The core of this WebQuest addresses the following NCTE English Language Arts Standard:

  • Standard 8: Students use a variety of technological and information resources (e.g., libraries, databases, computer networks, video) to gather and synthesize information and to create and communicate knowledge.

Beginning the WebQuest

Protistan Tales of Atlantic White Cedar Swamps utilizes a centuries old tradition of storytelling called anthropomorphism. Anthropomorphism is the attribution of human motivation, characteristics, or behavior to inanimate objects, animals, or natural phenomena. Before beginning this activity, it is recommended to introduce students to the term. While the word may sound intimidating, this form of storytelling is a common part of modern-day society. Many students have read Charlotte's Web or Animal Farm, and are familiar with Mickey Mouse. A class discussion about the use of this form of storytelling can be quite entertaining. For example, why are raccoons commonly portrayed as bandits, owls as wise, and penguins as plump aristocrats? Why are bats scary and bunnies lovable? It is also important to discuss that these traits are not scientifically accurate; rather they are often applied for entertainment value. Aesop used them to teach about morals and ethics, while many animals today have been personified to bring awareness to conservation issues.

This WebQuest is designed for groups of three students. Each student has two major responsibilities: biological background and contribution to the storyline. Prior to beginning the WebQuest, a formal Scoping Session is suggested where duties are assigned and where team members discuss milestones and timelines. As a group, students should first research protists, in general, and the Atlantic White Cedar Swamp habitat. This can even be done together as a class or the night before as a reading assignment. Students will then choose three microbes to investigate in detail, using carefully chosen resources. Resources include images, descriptions, videos, and reference sites. Once students are confident with their knowledge of the selected microbes, they will meet together as a group to share notes. Every member should share pictures and/or videos of their microbes accompanied with brief descriptions and speculative "personality traits." The group will then produce a creative story using anthropomorphism, possibly in the fashion of Aesop. Groups will present their story to the class in the form of a live storytelling performance and preserve their masterpiece in the form of an illustrated short story. These stories may be contribued to Microbial Life for review and potential publication on the site. Contact for more information.

Variations and Interdisciplinary Applications

Protistan Tales of Atlantic White Cedar Swamps can be adapted to fit your needs. Ten microorganisms from Atlantic White Cedar Swamps are highlighted in this activity. You can instruct students to include all of the organisms in the storyline or just a few. They may also be encouraged to research other microbes that live in this habitat and locate their own resources.

It is recommended to coordinate this activity with another teacher. Collaboration with an English/Literature teacher will enhance the background and understanding of stories using anthropomorphism, such as Aesop's Fables. For example, students can complete an in-depth study of Aesop's Fables in English class, focus on biological concepts and processes in your class, and combine the two to produce a relevant storyline about microbes. Collaboration with an Art teacher, on the other hand, might help students focus on the imaginative aspect of the project. Students benefit from having artistic guidance as they attempt to personify microbes in their illustrated story.


Evaluation can be carried out in a number of ways: storytelling performance, illustrated short story, group participation, and any reports you might require throughout the activity. It is recommended that students become aware of evaluation procedures prior to entering the WebQuest.

The evaluation rubric is designed to help ensure uniform evaluation of the storytelling performance, illustrated short story, and group participation. It is also in Word format (Microsoft Word 32kB Aug4 05) and may be modified to fit your needs.


If you would like to see an activity developed around a specific theme or geographical area of interest, please contact us at Students are encouraged to submit completed stories and other materials produced as a result of Microbial Life activities. These materials will be reviewed for publication on the Microbial Life site. For more information, please contact

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