MnSTEP Teaching Activity Collection > MnSTEP Activities > Buddy Biology: Observing Living and Non-living Components of An Ecosystem with a Partner

Buddy Biology: Observing Living and Non-living Components of An Ecosystem with a Partner

Paula Dahms, Kasson-Mantorville Elementary School, Kasson, MN


In this activity students will observe a square foot of an ecosystem surrounding our elementary school. They will keep a journal to record the physical elements of their area. It will include both written details and drawings. They will visit their area monthly. They will note changes in the living and non-living components over time.

Learning Goals

The goal of this lesson is to observe and record the physical changes of the ecosystem around our school.
Skills the students will be using include observation, writing, questioning, drawing centered on detail, and research to identify the components.
Key concepts include identifying change over time and weather/seasonal changes.
Vocabulary words: physical property, ecosystem, names of plant and animal life forms.

Context for Use

This activity is intended to be a partner activity. They will observe an area that is approximately one square foot from September through May. The observation should take about 5 minutes, with an additional 5 minutes to draw and write about their findings. Materials needed will be a journal, pencil, colored pencils, ruler, magnifying glass, possibly tweezers and Petri dish, and weather appropriate clothing. The class size limitations would be the size of the area you have to work with. The activity could be extended depending on the educational levels of the individuals; more research could be done to gain further knowledge.

Subject: Biology
Resource Type: Activities:Field Activity
Special Interest: Field-Based Teaching and Learning
Grade Level: Intermediate (3-5)
Theme: Teach the Earth:Enhancing your Teaching:Teaching in the Field

Description and Teaching Materials

The activity will begin by reading pages three through 6 of My Nature Notebook by Kevin Beals.
Prior to going outside, each student will be given a journal to record their observations.
The students will be given a preset area to observe, between one and two square feet.
The first time going outside, the students will be given 10 minutes to observe their area. They will also be given 10 minutes to write about their findings. Subsequent observations will be given a total of 10 minutes. Tools will be provided to measure the items found in the space and to compare the item's size over time.
In May, students will write a narrative paper from the perspective of one of the items found in their ecosystem. They will detail the events that occurred throughout the school year, including seasonal changes.

Teaching Notes and Tips

I have not done this activity in the past. I have taken students outside to observe the area surrounding our school, but I have not had them journal throughout the year or during different seasons/weather conditions. We will go outside (rain or shine) the first Wednesday of each month. It is important to be consistent so the students get in the habit of doing the observation regardless of the weather conditions. To make things easier to transport, a bag will be given to each students for them to keep their journal, pencil, measuring instrument, umbrella, etc.


Students will be assessed on their journal. They should be writing a minimum of 3 detailed sentences per topic; Weather conditions, Plant life, Animal life, and Insect life. They should be making a drawing of their area each time. The narrative paper will also be assessed.


Physical Science: Matter physical properties of materials
Language Arts standards are also addressed in this activity.

References and Resources