Biodiversity of the Desert

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SWBAT list 3 animals and 3 plants that live in the desert.

Big Idea

Did you know that deserts cover 1/3 of Earth's surface? Let's investigate this harsh environment to understand the types of plants and animals that have adapted to survive the heat.

Teacher Notes

Activity Description

The children will gather and record information on a classification organizer about plant and animal life in the desert after listening to the teacher read books and watching a Power Point presentation.  This organizer will be used for a habitat comparison activity at the end of the unit.  The children will also use their knowledge to create a page in their interactive science notebook.

NGSS/Common Core Connections

Students will learn about the plant and animal life in the desert. They will gather this information from listening to a book and other media in which will help them to make observations that will be used to make comparisons of the four different habitats, which is part of planning and carrying out investigations.  This lesson is directly connected to the nature of science since students will be looking for patterns and order by classifying animals when making observations about the desert.  As a result of their learning, they will conclude that there are many different kinds of things in the world and they exist in many different places on land and in water.  

At the end of the unit, the children will use information gathered from this lesson (and others) to create a habitat diorama and write a research report.  This will give them a base knowledge for that project.  


Deserts Note Taking Chart 2 sizes--1 per student

Desert folded pockets--1 per student

index cards cut to 3 x 3 1/2 inches to fit into pocket- 1 per child

Special note:  I usually spend an extra day or two reading books to help the children learn as much as they can about the desert.  During this time, they continue to keep notes on their chart.  This additional knowledge will promote a deeper understanding of desert plant and animal life so they can back up their thinking with logical thoughts and be able to make comparisons.

Here are three books that I recommend for additional reading:

  1. A Walk in the Desert book
  2. A Desert Habitat book
  3. Desert Night, Desert Day--You can do an activity where the children pretend to be the day and night animals after you read the book.


5 minutes

I gather the children in our reading corner.

Our next habitat is just the opposite of the coral reef habitat we have been learning about.  This one is very hot and dry, although it can be very chilly there at night.

I don't even have to say another word.  The children all shout out that it is the desert.  Having them think about the rain forest and then contrasting it helps them to start thinking about how habitats can be different.

Do you know any plants or animals that live in the desert?

They seem to be somewhat familiar with a few animals that live there, especially cacti, snakes, tarantulas and lizards.  Asking this question helps bring up their prior knowledge.

You seem to know about some of the animals that live in the desert, but think about what the climate it is like there. How do you think the animals and plants survive?

The children seem intrigued.  It appears they have never really thought about that aspect of desert life.  Which makes teaching this lesson all the more valuable.

We are going to be taking an imaginary trip to the desert.  By the end of our trip, I want you to be able to tell me what is unique about the plants and animals that live in the desert and what they do to survive.

This gives the children sort of a mission.  This mission will help guide them in their learning of part of the NGSS standards of making observations about life in different habitats and then comparing them.


40 minutes

Next I introduce the desert habitat by having the children watch and listen to an Introduction to Desert Plant and Animal Life Power Point. I created this since it was hard to find a book about desert life at their understanding that introduced both plants and animals.  Plus I have an affinity to the desert since I fell in love with desert life after visiting a few of them.

Remember how we took notes about the rain forest and also the coral reef on an organizer?  We are going to be using the same type of organizer again.  So before we take our imaginary trip to the desert, I want you to think about some questions that you might have, just like how scientists begin their investigations.  Think about what you already know, and then ask questions in which your answers will deepen your understanding.  Then write your question at the top of the page. If you need to, look at our Question Stems Poster to help guide you on writing the beginning of your question.

I give them a few minutes to gather their thoughts and write a pertinent question.

As we are studying about the desert, you might find an answer to your question.  If you do, write your answer on the next lines. If you don't find an answer to your question when we are studying about it, you might want to do your own investigation to find the answer.

As I narrate the Power Point, the students take notes on this note taking chart . See my reflection on why I use this type of organizer.  Click here for an explanation of graphic organizers in general.

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When we get to the third slide in the presentation, we stop and discuss where deserts are found. Since deserts locations are so wide-spread, I choose to focus on a few (southwestern U.S., Africa and Australia) and write them on the board so they can fill in the spot on their organizer where it asks for the location.  We continue on with the rest of the presentation.

When we are done with the Power Point we discuss the many types of life found in the desert.

 So, did you find out how animals survive in the desert?  What do they do to help them "beat the heat?"  How do the plants survive?

I want them not only to be thinking about the names of the plants and animals, but more importantly how they survive in such a harsh climate.  This thinking will help make inferences about survival of desert plant and animal life.  Another main goal of this part of the lesson is for them to gather information that will make comparisons to other habitats.  Taking notes on the organizer helps them gather the needed information.

To help them begin the process of analyzing and interpreting data on a small scale, I have the children write the answer to the question, "How is life in the desert different than any other place?"  I want them to reflect on their learning and then analyze how it is different or what makes it unique.  This will also help them compare information that has been gathered about the habitats thus far.


10 minutes

I ask the children to look at their chart and pick out their favorite fact from the either the power point or from one of the books I read. 

To add to their interactive science journals, I have them make a Desert folded pockets.  The children should draw and color a picture that depicts life in the desert.  Then on an index card they can write down the most interesting thing that they learned along with a short explanation.  To make the pocket, follow the instructions on this page.  

Then they can glue the smaller sized animal classification graphic organizer on the left side and the pocket they just made right under it (see science notebook desert left side).  This leaves the right side for the next activity, Desert Gems of Biodiversity Lesson.  When finished, it creates a double-spread of information that they can refer to when they are making their diorama (see lesson link).


NOTE:  If you are not making science journals, make sure to SAVE the notes they took from today for this lesson.