Building Our Habitat Diorama

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SWBAT build a model habitat showing 5 different animals and 5 different plant species.

Big Idea

Scientists can use models to represent things in the natural world.

Teacher Notes

Activity Description

The children will use their plans that were developed in a previous lesson to guide them in building a habitat diorama.

NGSS Connections

By the end of this unit, the children need to make observations to compare the diversity of life in different habitats.  The children will be creating and building their own model of a habitat, which will aid them in making comparisons.  Also, since the diorama is a type of model,  they will be working toward the science practice of understanding models.  Within their diorama they also have to show at least one example of interdependence.


  • Parent Note asking for supplies
  • shoe box--every child needs a box around that size (included in parent note)
  • bottles of glue--enough for every child
  • trays to put supplies in (I used microwave dinner trays)--1 per student if you can
  • anything you happen to have on hand that would be suitable for building(see photo). 
    • Here are some ideas:
      • clay, pipe cleaners, craft foam, construction paper, toothpicks, streamers, googly eyes, small shells, sand, fishing line, feathers, small styrofoam balls, pinecones, popsicle sticks, small clothespins, tiny pinecones, cotton balls, felt, yarn


5 minutes

Engaging the children to build their diorama is sooooo easy!  Actually, this day is about as exciting as Halloween.  The children kept asking me all day if it was time to build their diorama.

Guess what time it is?  Time to build your dioramas!  I know you have been waiting all day for this and now it's time.  But first, my scientists, you need to get out your diorama plans.  

I pass out the children's science notebooks and they open it up to the page where their plans are located.

You are going to use your plans as a guide to help you build your model diorama, just like real scientists do!  Your diorama is a model of a real habitat.  Each piece and part that you use is going to represent something in the natural world.

I want the children to feel like they are doing a job that real scientists do, since they are, just on a much smaller, and more basic level.  In essence they are creating their own model of a habitat.  Having the children create their own models helps them understand not only the habitat itself, but it also expands their scientific thinking about models.  They can understand the common features and differences between different habitats by digging in and being part of the creation process.  They then are able to understand that systems in the natural world have parts that work together.


45 minutes

Covering the background of the box and then creating the background will take at least 15 minutes.  After that, the children will be digging into building, which will take at least 45 minutes. If you don't have this much time on one day, you might consider breaking the lesson into two chunks.

Right after the children open up to their plans, a student asks me a great question.

She asks, "What if you have new ideas and they don't really work with your old ideas on your paper?

That is a very good question.  When I am creating, I start out with a plan and as I am working I realize that this would be better if I added this or that.  Or I realized this really isn't working out like I thought it was so I need to make some changes. You should use your plan as a starting point.  You should work off of your plan as much as you can, but you can make necessary changes as you need to.  

Take a look at your plan.  Your plan is going to help guide you even if you do make some small changes. But remember you do have to have the requirements--5 animals, 5 plants and you must show at least one plant or animal depending on the other, or them both depending on each other.  Showing dependence is one of the most important parts of your project. 

One of the "big idea" standards across all of the grade levels is to understand interdependent relationships in a habitat.  Having the children create an interdependent relationship helps get them closer to achieving the standard.

The first thing I want you to do is to think about how you want the background of your habitat to look like.  I am going to give you construction paper to fill the background.  You will have to decide what color of paper you will want the background to be.  After you get your paper you will need to cut your paper to the right size.  Does anyone have any ideas how this could be done?

A child tells me to trace around the box.  

Great idea.  You will need a partner to hold the box while you trace around it.  Then cut along the lines that you have made.  Put your cut paper on the inside of the box to make sure it fits.  If it does, go on ahead and put glue on your paper and glue it to the inside.  Then you can make trees, plants or perhaps a sun or something that will add to the background.

The children are so excited about building their animals that if I did not make them start with the background, they would never get around to doing it.  So starting with the background first is very logical and will prevent them from using all of their time making their other items.



After the children have finished their background, I let them start working on the rest of the model.  

Once you are done with your background it means you are ready to start on the rest of your diorama.  I am going to review what we have so you can make your plan accordingly.  

Here is where I feel like Vanna White, except instead of letters, we have lots and lots of fun items to choose from.  

We have feathers for perhaps birds, tiny eyeballs, pinecones that could even be used for cacti, an animal, tree or a log; fishing line for making things that fly in the air, styrofoam balls, popsicle sticks for trees or trunks, sticks to be a tree, shells of different sizes, moss, clothespins for hanging things, streamers for vines, seaweed, cotton balls for maybe a furry animal.  Over here I have many different colors of  pipe cleaners, lots of different colors of foam--it could be used for anything from trees, to animals to seaweed. Here is felt of all different colors for animals, plants, yarn for vines or seaweed.  We also have clay that is great for building animals and also for building bases to hold things.  There is also sand.

I try to give them a few ideas of how to use things to get their creative juices flowing.  I try not to give too many ideas, though since I want them to think on their own.  So this is the only time I give them any ideas at all.

Start by thinking of the first animal that you want to build.  Take ONLY what you need to make that animal.  You can come back when you need more. In this way we can all share and use the supplies that we need.

Starting with one animal keeps things manageable for them and also allows sharing of the supplies we have on hand. I don't want them to come up and "hog" the supplies.  Children are kind of like me when I go to a buffet.  They take as much as they possibly can, and them don't end up using most of it.

When it is your turn to come and get supplies, put your supplies in a black tray.  Only take what you need to begin your project.  Then when that part is done, you may come up and get more.  So for an example, let's say I wanted to make a coyote.  I might come up and get some brown felt and 2 styrofoam balls, and two eyes and pipecleaners for the legs.  I would go back to my seat and make the coyote.  Then when I was done, I would come back and grab the supplies I need to make some cacti.  When I am finished with making the cacti, I would come back up to the table to get supplies to make a bat.  You get the idea....I work on one thing at a time and get supplies for that item.  When I am done I come back up to get supplies for the next thing. If you work a little at a time it works out better for all of us to share the supplies. 

I state this again and use an example to really drive home the idea that they need to organize themselves and start with one idea.

If you are using sand you need to put some glue down to hold it.  I also need to check that your shoe box does not have any holes in the side, if it does, I'll come around and tape the sides up.

This is really important, unless you want your classroom to look like a beach!  If you have a parent helper, this would be a wonderful opportunity for them.

Then I answer any questions that they have.  Next I call the groups up by table to gather supplies for the first thing they are going to make. They take their supplies back to their seats and begin their creations. 

I give the children about 45 minutes to complete their project.  It sounds like a lot of time, but it goes very quickly!  As the children are working, I use something I call time chunking to help them manage their time. (See time chunking explanation). Here is a short video of a girl explaining her diorama.  The children were very proud of their work (proud builder photo).  Click here to see another proud face!


10 minutes

When the last time chunk is over, the children clean up their huge mess and put their dioramas away. Since space in my room is very limited, the children put their dioramas out in the hallway.  We will be sharing them tomorrow.  All of the unused supplies need to go back into the bins from which they came.  I do not clean up after the children, since that is all part of being independent and part of the whole learning process.  

Since this lesson is so long, our wrap up is simple and quick.

Wow!  Your dioramas look great!  How did the creating process go for you?  Were you able to complete the task?  What was the hardest part? Did you include all of your animals and plants?

I want them to reflect on both the task at hand and the actual creation process.  We quickly discuss their ideas.

I spend time after school packing everything back up to be used again next year.  I make note of the things that I still have lots of so I can cross it off of the parent letter in which I requested supplies.