Rain Forest Gems of Biodiversity

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The SWBAT construct a reason to back up data of why there are more birds than any other species in the rain forest.

Big Idea

"Gems of Biodiversity" is a great visual tool to help children grasp the idea of biodiversity in the rain forest. It can also be used to help the children understand relationships and as a springboard for an exercise in reasoning.

Teacher Notes


Are you ready to take your children's understanding of biodiversity to the next level?  You can do just that with an activity called "Gems of Biodiversity."  This activity will be done at the end of each of the individual habitats studied--rain forest, desert, ocean and woodlands.  After the children have gathered information about each habitat, the class will make comparisons about the animal life found there using a visual model.  This repeating activity is called "Gems of Biodiversity."  It unifies the concepts taught plus it creates a common ground for comparison among the habitats.  Please make sure to check it out since it is well worth the effort and can be used year after year.  Sound interesting?  Check out the above link for information on how to set it up.  Life at the next level is pretty sweet!

Activity Description:

The children will compare and contrast the biodiversity of life in the rain forest (see above note) using a visual model.  The model will be a jar filled with colored gems.  The jar will represent a animal species in the rain forest. It will be filled with colored gems denoting 5 animal groups (amphibians, birds, mammal, reptiles and fish) according to the amount of animal species in the rain forest.  Each gem will represent 100 different species of animals. So if there is 1,000 types of amphibians in the rain forest, 10 yellow gems would be put into the jar. As a class, we will fill the rain forest habitat jar with the appropriate amount of gems.  After the rain forest habitat is studied, the class will count the gems denoting the number of animals species living there.   We discuss the results and fill in a sentence frame to explain why there is the largest number of bird species that live there.

NGSS/Common Core Connections:

 The students will be making observations of plants and animals to compare the diversity of life within the rain forest.  They will be exploring all different kinds of living things--both plants and animals.  The children will also be practicing the concept of using a model to depict five classifications of animals.  In addition, the children will be counting by 100's when they count the number of species in the rain forest.  They will be constructing possible explanations of why some so many plants and animals live in the rain forest.


see note and link above for the materials needed and description of how to set this activity up

Rain Forest Let's Back It Up! Using Reasoning Sentence Frames -- 1 per student

Habitat Essential Questions --either pulled up on Smartboard or 1 copy for your class


5 minutes

First we are going to discuss the animals and plants that live in the rain forest.  For this, I have the children pull out their chart from a previous lesson (The Wonders of the Rain Forest).

The rain forests are one of my favorite topics to learn about.  There are so many fascinating plants and animals that live there!  Take out your notes from yesterday so we can look at your information that you have gathered.  We are going to be looking at the animals that you chose to write down and compare them with a partner.  So we are going to be working with our Clock Buddy partners today.  I would like you to share some of your favorite findings about the animals and the plants that you noted.  Compare your notes to your partner.  Do you have different plants and animals written down?  

I give them about 5 minutes to talk to their partner.  Having them discuss their ideas first with  partner helps get the ideas out, which will greatly helps the children who don't typically like to share their ideas since they have "practiced" it with a friendly partner first.  It also helps bring the topic of discussion to the forefront of their mind.


20 minutes

Let's first take a look at the mammals of the rain forest.  What are some of the mammals that are found there?

I write their responses on the Smart Board in our class chart.  We repeat this process with the birds, fish, amphibians and reptiles.  I make sure to comment on the incredible variation of species found in the rain forest.  Scientists know that it is the most biodiverse place on Earth!

We are going to be using a model today.  Have you ever played a game where you had to draw a picture of something and others had to guess what it was?  If so, you were making a model.  I bet some of you have even put together a model of a car or plane.  Those types of models are like miniatures of the real thing.  They look just like the full-size version, they just are a lot smaller.  Scientists use models everyday.  Sometimes they are drawings, sometimes they look like miniatures of the real thing and sometimes they are objects that represent something.

We are going to create a jar that I like to call "Gems of Biodiversity."  In it will be gems that be a model the variety of vertebrates found in the rain forest.  Who remembers how animals with backbones are classified?  Right, there are fish, mammals, birds, reptiles and amphibians.  Now these gems don't actually look anything like real animals.  Each gem is a different color and so each color of gem will stand for a different type of animal.  The yellow gems will stand for amphibians, the red for birds, the black for mammals, the green for reptiles and the blue for fish. (I hold up each gem color as I describe it).  

Each gem represents 100 DIFFERENT types, or species, of animals.  So if 1 gem is put in the jar, it means that there are 100 different types of that animal in the habitat.  Just so you understand, let me repeat that.  Each gem stands for 100 different types or species, not just 100 animals.

Let's look to see how this works.  Let's say I am going to put in 4 gems in the jar.  

I draw four circles on the board to represent four gems.  

Each gem stands for 100 species so I am going to put the number 100 inside of each of the circles.  Now I can easily count by 100 to find out how many of that species that there is.  Count with me....100, 200, 300, 400.  So how many species do 4 gems represent?

I give the children another example to solve to help them understand this process.

If I put in 5 gems how many species of animals would that stand for? What about 8 gems?

Then I repeat with larger numbers such as 20 or 30 for more practice with the concept.  If they do not seem to understand, I explain the concept again by redrawing circles on the board on counting.

Knowing what you know about the rain forest,  predict the TOTAL number of gems that you think would go in our rain forest habitat jar.  Remember  that each of the gems stands for, or models, 100 different species.   

I listen to their answers to see if they are getting the right idea.  At this point, since this is their first time doing this, their guesses are very random.  We will do this at the end of each habitat study, and their answers should get progressively within a better proximity of the correct answer.

 What species do you predict we will have the most gems for--mammals, birds, amphibians, reptiles or fish?  Why do you think that way?

The kids share their answers.  I make sure I praise answers that are backed up with logical reasons, even if they are not correct.  Then we are ready to start the counting process.  So I ask a volunteer to help put the gems in for the amphibians.  

For the amphibian group, we need to put in 10 yellow gems.  Let's count and figure out how many species of amphibians are in the rain forest.  Make sure to hold up the gem and then we know to say the number out loud.  The class recites 100, 200, 300, 400, 500, 600, 700, 800, 900, 1,000.   Wow!  That means there are 1,000 different types of amphibians that live in the rain forest.  

We continue doing this for the other classifications of animals.  We use 35 gems for the birds, 15 for the mammals, 18 for the reptiles and 22 for the fish.  This is great practice for the math standard of counting by 100's, especially since it repeats over and over for each of the animal groups.  The kids have fun counting and don't even realize that this is part of the math standard.

Explanation/ Construct Possible Reasons

20 minutes

I noticed when we were forming hypotheses when doing a scientific study (What's All the Buzz about Being a Scientist) that many of the children had some difficulty backing up their hypotheses with reasonable thinking.  I really want to continue to practice to help support their reasoning behind the predictions that they make. So for the next activity, the children will be constructing possible reasons why they think a particular classification of animals or a particular species was the most prevalent and why.  This will help them begin to form arguments based on information that they have gathered.  

So we stop and talk about the forms of life that are abundant.  We work together to try to form reasons why those particular types of animals are found in abundance.  This helps them start to form arguments by backing their thoughts up with possible reasons.

I noticed that we saw lots of species, or different types of monkeys in the rain forest.  We don't have any monkeys that live around us.  What are some reasons why this is true?  What do you think is in the rain forest habitat that helps support monkeys?  

The children answer that it is warm there and never gets very cold.  Another answers that there are lots of trees for them to hang on.  Another adds that they eat bananas and we don't have any of them here.

So what does that tell us about the needs of monkeys?  

One girl answers, "They need to live where there are banana trees and other trees to hang on.  They also need a warm place to live.  They cannot live where it is really cold, like here."

Very good.  A monkey has to live in the right habitat.  They have certain needs and therefore they can only live in certain areas.  A rain forest must have all of the things that monkeys need so a lot of monkeys are able to live there.

Using this example using a monkey is a great place to start since most kids have a pretty good understanding of a monkey and its basic needs.  I step it up a notch for the next example by using the graphic organizer Let's Back It Up!

 I noticed that in our Gems of Biodiversity jar that there are a good amount of species of fish.  I am thinking about why there are so many fish species that are able to live in the rain forest.   What is in that habitat that helps support the fish species that lives there?  I then think about what fish need to live, like what they eat and the type of water they live in.  I know most fish like to eat other fish.  I also know that more fish like warm water than cold.  So I bet that a lot of small fish are able to live in the rain forest because the bigger fish depend on them for food.  The water is warm so it must be able to support a lot of life.  I am going to try to explain my thinking by filling out this recording sheet.

Click here to see how I filled in the chart.  I give a recording sheet to each student even though they are working with a partner.  I still want them both to get the experience of going through the process of filling it out and thinking of how to form a possible argument to back up their thinking.

What classification of animal did we find out that there are the most of in the rain forest?  If you don't remember, look at the gems in our jar.  What color do you see the most of?  What does that color represent?  

They answer that the rain forest has the most bird species since they can easily make that interpretation since the model is a visual representation.

I want you to practice forming possible explanations to back up information that we have gathered--that there are more species of bird than any other species. You will be working with a partner to try to think of a possible reason why this is true. This is called backing up your results.

The recording sheet, "Let's Back It Up!" contains sentence frames.  Sentence frames help the children to describe and clarify what they are thinking.  They help give children a bit of structure needed to accomplish a writing task.  The idea of backing up data by using arguments is a complex task, so sentence frames help the children form their ideas within parameters.  Another reason I have found this useful is that it makes it easier for students to compare their ideas and thoughts when we discuss it later. It also keeps the students' thinking on the right track.  Here's a let's back it up student photo of a student working with the sentence frames.

I was so proud of how my kiddos did with their reasoning skills. I have some work samples to share with you so talk you through them. I have quite a few samples since their thinking is very diverse and each shows a different level of understanding.  This group showed excellent reasoning skills and their thoughts were cohesive.  These two groups (group A and group B) linked up their learning to our past unit in which we learned about predators (SEE LINK).   This partner group demonstrated a basic level of understanding.  The student sample shows correct thinking, they just needed one more thought to link the birds' needs to the reason why.  This sample shows they understood part of the concept, but did not explicitly state why the rain forest has what they need. This last partner group demonstrated understanding, but were not able to link their ideas together.  Constructing possible reasons was a more complex task, and overall, I think they did great!


5 minutes

I gather all of the students back in the corner to share their ideas.  

Okay kiddos!  We have really accomplished a lot today. You have worked on backing up our data, or information with reasons.  This is really hard to do and you have done a great job.  Let's share your ideas so we can hear all of the great reasons you had to back up our data.

Partner groups share their ideas (video clip).  We celebrate each idea shared.  When they are sharing I am looking to see that they have filled out their sentence frames completely and that there reason is viable, even if it is not correct.

You have done some really tough stuff today and have learned so much!  You should be very proud of yourselves!  You are truly turning into great scientists!

Now that you have done some really great thinking, I want you to continue by taking a look at our Habitat Essential Questions for our habitat unit.

I pull up the questions on the Smartboard.  We discuss and see if we are getting closer to understanding the main concepts of the unit.

Then we create a double-spread entry in our science journals.  We glue the "Back It Up" paper to the right side of the notebook.  (See finished notebook).