Plaid Pete's Life Is On The Rocks

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SWBAT identify the biotic and abiotic components of a given ecosystem.

Big Idea

What is an ecosystem? What are the important components that make up an ecosystem? Plaid Pete has a big project coming up, and students will research and plan right alongside him - to construct a model ecosystem.

Setting Up the Investigation

Connection to The Next Generation Science Standards

In this investigation, students begin the work that will lead them to explore the Disciplinary Core Idea of Ecosystems:  Interactions, Energy, and Dynamics -  that food of almost any kind of animal can be traced back to plants.  Organisms are related in food webs in which some animals eat plants for food and other animals eat the animals that eat plants. Some organisms, such as fungi and bacteria, break down dead organisms (both plants or plants parts and animals) and therefore operate as "decomposers."  Decomposition eventually restores (recycles) some materials back to the soil.  Organisms can survive only in environments in which their particular needs are met.  A healthy ecosystem is one in which multiple species of different types are each able to meet their needs in a a relatively stable web of life.  Newly introduced species can damage the balance of the ecosystem. (5-LS2-1) and the Crosscutting Concept of Systems and System Models  - A system can be described in terms of its components and their interactions (5-LS2-1).

Please Note:  The Lexile Level for Plaid Pete Discovers What Matters in Ecosystems - Lab Scenario Sheet Lesson 4 is 860 (5th Grade Range is 740 - 1010).

The Preparation Time for This Investigation is approximately 15 minutes.

Materials Needed:

One copy for each student of Plaid Pete Discovers What Matters In Ecosystems Lab Scenario Sheet - Lesson 4

One copy for each student of Plaid Pete Discovers What Matters In Ecosystems Lab Sheet - Lesson 4

One set of

Plaid Pete Discovers What Matters In Ecosystems Word Wall Cards - Lesson 4

One paper copy for each student of Plaid Pete Discovers What Matters In Ecosystems Word Wall Cards - Lesson 4

One copy for each student of Plaid Pete Discovers What Matters In Ecosystems - Vocabulary Lesson 4 (Crossword Puzzle for review a day or two after the lesson)

One color copy for each team of Plaid Pete Discovers What Matters In Ecosystems - Ecosystem Observation Charts - Lesson 4

Focus & Motivation

10 minutes

Introduce the Scenario

I tell my students, "Now that we have a good grasp on what is living, not-living, and dead - we are all set to help Plaid Pete with a very important project!"

I pass out the Plaid Pete Discovers What Matters In Ecosystems Lab Scenario Sheet - Lesson 4 and my students get out their highlighters.  I tell them there are 3 reader's theater parts, Plaid Pete, Mr. Parker (his father), and a narrator.  They get busy deciding who will read the parts in their teams. 

Students Read the Scenario in their Teams

As students read the scenario, I am listening and noticing that they are adding so much more expression than they did at the beginning of the year.  I am thinking I will be adding a mini-lesson or two in Reader's Workshop in the coming days on phrasing, and how "chunking" the words to make them sound the way people talk helps us to comprehend what we are reading so much better.  After students finish reading the scenario, I say, "Wow that sounds like a pretty long list of things to learn that Plaid Pete has for us.  I am betting that we can do it though.  We certainly don't want to have this kind of face."  I project a picture of the Fremont Troll.  I share just a bit of information about it.  I also share this clip from the Seattle Parks and Recreation Department about the Troll's Knoll Park's proposed design.  I tell my students that if we are to assist Plaid Pete with this task, and of course - build our own model ecosystem, we had better get busy because we have a lot to learn!

They are pretty excited about the building their own ecosystems part, and I have to field a few questions before I can share the lesson objectives.  Yes, we are going to build an ecosystem.  And no, it won't be tomorrow; it will be towards the end of the unit when we have enough information to do so successfully.

Learning Objective & Success Criteria

Note:  Consistent with the Sheltered Instruction Observation Protocol, I am now including a language objective with each lesson.  These objectives were derived from the Washington State ELP Standards Frameworks that are correlated with the CCSS and the NGSS.

I share the learning objective and success criteria:  

Learning Objective:  I can identify the biotic and abiotic components of a given ecosystem.

Language Objective:  I can use a strategy to construct meaning and summarize informational text.  [ELP.4-5.1]

Success Criteria:  I can correctly complete my lab sheet.

Vocabulary Instruction

10 minutes

Consistent with the 5E Model for Science Instruction, I will usually provide a hands-on opportunity before introducing vocabulary.  However, in this particular instance students will need these words in order to adequately benefit from this lesson.

Introduce Vocabulary

I present the words from the Plaid Pete Discovers What Matters In Ecosystems Word Wall Cards - Lesson 4 using the following instructional routine (warning:  student recorded video - might make you woozy!):

  1. Say the word to students.
  2. Ask students to repeat the word at least 5 times.  For example, I will say, "Say it to the window.  Say it to my hand.  Say it to the door.  Say it to the ceiling."
  3. I say the word in context.  For example, I will say, " The position the plants were placed in was one of the controlled variables in the video."  
  4. I will then randomly call on a student to use the word in a sentence, giving successive prompts to assist them, if needed.

Science Notebooks

I use the following routine to have students write these words into their Science Notebooks:

After introducing the words, I demonstrate for students how to make a three column table with rows for each of the eight vocabulary words.  I model for them in my own Science Notebook how to write the word in the first box, a non-linguistic (e.g. picture) representation of the word in the second box, and work with the class to generate an example sentence for the first word in the third box. Students cut out their copies of the cards and place in the envelope, which they glue on the page behind their table.  They will finish sentences for the remaining seven words either for homework, or for seat-work later.  A completed notebook will look like this Example  Science Notebooks are also a great place to look for student misconceptions.  In the Example, this student has written a vocabulary sentence that reveals a misconception about soil.  This is one that I hadn't thought to address - now I know!

Guided Exploration

15 minutes

Introduce Observation Charts

I project the Plaid Pete Discovers What Matters In Ecosystems - Ecosystem Observation Charts - Lesson 4  I have the color copies that I have prepared for each team, and I hand those out.  I also pass out the student copies of Plaid Pete Discovers What Matters In Ecosystems Lab Sheet - Lesson 4

I read the headings on the graphic organizer on the lab sheet, reviewing the vocabulary terms biotic, and abiotic.  I write the definitions on the board as I review them.  I know that I have a few students who will need this extra visual support.

I tell my students, "I want you to use your best observation skills to look carefully at these pictures.  See if you can correctly identify all of the biotic and abiotic components of each of these two kinds of ecosystems.  You will notice that the first ecosystem - aquatic, means "water."  This is an ecosystem that is based around some body of water.  The other ecosystem is a terrestrial, or "land" ecosystem.  Look at the pictures carefully;talk in your teams; and see how many of these factors you can picture.  Oh - and if you have evidence of some that you can "infer" you may do so."  My students know that they must infer with evidence.  In this Video Clip, I am prompting a student to infer using her background knowledge as evidence.

Listening for Common Misconceptions

As teams are working, I circulate between them, listening in on their discussions.  In this first exposure to ecosystems, I am listening to see if students recognize the large variety of biotic and abiotic factors that comprise an ecosystem.  I know from previous groups of students that as we move into discussions about the complex relationships between the factors in an ecosystem, students at this age and stage will have some common misconceptions that will need to be addressed.  These include:

  • A simplistic understanding of food chains - rather than an understanding of food webs as complex systems of interdependent relationships.
  • The tendency to omit plants from food chains - demonstrating a lack of understanding of the dependence of humans on plants.
  • Ecosystems just include the organisms themselves, rather than that they are a complex interaction between organisms, and between organisms and their physical environment.
  • Organisms co-exist because they need to get along, demonstrating that they do not see that organisms complete for resources, provide limiting factors, and ultimately live in the same ecosystem because of similar adaptations and environmental needs.
  • Plants have no defense systems, demonstrating that they do not see that things like thorns, sap, and poisonous chemicals are a defense.
  • Plant matter comes mostly from the soil, rather than plant matter comes from air and water.
  • Finally - most of my students will give little thought to the idea of how energy is transferred through an ecosystem - thinking that when a plant or animal is eaten, the energy just "goes away."


After my students have worked for a bit.  I tell them, "I have some information that I would like you to listen to.  I want to make sure that you have identified all of the factors that you can reasonably see and infer.  Let's take a look."

 Play Video & Revise

I play the Scholastic StudyJams Ecosystems Video.  When it is finished, I ask my students to go back to their sheets and revise them.  Did the video spark any new learning for them?  

 Class Discussion & Share

I call on my teams and ask them to share out the lists they have created.  I am pleased, as most students have been able to apply our previous lessons on living vs. non-living to complete this assignment, as seen in this Student Notebook Example.  We have an animated discussion of the biotic and abiotic factors that they have discovered.  One of the factors that creates a bit of discussion is sunlight.  Some students agree that we can reasonably infer that sunlight is an abiotic factor, others do not.  I tell students that we can leave that one, as I have one more activity that might prove helpful for them.


20 minutes

Introduce Text & Close Reading Strategy

I tell my students that I have a short piece of text on Ecosystems that we will read today.  In order to understand it, we are going to use a specific close reading strategy that is especially useful for complex text.  

I pass out the Ecosystems Comprehension Sheet from  I tell my students to get out their highlighters and pencils. I display the chart on which I have posted this close reading strategy:

Close Reading Strategy For Complex Text

  1. Read the text through once quietly to yourself to get a general idea of the information presented.
  2. "Chunk" the text one paragraph at a time. 
  3. Identify important words and define them.  Look for context clues.
  4. Write the "gist" or summarize the main ideas of the paragraph in the margins.

(I explain that "chunk" means to read it one paragraph at a time - parse the text into a smaller chunk or section).

Close Reading of Informational Text

First Paragraph

I read the first paragraph and ask them to go back and highlight the definition of the word "ecosystems" that was found in the first paragraph.  I call on a student to ask what they have highlighted.  They correctly state:  "all the things that interact within a specific area, whether they are living, or non-living."

I tell my students to turn and talk in their teams, and to formulate a sentence that describes the "gist", or the most important information in this first paragraph.  I call on a team. and work with a student to construct the following gist statement, "Ecosystems - group of living and non-living things that depend on each other."  (as seen in this Video Clip 1) We write that statement in the margin of the text.  

Second Paragraph

We read through the second paragraph.  I define the word "thrive" for my students (to grow or develop well; to prosper, or flourish).  I show them how to write the definition directly in the text.  I ask them to highlight the sentence in the second paragraph where they first see that word.  I call on a student to read that sentence, and they correctly state:  "These conditions determine what kinds of living things will be able to thrive there."  I ask my students, "What "conditions" is the author talking about?  Turn and talk in your teams  and see if you can answer that question.  I call on a student to answer and they correctly reply, "The conditions created by the non-living things."  

I ask, "What are the non-living, or abiotic things, or factors in an ecosystem that the text lists?  I tell my students to find those things in the text, and to turn and talk about them in their teams.  When they have had a few moments to do this, I tell them to highlight those items.  I call on a team randomly to state which items have been highlighted.  They correctly state:  light, air, soil, and water.  I have them label these directly in the text as "abiotic (non-living) factors.  

I then point out the word "organism" and call attention to the fact that it is in bold print, or bold face.  I tell my students to highlight it.  I tell them, "Turn and talk in your teams and locate the definition of "organisms" in the text, and highlight it."  I call on a team to share what they have highlighted, and they correctly respond, "Living things. . . plants and animals."  I have them label this - "biotic (living) factors."

I again ask my students to turn and talk in their teams, and formulate a sentence that gives the "gist" of this paragraph.  I call on a team and they respond, "The living things in an ecosystem are dependent on the non-living things for their survival."  I prompt this student to replace living and non-living with the scientific terms, biotic, and abiotic.  The student restates the sentence and we write it in the margins.

Third Paragraph

We read the third paragraph together.  I state, "There is another bold print word that the author wants us to pay attention to, please locate this word in your teams and highlight it and its definition."  I call on one of my teams to report out, and they correctly state that the bolded word was "community" and the definition in the text was "all the living things in an ecosystem."  

I tell my students, "There is another important term and definition that this author wants us to understand, that is given in this paragraph.  Work in your teams and see if you can find the term and the definition."  I call on one of my teams and they correctly state:  "population" and the definition from the text is:  "All of one specific kind of organism living in a community."

We discuss the examples given in the text, and generate a few more of our own.  Students then work in their teams to create a "gist" statement.  We share out and choose one to annotate in the text - "Different populations exist inside larger communities."

Fourth Paragraph

I remind my students that we previously learned about the 7 important life processes that are necessary for all living things.  I tell them that they can use the acronym MRS. GREN to help them remember these 7 life processes (Movement, Respiration, Sensitivity, Growth,Reproduction, Excretion, Nutrition.  I ask them to work in their teams and correctly label the examples given with the names of one of the 7 processes.  I give them a few minutes to work on this task and call on a few teams.  They correctly answer:  "take in nutrients" =Nutrition; "use energy to grow and develop" Grow; "release energy by doing work and moving" Respiration; "react to things in their environment" Sensitivity; and "reproduce, producing offspring, or babies. . . " = Reproduction.  Students work in their teams to create a "gist" statement for this paragraph, share out that information, and annotate the text.  They write, "All living things have 7 characteristics - Mrs. Gren).  

I tell my students, "This is a strategy you can use whenever you have complex text and need to read it carefully to ensure that you understand all of the complicated ideas that are presented."  

This is a completed Student Notebook Example with "gist" statements. 

Reflection & Closure

10 minutes

Complete Questions on Ecosystems Sheet

Now that my students have had the opportunity to closely read this piece of text, I am confident they can successfully navigate it.  I ask my students to work together in their teams to answer the questions on the right side of the sheet.  I want them to work together so that they are discussing and talking about these ideas.  When they are finished, I ask them a question, as shown in this Video Clip 1.   

I also ask my students if they found anything surprising in what they have read.  This is always a good question to ask students, as they will often reveal misconceptions that they have held.  In this Video Clip 2 one student reveals her misconception that all bacteria are harmful, and another student reveals a misconception that temperature is a biotic factor of ecosystems.  These will come up again, and now I will have a "touchstone" so that I can refer back and say, "Remember when . . .?"

Assess Lesson Objective

Tomorrow for my "Do-Now" activity when students first come in, I will hand out the Plaid Pete is Perplexed! - Lesson 4 Check - Up.  This will assist me in determining which students have met the lesson objective, and which students I need to pull aside for reteaching.

A few days after this lesson, I will give each student a copy of Plaid Pete Discovers What Matters In Ecosystems - Vocabulary Lesson 4 This crossword puzzle will give them necessary repeated practice in these new vocabulary terms.