Which Niche?

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SWBAT define and provide examples of an animal niche.

Big Idea

Each animal has a role in its ecosystem, which serves itself and others within its community.


10 minutes

I begin the lesson by asking the students who have ever watched the children's program, Sesame Street. I give them a few minutes to share their favorite Sesame Street clips with their neighbors. (They will do this whether you provide time or not, so it's best to plan 2-3 minutes for them to reminisce.) I explain that one of the video series on Sesame Street, called, "Who are the People in Your Neighborhood?", is designed to teach young children about the many people in a community and how their careers fill roles that help the others around them. I play a few of these videos, allowing the students to sing along and become familiar with the format of the clip.


(For more of these Sesame Street videos, click here.)

Next, I ask students to brainstorm various jobs in the community that were not mentioned in the videos. Once each student has come up with 8-10 jobs, I ask them to generate questions about the specific jobs. I display a few examples to get them started, such as:

  • What does the job do for the community?
  • What other professions or jobs are dependent for the functioning of the job?
  • What special skills are required to perform the job?

I call on volunteers to share some questions and I copy them on the board. Next, I have each student select a job from their list and answer each question from the list generated by students. 

One everyone has answered the question about their chosen job, they do a quick Turn and Talk, sharing what they wrote. After each student has a chance to share, I introduce the term niche by writing it on the board, defining it, and then asking students how it relates to the activity we just completed. I call on a random student to explain the relationship, then choose randomly choose two or three more students to "pile on" (paraphrase) what they just heard from their peers and to elaborate or clarify by adding one more important piece of information. This can be a fact, an example, an analogy, or a connection*.

*If this is the first time you are attempting something like this, you will probably need to provide your own example first and then support with prompting along the way. You can also provide sentence starters for students as a way to provide structure.)


30 minutes

I place my students in groups of 3-4 and have them select an ecosystem (e.g., forest, stream, swamp, etc.). Next, students are tasked with brainstorming a variety of animals (minimum 8-10) that live in that particular ecosystem. I tell them to make sure that the list includes predators, prey, consumers, producers, scavengers, etc. They have already learned about ecosystems and the terminology in past lessons, so this is an easy review for them.

Each student in the group will select two of the animals on their list, identify the niche, and answer the same questions they did about the jobs in their community. This will allow them to see the relationship between  human roles in a career and animal niches in an ecosystem. With some animals, identifying how they contribute to their ecosystem is quite easy. For others, it may require a little research on their part, which is perfectly okay!


10 minutes

Once students have identified the specific niche and answered all of the questions about their 2 animals, they will share their findings with their group members. As a group, they will select 3-4* of their animals, based on which ones they feel they know the most about and whose niche they can best describe. These will be used for further research in the next part of the lesson.

Throughout this activity, I monitor the group discussions and ask questions that force them to evaluate their decisions and justify why they choose the animals they do. Some questions include:

  • Why did you choose this animal?
  • Tell me why you feel you know more about this animal than you do about the ______.
  • Which animal do you think you know the most about? How do you know?
  • What else would you want to know about the ______ in order to choose it?

*I have the students select the same number of animals s there are members in their group. (Ex: If there are 4 members in each group, I have the students select 4 animals.) This ensures that each student has an animal to research further, which holds each member accountable for the learning and creating in the next portion of the lesson.  


10 minutes

Once the students have  selected their animals, it is time to demonstrate their knowledge and prepare to explain it to others. To do this, they will choose from the following projects:

Option 1: Students will view additional Sesame Street videos and will create their own version of the song, "Who are the People in Your Neighborhood?", using the music provided here. Their song should describe a specific ecological niche, highlighting roles, skills, advantages, and importance of the niche for the animals they have chosen. I provide lyrics and examples so that they have a model of appropriate rhyme pattern, rhythm and overall structure for their songs.

Option 2: Students will view several help wanted advertisements (below) and will develop advertisements for recruiting animals to a certain ecological niche, highlighting roles, skills, advantages, and importance of the niche for the animals they have chosen.



5 minutes

Students present their work to their classmates. Those who wrote help wanted ads will project their ad under the doc cam and will address questions from their peers. Those who wrote songs will preform them for the class. All students will be assessed based on the rubric provided.