Biosphere: The Earth's Biomes Day 1

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SWBAT use a map to describe the biomes within the biosphere and explain how the Earth's systems can impact the biomes on Earth.

Big Idea

In this lesson, students explore the major biomes on Earth by labeling a world map and by examining how the Earth's systems affect the biomes on Earth.

Lesson Overview

Inquiry Based Instructional Model

To intertwine scientific knowledge and practices and to empower students to learn through exploration, it is essential for scientific inquiry to be embedded in science education. While there are many types of inquiry-based models, one model that I've grown to appreciate and use is called the FERA Learning Cycle, developed by the National Science Resources Center (NSRC):

1. Focus

2. Explore

3. Reflect

4. Apply

A framework for implementation can be found here

I absolutely love how the Center for Inquiry Science at the Institute for Systems Biology explains that this is "not a locked-step method" but "rather a cyclical process," meaning that some lessons may start off at the focus phase while others may begin at the explore phase. 

Finally, an amazing article found at, How Inquiry-Based Learning Works with STEM, very clearly outlines how inquiry based learning "paves the way for effective learning in science" and supports College and Career Readiness, particularly in the area of STEM career choices. 

Unit Explanation

In this unit, students will study each of Earth's major systems: biosphere, geosphere, hydrosphere, and atmosphere. In addition, students will investigate how these systems interact in multiple ways to affect Earth's materials and processes by conducting research, constructing graphs, creating models, carrying out scientific investigations, and analyzing real-world applications. 

Summary of Lesson

Today, I open the lesson by showing students a graph that compares the temperature and precipitation in each of the major biomes on Earth. The class then explores each of the major biomes by labeling a world map. At the end of the lesson, students reflect and apply their new understanding of the biosphere by examining how the Earth's systems affect the biomes on Earth.

Next Generation Science Standards  

This lesson will support the following NGSS Standard(s):'

5-ESS2-1. Develop a model using an example to describe ways the geosphere, biosphere, hydrosphere, and/or atmosphere interact.  

Scientific & Engineering Practices

For this lesson, students are engaged in Science & Engineering Practice:

Science & Engineering Practice 2: Developing and Using Models

Students use a world map as a model for making sense of the biomes on Earth. 

Crosscutting Concepts

To relate ideas across disciplinary content, during this lesson I focus on the following Crosscutting Concept

Crosscutting Concept 1: Patterns 

Students organize and classify information on the Earth's biomes by analyzing the relationship between biome location, the equator, and temperatures on Earth. 

Disciplinary Core Ideas

In addition, this lesson also aligns with the following Disciplinary Core Ideas

ESS2.A:  Earth Materials and Systems

Earth’s major systems are the geosphere (solid and molten rock, soil, and sediments), the hydrosphere (water and ice), the atmosphere (air), and the biosphere (living things, including humans). These systems interact in multiple ways to affect Earth’s surface materials and processes. The ocean supports a variety of ecosystems and organisms, shapes landforms, and influences climate. Winds and clouds in the atmosphere interact with the landforms to determine patterns of weather. (5-ESS2-1)

Choosing Science Teams

With science, it is often difficult to find a balance between providing students with as many hands-on experiences as possible, having plenty of science materials, and offering students a collaborative setting to solve problems. Any time groups have four or more students, the opportunities for individual students to speak and take part in the exploration process decreases. With groups of two, I often struggle to find enough science materials to go around. So this year, I chose to place students in teams of two or three! Picking science teams is always easy as I already have students placed in desk groups based upon behavior, abilities, and communication skills. Each desk group has about six kids, so I simply divide this larger group in half or thirds. 

Gathering Supplies & Assigning Roles

To encourage a smooth running classroom, I ask students to decide who is a 1, 2, or 3 in their groups of three students (without talking). In no time, each student has a number in the air. I'll then ask the "threes" to get certain supplies, "ones" to grab their computers, and "twos" to hand out papers (or whatever is needed for the lesson). This management strategy has proven to be effective when cleaning up and returning supplies as well!  


10 minutes

Teacher Note

When planning this unit, I found that NGSS standard, 5-ESS2-1 was quite complex: Develop a model using an example to describe ways the geosphere, biosphere, hydrosphere, and/or atmosphere interact. In past years, I would have taught an entire unit on just one of the spheres. 

Therefore, constructing lessons that would provide students with an in-depth understanding of all four systems within a single unit was the main objective. For this reason, I chose to use teacher anchor charts throughout the unit to immediately provide students with background knowledge on each of the spheres. This way, students could then build upon this knowledge base as they explored each sphere further (and deeper) on their own. The posters remained up throughout the unit so that students could continually refer to and apply their knowledge of the spheres when studying real-world applications later on. 

For today's lesson, we will create a classroom anchor chart to introduce the biomes on Earth. Tomorrow, students will expand their understanding of biomes by completing their own research. 

Lesson Introduction & Goal 

Referring to the Earth Systems Poster from yesterday's lesson, I ask students to turn and talk: Please explain the four major Earth systems using examples. I then ask students to share examples out loud. One student says, "The ocean is part of the hydrosphere because the hydrosphere includes all the water on Earth." Other students share examples of the geosphere, atmosphere, and biosphere. 

I introduce today's learning goal: I can use a map to describe the biomes within the biosphere and explain how the Earth's systems can impact the biomes on Earth. I explain: Now that you know about the four major systems on Earth, we are going to delve into a deeper study of each one. Today, we are going to be discussing the biomes within the biosphere.  

Biomes Graph

I project the following graph, comparing the temperature and precipitation of biomes on Earth. To support Science & Engineering Practice 4 (Analyzing and interpreting data), I ask students to look closely at the graph. What do you notice?

Student Observations

By showing the above graph, I am hoping students will begin to see that biomes are defined by the annual precipitation and temperature. Here, Student Observations 1, a student makes a connection between the precipitation and the tropical rainforest. Then, this student, Student Observations 2 determines that the subtropical desert doesn't have much precipitation because of the temperature. Looking back on this comment, I wish I would have called attention to the rainforest, which has a warm climate, similar to a desert, but receives high amounts of precipitation. Finally, this student, Student Observations 3, shares that the tundra is cold and dry. To encourage students to apply their observations to their own lives, I ask them to turn and talk: Would you like to live in the tundra? 


I want to inspire interest in today's lesson and capitalize on student curiosity, so I show the following introductory video on biomes. Students LOVE motivational videos such as this! Later, we'll watch this video again and students will identify the different biomes featured in the clip.

Teacher Note: Prior to this lesson, my students studied terrestrial & aquatic ecosystems, the needs of pants & animals, and food chains & webs. Most student are also familiar with biomes (such as the desert or rainforest). Consequently, they have a lot of background knowledge for today's topic, are engaged, and ready to learn even more! Looking back on this lesson, it may be helpful to specifically define three vocabulary words in this section of the lesson. After searching several sites, I liked the student-friendly definitions found at these links: Source 1 and Source 2.  

  • habitat: a special place where a plant or animal lives (Examples: lake, forest, burrow, drop of water)
  • ecosystem: a community of living organisms in a habitat interacting with the non-living world around them (Example: the plants, animals, rocks, soil, and water interacting with each other in a forest)
  • biome: a large ecosystem, or area on Earth, that has a similar climate, animals, and plants (Examples: desert, tropical rainforest, tundra) 



60 minutes

Getting Ready

Prior to the lesson, I project and trace this World Map Template onto a large sheet of bulletin board paper. This will be the template for our class biome poster. Here's what the poster will look like at the end of this time: Completed Biome Map .

I also enlarge the World Map Template to fit on 11 x 17 paper so that each student can create their own Biome Poster during this time as well. 

Both the students and I get out an array of markers to help color-code each of the major biomes on Earth. We take the time to label the seven continents in black before discussing biomes. 


We begin by discussing Biome Facts. I explain and take notes on the poster at the same time. Students take notes on their own posters while providing input and connections. 

There are two types of biomes on Earth: (1) aquatic biomes and (2) terrestrial biomes. Turn and talk: What's the difference between aquatic and terrestrial biomes? Students remember from our recent Ecosystems Unit that aquatic means water and terrestrial means land. We then discuss that aquatic biomes can either be marine (such as the salty ocean) or freshwater environments (not salty water).

Today, we are going to focus on the terrestrial biomes on Earth. Turn and talk: What do you think biome means? After some time, one student says, "Well, we know that bio means life, so is a biome an area where there's life?" I explain: A biome is a large ecosystem on the Earth's surface where there are similar plants, animals, precipitation, temperature, and altitude. What do you think altitude means? (elevation) 

One student raises his hand and says, "Oh, so a biome has to be on the Earth's surface, like above the ground." I love hearing this comment as it shows that he is thinking! I then clarify: Biomes can be located below sea level as well, such as an ocean biome. However, biomes are not able to exist deep below the Earth's surface due to extreme heat and pressure. 

The Equator

Next, we draw and label the equator (Drawing the Equator) and I encourage students to examine why the Earth is warmer at the equator than at the poles. This is an important part to understanding the placement of warmer and colder biomes on Earth. We discuss and take key notes on the Equator: The land at the equator warms up more than at the poles because it receives more sunshine (directly) than the poles due to the curving surface at the poles. (Due to the angle, the sun's rays have to travel through more atmosphere at the poles and less atmosphere at the equator.) 

To add on to this idea, we label the average annual Temperature Ranges on Earth. This helps students truly understand how the biomes closer to the equator are warmer than the biomes further away from the equator.

Biome Pictures

To prepare for this lesson, I printed a picture of each biome: Biome Pictures. This way, as we discuss each of the biomes, students can picture what the biome actually looks like! 


To build upon student understanding of the equator and Earth's temperatures, students explore the biomes closest to the equator first. The desert is a great biome to start with as this is one of the biomes that students are most familiar with. Using a red marker, I write "Desert Biome" on the poster (Desert Biome) and explain as students take notes on their own posters.

Here's what's important to know about the Desert Biome. First of all, as you found out by looking at the graph, it is the driest biome. I show students a picture of the desert biome and tape on the poster.

What's interesting about deserts is that they can be hot or cold. (This is a challenging concept that I didn't explain thoroughly due to time constraints! Here's a link for more information on hot and cold deserts.) Some deserts in the world actually have a winter season when they have snow! These are called cold deserts.

How about the plants and animals? Do you think there are a lot of plants and animals in the desert biome? Turn and Talk! After some time, students decide that there's very little life in deserts due to the extreme heat and low precipitation. We take note of this on our posters.

Labeling the Climates

After discussing the desert (and each of the other biomes), the students and I label the location of the biome using the corresponding color (red marker for desert) and the first letter(s) of the biome (D for desert): Labeling Biomes with Letters. It's great for students to witness the map filling up with more and more letters/biome labels. This corresponds with building layers of knowledge and understanding. 

Other Biomes

In a similar manner, the students and I discuss each of the other major biomes by taking notes, showing a picture, and labeling the biome on the map with a letter or letters. To balance teacher talk with student talk, I continually ask students to turn and talk about each of the biomes. 

Savanna Biome Notes: Savana Biome

-warm year-round, two seasons: wet & dry 
-animals must migrate to find water
-wide, open spaces, grasslands, dotted with trees
-herds of herbivores (giraffes, elephants)
-predators (lions, hyenas)

Tropical Rainforest: Tropical Rainforest Biome
-very wet – up to 180 in. annually
-once: 14 percent of Earth’s land (now 6%)
-very wet & warm
-more plant and animal species than other biome
-located next to the equator
-vine snakes, lizards, frogs, chimpanzees
Temperate Deciduous Forest: Temperate Deciduous Forest Biome
-mostly deciduous trees – trees that lose their leaves
-fertile soil (decaying leaves)
-can support a variety of plants & animals
-experiences all 4 seasons
-deer, squirrels, rabbits
Grassland: Grassland Biome
-high grasses & wildflowers
-summers = very hot, winters = very cold
-threat: wildfires – dry grasses
-“breadbasket of America” – rich soil is used for crops
-bison, prairie dogs, antelope
Taiga (Coniferous Forest): Taiga Biome
-coniferous (cone-bearing trees with needles)
-soil = not very fertile
-moose, rabbits,
Tundra: Tundra Biome
-subsoil = remains frozen all the time (permafrost)
-mostly dry climate
-pools of water form in the summer & some soil is exposed
-animals – Polar Bear- (thick fur), plants (small shrubs & lichen)
Ice Sheet & Polar IceIce Sheet & Polar Ice Biome
-covered with ice
-can be over land (South Pole) or over water (North Pole)
-polar regions = get less energy from the sun
-ice can grow or shrink
-about 90% of the world’s freshwater is in the Antarctica ice sheet
-penguins & polar bears live on the ice
-no exposed soil – hard for plants to take root

Mountain Biome

We also take a moment to discuss mountain biomes in the world, such as the Rocky Mountains, Himalayas, and the Andes. We actually ran out of time during this lesson to explain this biome further. However, I decide that this is okay as it isn't one of the major Earth biomes. 

Student Work

At the end of this lesson, students are very proud of their posters and notes. Here are a few examples.

Reflect & Apply

20 minutes

Sharing Findings

Now that students have built meaning and understanding by observing, questioning, and exploring, it is important to provide students with the opportunity to share their findings. For this reason, I invite students to observe how the spheres interact and impact the biomes on Earth.

Teacher Note: This activity supports NGSS standard, 5-ESS2-1: Develop a model using an example to describe ways the geosphere, biosphere, hydrosphere, and/or atmosphere interact

Google Documents

Each of my students has a google email account, so sharing documents that can be edited by students is quick and easy! At this time, I share the document, Biomes & Spheres Response (in Google Documents). At this time, students grab their laptop computers from the cart and copy the document to make it their own editable version.

Modeling Expectations

Now that you have learned more about the biosphere (life on Earth), by studying different biomes, we are going to examine at how the spheres interact and impact the biomes on Earth. 

To get students started, I ask: Can anyone explain how the geosphere might impact the biomes on Earth? One student says, "Well, the ground has mineral nutrients that plants need to grow. Another student adds, "Yeah, and some biomes have more nutrients than others." Now, students were ready to continue working with their partners. 

In groups of two, students complete this response by discussing each of the spheres and typing their own observation pages.

Monitoring Student Understanding

Once students begin working, I conference with every group. My goal is to support students by asking guiding questions (listed below). I also want to encourage students to engage in Science & Engineering Practice 7: Engaging in Argument from Evidence

  1. What have you noticed? 
  2. Why do you suppose ____? 
  3. What have you found so far? 
  4. Has your thinking changed? 
  5. What evidence do you have? 
  6. How did you decide _____?
  7. What conclusion can you draw about ____?
  8. How is the ______ (sphere) connected to the _____ (sphere)?



During this conference, Conferencing with a Group, the students explain how the geosphere provides mineral nutrients for plants to grow. I refer to one of our anchor charts to further develop their understanding of soil composition: water (hydrosphere), air (atmosphere), mineral nutrients (geosphere), and organic material (biosphere). The students then explain how the hydrosphere impacts biosphere due to particular plant and animal needs. 

Student Work

Here are a few examples of student work during this time: