Stability of the Forest Ecosystem

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SWBAT describe changes that seasons can have on the forest ecosystem

Big Idea

Any habitat can undergo changes as a result of seasons, natural disasters or the influence of man. These habitats maintain some stability throughout these changes.

Teacher Background

In this lesson students will look at seasonal changes in a forest habitat and the influence of these changes on the inhabitants of the forest. This lesson will support the NGSS crosscutting concept: Stability and change. For natural and built systems alike, conditions of stability and determinants of rates of change or evolution of a system are critical elements of study. 

It would be possible to view diversity in other ways, but choosing the seasonal changes within a single habitat provides students with a clear picture of obvious changes in flora and fauna. It highlights some of the diversity as students quickly see the changes in vegetation and how different animals must adapt to those changes. This leads to an understanding of how different animals survive in a single habitat, and the diversity of their adaptations. 

Students will also revisit the idea of diversity within habitats as they look at how some things stay the same and some change over the course of the year.

 It will be necessary to have a variety of pictures that students can compare to identify things that change and things that stay the same across the different seasons. 

I Can Statement

5 minutes

Today I begin the lesson by pointing out the I Can Statement on the board. It reads, “I can identify similarities and differences in the forest habitat across the seasons.” I ask students to read it to themselves. At this point in the year students no longer need me to read the statement to them. I want them to begin to develop independence as they think about what they will need to do during a given lesson.


I ask, “Can anyone tell me what the word similarities means in that sentence?” I give students a chance to explain the word.

“What do you think you will be doing today now that you have read that sentence?” (I let students answer the question and hope that they will be able to verbalize that they will think about things that are the same or different in the forest during the difference seasons.)


I support their thinking before I give specific directions for today’s activity.

Connection to Literature

15 minutes

I invite students to the rug. I set the scene for what students will be doing by reading a book to them.  I bring out the book “Sky Tree,” by Thomas Locker. This book has excellent paintings that follow a tree through the seasons.  All of the paintings are of the same scene but in different seasons. As I read the book to the students I ask them to notice the differences in the pictures.  This connection will direct student thinking to the differences that habitats may experience in difference seasons. 

Making Comparisons

20 minutes

I explain to students, “today I am going to give each table 4 sets of pictures of seasonal habitats. Each one is of a forest in a different season. I am going to ask you to start with the spring and winter pictures and on your season comparisons recording sheet, write down things that you notice that are the same and things that are different.  After you have recorded all that you can think of, put down the winter picture and compare spring and summer.  You will then compare summer and fall and finally fall and winter.


What kinds of things do you think you might be looking for?” (animals, ground cover, leaves on trees, sources of food or water, etc.) I ask for one student to restate the directions for us. I make sure that everyone is clear about what is expected of them.


Before handing out materials I ask students what they need to remember about working in a small group. Students should refer to our group work chart and remind us of listening to one another, taking turns, making sure everyone helps, talking about disagreements. I spend a couple of minutes reinforcing what students should do if they disagree. I want students to work towards agreement by discussing why they feel that one answer may be better than another.


I hand out the pictures and answer sheets Drawing Conclusions and then circulate around to help groups who may be struggling with working together. One issue that often arises is who will do the recording. In groups that are struggling with this I remind them that there are 4 different pages that they will need to record on. Is there a way for them to make sure that everyone has a turn? (Everyone can do a page,  they can each write one thing and then pass the pencil, etc.)


Sharing Our Findings

20 minutes

I know that to ask every group to share all their findings with the class would take too much time and cause many of the students to stop listening. I do want to hear some of the similarities and differences so we can support the idea that while there are changes in the forest habitat over the course of a year, there are also many things that stay the same.

In order to do this I say, “I want each person in the group to take a different colored marker and circle one similarity or one difference that you want to share with the group. Each person in your group should circle a different thing. I will give you 4 minutes to each pick and circle one thing. “

At the end of 4 minutes I say, “I would like you all to bring your papers and come to the rug and sit with your group. Please be here in 40 seconds.” I count down from 40 as students move to the rug. This helps students arrive quickly and minimizes transition time.


Once the students are assembled on the rug I say, “We are going to go around the circle and each person is going to tell us what he/she found that was the same or different. I will record your ideas on chart paper so we can talk about them later.” I call on each child to share his/her similarity or difference and I record them on the paper.

Drawing Conclusions

5 minutes

“I want you to look at the list we have made, and think about the larger lists that you have in front of you. What do you notice about the forest habitat? Is it always the same? Does it change completely or do some things stay the same?” I let students discuss this. I am hoping that they will realize that while there are many changes to the habitat during the year, there are also many things that stay the same.  I also hope that they grasp that many changes are gradual, such as the leaves on trees, but some are very quick, such as the first snowstorm of the year blanketing the forest with snow.

To address their understanding of the diversity of life in the forest habitat I ask, "do all animals adjust to the changes of the seasons in the same way?" I want to help students to understand the great diversity of life in the forest habitat. Some animals hibernate while others change colors, and still others are forced to forage for food, or to set up stores of food for the winter. 

I ask students to return to their seats and take out their science journals. I say, “I want you to talk about one change in the forest over the year. Tell what the change is and how it affects at least one living thing in the forest. I also want you to talk about how 2 different animals adapt to the changes in the forest habitat over the year. I review these journal pages to assess student understanding of stability and change in the forest habitat.