Living (Biotic) and Nonliving (Abiotic)-Parts that Make Up an Ecosystem

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SWBAT distinguish living (biotic) things from nonliving (abiotic) things.

Big Idea

Students will apply their understanding of an ecosystem by creating a poster that displays living (biotic) and nonliving (abiotic) things in an ecosystem.

Lesson Overview

5e Lesson Plan Model

Many of my science lessons are based upon and taught using the 5E lesson plan model: Engage, Explore, Explain, Elaborate, and Evaluate. This lesson plan model allows me to incorporate a variety of learning opportunities and strategies for students.  With multiple learning experiences, students can gain new ideas, demonstrate thinking, draw conclusions, develop critical thinking skills, and interact with peers through discussions and hands-on activities.  With each stage in this lesson model, I select strategies that will serve students best for the concepts and content being delivered to them.  These strategies were selected for this lesson to facilitate peer discussions, participation in a group activity, reflective learning practices, and accountability for learning. 

Unit Focus  

The Ecosystems and Interactions unit focuses on students recognizing the interrelationship between organisms and their ecosystems.  It engages students in understanding that organisms have observable characteristics that are fully inherited and can be affected by the climate and/or environment. Students distinguish structures that define classes of animals and plants, and develop an understanding that all organisms go through predictable life cycles. They learn that organisms depend upon one another for growth and development and discover that plants use the sun's energy to produce food for themselves. They observe how the sun's energy is transferred within a food chain from producers to consumers to decomposers. 

Lesson Synopsis

In this lesson, Living (Biotic) and Nonliving (abiotic) Parts of an Ecosystem, students explore the characteristics of living things by examining a variety of items, some living and some nonliving. After exploring these items, I use a powerpoint to explain six characteristics of living things. As I explain these characteristics, students are creating a foldable as a model to display them. The lesson wraps up with a long term assignment: create a realistic ecosystem poster that displays biotic and abiotic features in that area. They apply what they have been learning in the last two lessons by following a rubric and then writing an analysis about their poster. This is collected and used as a summative assessment on their understanding of an ecosystem.

Next Generation Science Standards  

This lesson will address and support future lessons on the following NGSS Standard(s): 

2-LS4-1. Make observations of plants and animals to compare the diversity of life in different habitats.

5-LS1-1. Support an argument that plants get the materials they need for growth chiefly from air and water.

5-LS2-1. Develop a model to describe the movement of matter among plants, animals, decomposers, and the environment

5-PS3-1. Use models to describe that energy in animals’ food (used for body repair, growth, motion, and to maintain body warmth) was once energy from the sun.  

Why Do I Teach this Lesson and Address This Standard?

I teach the Living (Biotic) and Nonliving (abiotic) Parts of an Ecosystem lesson because many of my students have very limited background in science since the elementary school's within my district do not formally teach science prior to my students entering the 5th grade (the middle school); therefore, they have not been exposed to earlier grade level NGSS standards or other previous state standards pertaining to animals, plants, and ecosystems.  I find it important to expose my students to parts of these earlier standards in order for them to truly develop a thorough understanding of how matter moves among organisms and developing models to describe how animals' food was once energy from the sun in future lessons. Students take part in inquiry based investigations and apply their evidence to explain outcomes and phenomenons. Providing my students the opportunity to practice this type of  learning will help to facilitate their scientific thinking for future investigations in any lesson.

Scientific & Engineering Practices

Students are engaged in the following scientific and engineering Practices 

3.) Planning and Carrying Out an Investigation:  Students investigate several items to identify characteristics that distinguish living things from nonliving things.  They use their data as evidence to explain why it is living thing and/or nonliving thing.

8.) Obtaining, evaluating, and communicating information: Students obtain information about the characteristics of living things by examining six different materials and constructing a foldable that displays this information.  They illustrate their understanding by creating an ecosystem poster that includes living (biotic) and nonliving (abiotic) things.

Crosscutting Concepts

The Living (Biotic) and Nonliving (abiotic) Parts of an Ecosystem  lesson will correlate to other interdisciplinary areas.  These Crosscutting Concepts include:

4.) Systems and Systems Models:  Students identify characteristics of living things that distinguish them from nonliving things that make up an ecosystem and create a poster to model the components that interact with one another in order for that ecosystem thrive.

Disciplinary Core Ideas

Disciplinary Core Ideas within this lesson include:

LS2.A Interdependent Relationships in Ecosystems


Importance of Modeling to Develop Student

Responsibility, Accountability, and Independence 

Depending upon the time of year, this lesson is taught, teachers should consider modeling how groups should work together; establish group norms for activities, class discussions, and partner talks.  In addition, it is important to model think aloud strategies.  This sets up students to be more expressive and develop thinking skills during an activity.  The first half of the year, I model what group work and/or talks “look like and sound like.”  I intervene the moment students are off task with reminders and redirecting.  By the second and last half of the year, I am able to ask students, “Who can give of three reminders for group activities to be successful?” Who can tell us two reminders for partner talks?”  Students take responsibility for becoming successful learners.  Again before teaching this lesson, consider the time of year, it may be necessary to do a lot of front loading to get students to eventually become more independent and transition through the lessons in a timely manner.


7 minutes

I begin by reminding students of our lesson yesterday when we concluded that an ecosystem is made up of living and nonliving things.  I ask students to take out their quick write notebook and write the title, “What does it mean to be alive?" and be ready to write their response. The quick write strategy gives students the opportunity to activate their prior knowledge and reflect on what they already know about being alive.

Using the quick write strategy, I tell the students to write a response to the question" What does it mean to be alive?  While they write, I walk around the room monitoring students and observing their written responses. I notice many writing breathing, eating, and moving. This indicates students prior knowledge of observing an animal.

After they write, I tell students to turn and talk with their elbow partner adhering to turn and talk norms established at the beginning of the year. Meanwhile, I walk around the room listening to student conversations. 

At the end of turn and talk, the class reconvenes as a whole for a discussion. I use the quick pick bucket to call upon several students to share. To keep others as active listeners, I remind students to give a thumbs up if they agree and/or have similarities to the students sharing.  




25 minutes

Preparing to Investigate Biotic and Abiotic Things

After sharing ideas about what it means to be alive, I ask a student to read the standards board aloud to the class: "Today, we will examine a variety of materials and use characteristics to determine if these materials are living or nonliving." I add on saying, "We need to understand that living things have specific characteristics  and knowing these characteristics will help us to distinguish between biotic and abiotic things in an ecosystem."  

I want students to consider the characteristics of living things. In order to get them thinking about these characteristics, I show students the Characteristics of Life video.  I selected this video because it points out characteristics that define living things and examples to support them; however, it then presents nonliving things that could also have these characteristics.  This makes students use their critical thinking skills to determine what it really means to be alive.

Guided Inquiry

After viewing possible characteristics of biotic things, I hand out a matrix chart and instruct students to paste it in the left side of their interactive notebook. Noting that everyone set up their notebook, I move students' attention to the lab rats roles posted on the board and identify their role.  Then I ask lab rats' materials manager to get the buckets that hold the materials (yeast, shell, seeds, mushroom, plant, and soil) they are examining to sort living or nonliving. 

I selected these items because they each have characteristics that may lead students to believe they are biotic or abiotic.  By using the data table with questions, students have to consider characteristics before determining if they are living or nonliving. During the inquiry, I watch students thinking and carefully processing the characteristics about each item.  

Once my students have materials, I review the directions with the whole class to set the expectations and clarify any questions that arise. I direct them to their matrix chart and say, "you are examining each item on the tray. As you examine each one, you need to mark under the question headings: Can it move?  Can it reproduce? Can it eat/obtain energy for growth?  Is it made of cells?  Is it living or nonliving? either a yes or no."

After students determine if the item is living or nonliving, I explain to them that they need to write evidence from their investigation to support and justify their thinking. "Your conclusions should be supported by your observations."

While students are investigating materials, I circulate the room and check in with students.  A common struggle for students is wondering if the item has cells.  Many students are uncertain about it; therefore leaving them to ponder if it is living or nonliving.


25 minutes

Guided Discussion

After examining the items on the tray, I go over each one and ask student volunteers to share what they claimed the item to be: living or nonliving.  As students share, I use the questions: Can it move? Can It move?  Can it reproduce?  Can it move  Can it eat/obtain energy for growth?  Is it made of cells  Is it living or nonliving?... along the way to help them recognize whether or not the item is living or nonliving.  

Noting Characteristics of Living Things

I continue by handing out paper and telling students, "we are creating a foldable to note the characteristics of living things." I instruct students to fold it as I explain each step. Then I display this powerpoint (I found online) to further explain these characteristics of living things.  This powerpoint visually presents the characteristics that distinguish living things from nonliving things.

As I present each slide, I point out details and ask my students to note them in the foldable.  I use the information in this powerpoint to make connections to the materials they examined and in real life. I close up our discussion by summarizing that the characteristics of living things are made up of one or more cells, have the ability to obtain and use energy , grow and develop, reproduce, and respond to their surroundings and move.



8 minutes

To wrap up the concepts presented in the last two lessons, I assign students a poster project. I want them to apply all that they learned about what makes up an ecosystem. Understanding the parts of an ecosystem will help them in later lessons as students learn how living and nonliving parts interact with one another.

Applying What We Learned

I hand out the Ecosystem Poster directions, rubric, and analysis reflection sheet.  I tell them they can create any ecosystem they would like as long as they follow the directions and rubric. I review the directions and expectations with the students and emphasize the importance of using the rubric to create their ecosystem.  After they complete their ecosystem poster, I point out the analysis reflection sheet.  I explain to my students they are using these questions to show their understanding of the biotic and abiotic parts of the ecosystem.

I give my students a week to complete the assignment. With that amount of time, I tell the students that their posters need to show effort, time, and attention to details outlined in the rubric.