Biotic and Abiotic Factors

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Students will be able to describe biotic and abiotic factors in an ecosystem

Big Idea

Ecosystems have a natural balance of abiotic and biotic factors. Within a natural system, the transfer of energy drives the cycling of matter.


10 minutes

To start this lesson I present the following video intended to introduce the unit.

After the video ends I distribute a fact first question sheet that asks, "Organisms are a part of their environment which is rich in living and non-living elements that interact with each other in some way. How do organisms interact with the living and non-living elements of their environment?"

Note to teachers: The answers in the "fact first question sheet" provide insight into students' ideas. It helps to draw out student knowledge beyond the recall level as it elicits an answer that requires elaboration. I have paired the question with a Think-Pair-Write, in order to allow students to have an opportunity to share their thinking with a partner, while still holding the accountable for the conversation (SP8).

Most of their answers centered around how organisms benefit from each other and from the abiotic factors (SW1SW2). It will be interesting to see further down this lesson series if they begin to recognize how abiotic factors are modified  by organisms.


10 minutes

I continue the lesson by telling the students that today we will be talking about the living and non-living things present in an environment, and start this slideshow.

The second slide includes definitions for biotic and abiotic factors. When I present slides 3 and 4, I use popsicle sticks to select about five students to name the biotic and abiotic factors in each slide. This exercise is aimed at making sure the students understand the difference between both concepts before going outside for the activity that follows.

Activity - Outside

15 minutes

I have students create a simple T-chart on a piece of binder paper with the headings "Biotic" and "Abiotic". I then explain that we will go outside for 10 minutes. Their job is to recognize and record as many biotic and abiotic factors as they can. These have to be present in this school-yard environment. As an added bonus, I tell them that the student with the most items identified correctly AND who is back in their seat 20 seconds after I blow my whistle, will win 5 patriot bucks (school-wide incentive). 

Once we are clear on the directions and expectations, we head outside on our hunt. During this time, the students are able to move about freely and are gaining experience classifying information.

After 10 minutes of outside time, I gather the students back in the classroom, and ask for a couple of volunteers to share the most surprising biotic or abiotic factor they found. I don't have students share their complete lists because they become very repetitive, however I do have students turn in their lists and go over them afterwards to make sure that the different items were classified correctly.

Activity 2

15 minutes

Once the students are back inside, I continue with the presentation (at slide 7), and have a whole class discussion centering on the questions being shown:

  • If there is no water…can anything grow or survive? Why?
  • If it is extremely cold one winter, will that effect whether an animal makes it to spring? How?

This line of questioning is aimed at getting the students thinking about how biotic and abiotic factors affect each other, and prepares the students for the next activity.

I display slide 8, which tells the students that they will receive a picture, and their job is to work with their table groups to identify at least 3 biotic and 3 abiotic factors in their picture, and to explain how they interact with one another (SP7, SP8).  In order to hold students accountable for the conversation, I distribute the Biotic and Abiotic Factors note-catcher.

The student work (SW1SW2SW3) reveals that they were able to recognize biotic and abiotic factors, but more than that, they also realize that  both interact with one another, and that the health of one impacts the health of the other. Listen in on their discussion and how by simply asking "why" or "what else" provides opportunities for more in-depth reasoning.


5 minutes

To close this lesson, I prepared a set of Quizlet flashcards, and we spend the last few minutes playing "Biotic or Abiotic"