Ecosystems- An Introduction

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SWBAT define what makes up an ecosystem and what the different types of ecosystems there are.

Big Idea

An ecosystem includes many components and is made up of living things. Studying ecosystems allows students to see how energy also moves through it.

Lesson Overview- 5 E Lesson Planning

5 minutes

Unit 4: Ecosystems

Lesson 1:Ecosystems- An Introduction

5E Lesson Planning:

I plan most of my science lessons using the BSCS 5E Lesson Model: Engage, Explore, Explain, Elaborate, and Evaluate.For a quick overview of the model, take a look at this video.

I use this lesson model because it peaks the students' interest in the beginning during the "Engage" portion and allows for the students to actively participate in the investigations throughout the subsequent steps. The “Evaluate” component of the 5E Lesson Model can be used in many ways by the teacher and by the students.

A great resource for lesson plan frameworks and explanations is the Community Resources for Science. The 5E Lesson Planning sheet and 5E Lesson Prompts come from this website. 

Unit Overview:

In this Unit students will learn about ecosystems and the transfer of energy through ecosystems. The lessons in the unit are primarily based on our local ecosystem- the Santa Monica Mountains. This area is known as a Mediterranean Ecosystem or Biome and we will learn about the plants, animals, climate, and human impacts on this area. 

Lesson Overview:

In this lesson, students will read an informational article to introduce them to the Mediterranean Ecosystem which is the focus of study for this unit since it is our local ecological area.


  • Copy of article for each student
  • Pencil 
  • Copy of notetaking sheet for each student

Next Generation Science Standards:

The NGSS standards that will be covered in this unit/ lesson are:

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.

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.

Disciplinary Core Ideas:  This lesson aligns to the Disciplinary Core Ideas of

PS3.D: Energy in Chemical Processes and Everyday Life  The energy released [from] food was once energy from the sun that was captured by plants in the chemical process that forms plant matter (from air and water). (5-PS3-1)

LS1.C: Organization for Matter and Energy Flow in Organisms  Food provides animals with the materials they need for body repair and growth and the energy they need to maintain body warmth and for motion. (secondary to 5-PS3-1)  Plants acquire their material for growth chiefly from air and water. (5-LS1-1)

LS2.A: Interdependent Relationships in Ecosystems  The food of almost any kind of animal can be traced back to plants. Organisms are related in food webs in which some animals eat plants for food and other animals eat the animals that eat plants. Some organisms, such as fungi and bacteria, break down dead organisms (both plants or plants parts and animals) and therefore operate as “decomposers.” Decomposition eventually restores (recycles) some materials back to the soil. Organisms can survive only in environments in which their particular needs are met. A healthy ecosystem is one in which multiple species of different types are each able to meet their needs in a relatively stable web of life. Newly introduced species can damage the balance of an ecosystem. (5-LS2-1)

LS2.B: Cycles of Matter and Energy Transfer in Ecosystems  Matter cycles between the air and soil and among plants, animals, and microbes as these organisms live and die. Organisms obtain gases, and water, from the environment, and release waste matter (gas, liquid, or solid) back into the environment. (5-LS2-1)

Crosscutting Concepts:

Systems and System Models  

  • A system can be described in terms of its components and their interactions. (5-LS2- 1)

Energy and Matter  

  • Matter is transported into, out of, and within systems. (5-LS1-1)  

  • Energy can be transferred in various ways and between objects. (5-PS3-1)

Science & Engineering Practices:

Developing and Using Models:

Modeling in 3–5 builds on K–2 experiences and progresses to building and revising simple models and using models to represent events and design solutions.  Use models to describe phenomena. (5-PS3-1)  Develop a model to describe phenomena. (5-LS2-1)

Engaging in Argument from Evidence

Engaging in argument from evidence in 3–5 builds on K– 2 experiences and progresses to critiquing the scientific explanations or solutions proposed by peers by citing relevant evidence about the natural and designed world(s).  Support an argument with evidence, data, or a model. (5-LS1-1)



10 minutes

I  ask the students to write about what they think an ecosystem is in their Science Notebooks. Most of them have studied these concepts in fourth grade, so they have a pretty good understanding of what an ecosystem is.

Ecosystem Student Notes

Ecosystem Student Notes #2

I ask a few students to tell me what their definition is an I write a few of their responses on the board. I remind the students about our previous activities involving Food Chains and Food Webs and how they are part of the structure of the Biosphere. I also remind them of our lesson about Biomes. 

I tell the students that a biome is different from an ecosystem. An ecosystem is the "interaction of living and nonliving things in an environment". A biome is a specific geographic area notable for the species living there. A biome can be made up of many ecosystems. For example, an aquatic biome can contain ecosystems such as coral reefs and kelp forests.

Students should have a clear understanding of an ecosystem (‘eco’ = home, habitat; ‘system’ = parts working together). They should be able to identify the living and nonliving factors in the ecosystem and label a food chain according to producers, consumers (primary, secondary, tertiary, etc.), and decomposers. The students should fully understand the importance of balance in an ecosystem.


30 minutes

We then discuss the ecosystem that we live in and what components make up this environment. I tell the students that we live in a Mediterranean Ecosystem and that there are only a few places on Earth that have a similar climate as we do. (4 other locations) I tell the students that the main components of an ecosystem are climate, living organisms, and non-living organisms.

I have the students read this article and have them write notes and do annotation on the article. It's a short informative piece that explains the Mediterranean Ecosystem.  The website I found this article from does require a log-in and it offers a 30 day free trial ( and although it is mainly a geography site, it has some great information on ecosystems and animals.

I then give them a Ecosystems Notetaking Sheet for them to write down important facts from the ariicle that's divided into 4 sections: Climate, Flora (plants), Fauna (animals), and non-living (Geology or fire). I tell the students that they need to take notes on all 4 parts of the Ecosystem and that they will then connect these notes to the other lessons we will doing in this unit. Here are some student samples of the notes:

Ecosystem Notes #1

Ecosystem Notes #2

Ecosystem Notes #3

I also tell them to answer the 2 questions on the back of the sheet to show that they understood the article and took thorough notes.

To add more information to their learning about the Mediterranean Ecosystem, I have the students watch the following video to learn more and I tell them to add any other information to their notes that they learn from the video.