Living Organisms in the Desert

1 teachers like this lesson
Print Lesson


SWBAT identify and describe the relationship between plants and animals in the desert.

Big Idea

Living organisms in the desert have amazing survival strategies that make it necessary to depend heavily on each other!


My students have a lot of background knowledge coming in to this lesson about habitats, living organisms and basic needs, and interdependence. This is an in-depth lesson to really target misconceptions students may have about animals in the cactus desert and also to reinforce the idea of interdependence that I introduced in this lesson about living organisms in the rainforest.

Essential Standard 1.L.1.2 requires that students "give examples of how the needs of different plants and animals can be met by their environments in North Carolina or different places throughout the world". Click here to hear why I teach the Essential Standards.

In this lesson, students are communicating with others in oral and written forms using drawing and writing that provide detail about scientific ideas which directly supports Science and Engineering Practice 8.

I post a guiding question for each lesson, which is required by my county. It also helps to keep me focused on the objectives during the lesson, and I frequently use it as my Wrap Up at the end of a lesson. Today, our question is "What interdependence exists in the desert?"


*Books -

*Science journals, pencils

*Access to the Internet and YouTube

Warm Up

15 minutes

First, I ask students what they know about the desert. I start a Think we Know/Want to Learn/Learned Chart on anchor chart paper to keep track of their thoughts and as a way to record their misconceptions. Having a written list of what we "think we know" allows me to really target things that may be incorrect, or need more clarification. One of the misconceptions that I anticipate, and the reason I chose the desert as one of my focus lessons in this unit, is because there are lots of different deserts with different features. Also, most kids (and some adults!) think that all deserts are hot, and I want to make sure that students have correct information about that!

After we have written a quick list (maybe 5-6 bulleted items) about what we think we know, I ask students to think about a question they have about deserts. I say,

"We know a lot about the basic needs of plants and animals, and we also know about interdependence. Think specifically about the desert and what we think we know, and come up with a question you have about the desert. Then, write the Desert Question at the top of your page".

After a minute or two, I say,

"Who would like to share your question? I'll write a few on our chart to keep us focused as we learn today."

I write 3-4 questions on the chart. Then, we watch this 4 minute video that really addresses lots of those misconceptions and breaks the deserts into groups by features. The video has a lot of vocabulary that may be unfamiliar to students and references to temperature, so during the video I stop after things that may be confusing and say things like, "122 degrees in the desert! Whew! That's hot! On a hot summer day here it may be about 95 degrees!" This helps to put those numbers into perspective a bit more for first graders.

After the video, I say,

"Today we're going to read two books together to learn more about the desert. The kind of desert we will focus on is the one we have here in North America, the cactus desert".


60 minutes

*This section takes about 2 days to complete*

As we learn about interdependence in the saguaro desert today, I want students to be fully engaged. It is easy for first graders to lose their focus even during high interest conversation with videos and books, so I have my students use their journals and make a T-chart, with 'plants' on one side and 'animals' on the other. I say,

"As we learn about the saguaro desert today, keep an eye out for specific plants and animals that live there and add them to your T-chart. Then at the end of the lesson, we will discuss what you found".

Then, I read the book Cactus Hotel by Guiberson to the class, which is a very quick read aloud. I chose that book because of the mixture of plants and animals that are included in the story. It also describes the rainstorm in the desert. It is a non-fiction narrative.

Since we are also studying identifying main idea and retelling details from texts in literacy (RI 1.2), I take about two minutes and ask the students to identify the main idea of Cactus Hotel and the details and make a quick main idea/details diagram on the board. Anytime I can connect to a literacy objective I try to include it in my lessons!

Ater we have done that, I say,

"Interdependence is when animals and plants help each other to survive. What are some examples of interdependence that you saw or heard in the book?"

This invites students into conversation with me and each other about the plants and animals in the book. I remind them to take notes on their T-chart. I also remind them that if they hear something they want to remember for later, they can take notes or do a quick sketch in their science journal for their own purposes on the next page. Recalling details from the informative text supports standard RI 1.2.

Then I show this video that shows plants in the saguaro desert and the narrator talks about the monsoon season. After the video, I immediately address that with students. I say,

"The narrator in the video talks about the 'monsoon' season. What was he talking about?"

This addresses the misconception once again that it does not rain in the desert - because it does! Then, as a follow up to that video, I read the book Around One Cactus by Fredericks,  which has really good accurate drawings of animals and plants in the desert. This gives me an opportunity to address the basic needs of plants and animals and talk about their shelter, supporting Essential Standard 1.L.2.1 and 1.L.2.2.

The final video I show has lots of real video of animals that live in the desert. As we watch, I talk over the video giving the names of the animals if the video does not address them. I remind students to add the names to their T-chart.

In this part of the lesson, students "obtain information using various texts...and other media that will be useful in answering a scientific question" which aligns directly to Science and Engineering Practice 8. They are also "using observations (firsthand or from media) to describe patterns and/or relationships in the natural and designed world(s) in order to answer scientific questions and solve problems" which aligns to SP 4. 

*This part of the lesson includes 2 read alouds and 2 short videos. This could be a little tedious for active students. If my students get the wiggles, we stop for a minute and take a guided stretch break and then return to learning!

Throughout this lesson students are making connections between the plants and animals in the texts. This aligns to CCSS RI 1.3, 'Describe the connection between two individuals, events, ideas, or pieces of information in a text'. 

Wrap Up

10 minutes

To end our lesson, we look back at both the guiding question for today and our anchor chart that we started. Our question was 'What interdependence exists in the desert?" This question requires that students really understand the idea of interdependence in order to articulate how the living organisms have to rely on each other.

I ask students what they learned from the resources we used today and take a few notes on the chart. I also ask them to share their information from the T-charts that they took notes on in their science journal. This Interdependence Discussion supports Science and Engineering Practice 8, which states that students will "communicate information or design ideas and/or solutions with others in oral and/or written forms using models, drawings, writing, or numbers that provide detail about scientific ideas, practices, and/or design ideas". 


To make sure my students understood the lesson, after class I look at their T-charts in their journals. Although we did most of this work together, students still must understand both how the T-chart works as well as the difference between plants and animals in order to successfully complete their chart. One thing that makes this accessible to all learners is that I do not expect my students to always write in science - if they cannot spell something, then they can draw it and attempt to label it. That also gives me another way to make sure that they understood the concept. If any students have major confusions about the plants and animals, I will work with them in small group during our morning work time or integrate the concept into a future literacy strategy lesson with guided reading books about the desert, and explicitly teach the T-chart and sorting activity again.