A Tree is an Ecosystem

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This lesson is intended to show how organisms rely on one another within ecosystems, and can be used to introduce abiotic and biotic ecosystem components.  This micro-investigation can be done anywhere along the trails and can serve as a precursor to your weekly investigation.  Students will have the opportunity to touch and explore the area around the base of a tree, the roots, and up the bole (trunk) into the canopy.  In addition to having them write down various components of the tree ecosystem, consider having them write down 5 sensory "experiences" as part of their investigation ("Ecosystem Observation" journal page).


Students will be able to:

  • experience direct sensory interaction in the natural ecosystem
  • practice observations and gather evidence


  • Encourage students to write down ALL of the living and non-living components they found in and around the tree. Consider having them use two different colors, different symbols next to the name, to delineate which is abiotic and which is biotic. (See abiotic and biotic
  • Fill-in the "Ecosystem Observation" page of their journals as part of this activity. 
  • In pairs or in groups (depending on how many tree circles you've made) have students choose one living thing in that tree ecosystem and explain how it is connected to at least two other ecosystem components. 

Age Group: 

Time: (~40 minutes)

Materials: Transect line, or other pieces of rope if you intend on breaking into groups; hand lenses, binoculars, field journals.



Lesson Plan


  • Students will lay string around the base of a tree.  
    • If using a small tree, the string can be placed at the dripline (the area of the tree that is about as wide as the canopy).    
    • For larger trees, have the students place string in a circle around base of tree about one meter from trunk.  
  • Students will observe and write down all living and non‐living things that they find on and under the tree.
  • Students will look up into the tree for bird’s nests, evidence of woodpeckers, etc. Students will take samples of leafs, bark, grass, weeds, etc from under the tree.

Relevant Journal Pages and Follow up Lesson:

"Ecosystem Observations"

Communi-tree Agreement: They could even draw themselves as a particular component of the tree ecosystem as their signature! 

This lesson could potentially segue nicely into "Perspective Storytelling"  Have them choose an organism to write a perspective story on : termite, bird, the tree, and ask that they introduce several other organisms found in the same ecosystem into their story.