Ecosystem Comparison Supergroup

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Students from different schools (and different age, grade, and/or level of prior knowledge) will work together in small groups to compare and contrast several ecosystems. Students will collect data and use field observations to collaboratively draw conclusions about the interconnectedness of ecosystems and the relationships between humans and natural environments.


Students will be able to...

  • Make claims with the support of their observations to compare and contrast ecosystems
  • Elicit and share ideas with another student to gain multiple perspectives and inform their conclusion
  • Use common language to describe the interconnectedness of ecosystems



  • Individual student drawing of ecosystems (page 3 in journal)
  • Ecosystem Inputs and Outputs (page 4 in journal) & Things and Roles in an Ecosystem (page 5 in journal)
  • Ecosystem Comparison Table (pages 6-7 in journal)
  • Individual responses in journal (page 22)
  • Collaborative ecosystem mind maps (butcher paper)

Age group: 4th-6th

Venue/s: Learning Studio Classrooms, Tech Lab, Forest Loop Wild Zone

Materials: IW Field Journal (pg. 6-7), 5 large pieces of butcher paper, whiteboard, markers

Time: 4.5 hours

Set up: Choose 4-5 IW ecosystems to compare, choose groups to supergroup with based on schools and students' level of prior knowledge

Lesson Plan


As supergroup participants, students will be able to meet and learn from another student from a different school. The goal is for students to elicit ideas from one another and discuss  what they already know about ecosystems and deepen that understanding by observing different ecosystems at IslandWood. Students will be able to work together to create ecosystem maps that ultimately become one large map of the IslandWood ecosystem. Students will be able to participate in small group and large group discussions at several points throughout the lesson.


Prior to meeting as a supergroup, each field instructor will discuss pages 4 & 5 with their students to assess prior knowledge and prep the groups with common language to use when they meet as supergroup. Students will also draw or describe what they think an ecosystem is/looks like on page 3 in the journals.

Early in the week, field groups will come together to form and introduce the supergroup. Students will be divided into mini-groups such that each team has at least one member from each participating field group. Students will introduce themselves to their new mini-group. To help the students get to know one another and begin to feel comfortable with collaborating with students from different schools, play a name game and/or a team building game (Common Ground, Reach for your Goals, Tarp Flip).

After introductions and team building, instructors will bring the whole group back together and introduce the concept of collaboration and ask the students to consider the following: "Scientists work together all the time. Why do you think it is important for scientists to work together?" While one instructor facilitates the large group discussion, the other(s) can write down students' ideas on a whiteboard to record the conversation. Students will then be informed about their task to explore different ecosystems with their field groups and record observations so that they can share their findings with their mini-group later in the week. Each field group will record observations on pages 6-7 in the journal. Students should be reminded to observe and record both abiotic and biotic aspects of the ecosystem. Before splitting up into field groups, remind students that they are accountable to record accurate information to share with their mini-group.

Each field group will visit three ecosystems. Instructors should plan ahead of time the specific ecosystems each group will visit. All field groups should have two ecosystems in common and one unique ecosystem (i.e., one field group visits the harbor, marsh, and pond and the other field group visits the harbor, marsh, and forest).

Later in the week, the supergroup will come back together to discuss their findings. Instructors will set out large pieces of butcher paper (each labeled with the name of one ecosystem) around in a large circle with markers at each piece of paper. Be sure that there is a common ecosystem in between unique ecosystems so that students will visit at least one ecosystem that everyone has visited. Students will get into their mini-groups and then instructors will combine mini-groups so that there are two mini-groups at each ecosystem paper. Students will mind map their ecosystem based on their observations. (If it is not an ecosystem that they all observed, those who did will be the experts of that ecosystem). Encourage the other students to ask clarifying questions about that ecosystem, if they haven’t done so already. Students will rotate through two cycles and add on to other ecosystems.

Follow up on the mind mapping by playing a game with the whole group to illustrate the concept of ecosystems (Life & Death in the Forest, Owls Mice Seeds, Song Sparrow).

Bring all the students to the Tech Lab to show "How the Wolves Changed Rivers" ( After the clip, set out the ecosystem mind maps on the floor so that the whole group can walk around in a circle and see all of the ecosystem maps. As a whole group discuss the following questions:


  • What do you think makes an ecosystem unique?
  • What do these ecosystems have in common?
  • In what ways are these ecosystems connected to one another?
  • How are these ecosystems interconnected?
  • What happens if we remove one of these ecosystems? What would the impact be?

Tie in the video by asking:

  • What role did the wolves have in this ecosystem? How did they impact their ecosystem?
  • What did the wolves (unintentionally?) provide to this ecosystem?
  • Do you think the wolves were aware of their impact?”



Assessing field group prior knowledge about ecosystems: 25 minutes

Supergroup introduction, meet & greet game, and whole group discussion: 45 minutes

Visiting 3 ecosystems as field group: 15-25 minutes per ecosystem (not including travel time to get to each location)

Ecosystem mind mapping: 45 minutes

Ecosystem Activity (Life & Death in the Forest): 45 minutes (including roll-out, play time, and whole group debrief)

Video Clip: 4 minutes

Wrap-up Discussion: 20 minutes



By facilitating dialogue between students from different schools, they will be able to share their ideas about ecosystems and their IslandWood experience. Throughout this lesson, students work independently, in small group, and in a large group. They will collect information in their journals and will be able to add their ideas to the mind maps at the end.


Created by Alex Guest, Nov. 20, 2016