Portrait of an Ecosystem

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Lesson Summary

Following explorations of ecosystems found throughout IslandWood's campus, students will demonstrate their knowledge of how elements are interconnected by creating artistic expressions of an ecosystem of their choosing. This activity uses watercolors to visually represent their chosen habitat and their own role within it.

Enduring Understanding:

U1 Ecosystems rely on many interconnected systems

U2 Humans are an integral member of ecosystems

Knowledge and Skills developed:

S1 Students can describe multiple relationships between themselves and other elements of their ecosystems. 

S2 Students can describe their personal connection within the natural world.


What are some ecosystems that we have explored at IslandWood this week? How were the elements in those ecosystems dependent on each other; how did they work together?

In a moment, you will have an opportunity to observe this ecosystem and create a portrait of it. As you work on your portrait, how can you portray the ways each of the elements represented contributes to this ecosystem? Also make sure that you include yourself in your artwork, and identify your own role within this ecosystem.

I will give you 15 minutes to work on your artwork, and then we will come back together to share our work.

Age group: 8 and up Venue/s: Any outdoor space, or space with view to an outdoor environment

Materials: Watercolor paper, watercolor pencils or watercolor palettes, water cups or water brushes

Time: 60 minutes: 5 minutes to introduce; 5 to pass out materials; 15 to work individually; 20 to present to each other; 10 to discuss/debrief; 5 to clean up

Set up: None

The core lesson:

After introducing the activity as described above, the instructor passes out materials and has each student find a solo place to sit. You can spread students out within a large field, or use this activity as a solo walk, having students spread out along a path. If you choose the latter, the group will walk a loop trail together, leaving students one by one along the trail. Then the instructor will repeat the loop, picking up students one by one until you have reached the beginning of the trail again.

Chaperones can be spread out among the group.

Give students 15-20 minutes to create their portraits (more if needed), then allow students time to reconvene as a group.

Encourage each student to share their portrait. Ask teammates to identify connections that the artist has portrayed, and identify how those individual elements rely on each other. Allow each student to describe their own role within the ecosystem.


Questions to ask:

  • What parts of your ecosystem have more than one connection?
  • How were each of your roles in this ecosystem different? In what ways were they similar?
  • Why is it important to think about how we as humans impact ecosystems?
  • What are some of your roles within your home communities?

Safety Considerations

Consider students' comfort levels with being "alone" on a trail for the duration of this activity. Have they demonstrated the ability to stay on the trail and stay on task? Instructors can strategically place their chaperone(s) along the trail to encourage students to follow instructions.


This lesson should help the instructor determine how well students understand the concept of connections and varying roles within ecosystems. How many connections do students identify in their paintings? Are they able to articulate how the elements are interconnected? Can they identify connections in their teammates' depictions? How do students describe their own role within this ecosystem, and how does that relate to their role within their home community?