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Beavers and ecosystem management – a role-play lesson

Are you looking for an engaging way for students to learn about the impact of animals and humans on our environment? This lesson will help students learn about how changes we make to our ecosystem have complicated impacts on the creatures living in them. And how beavers building dams can also have a far-reaching impact.

Sutiable for students in 5th-9th grade.

Part 1: Getting Started

Invite students to draw what they think a healthy river looks like, and compare with others to begin drafting a list of healthy river features. Then show students videos about real river ecosystem restoration projects in the U.S. and Canada.

Continue the group discussion of healthy river features. You can see a full set of discussion questions on the Lesson Plan.

Part 2: Reading Activity

Individually or in groups, have the students read the article Would Beavers Make Good Firefighters? published in Science Journal for Kids and Teens. Answer the assessment questions at the end of the article (teacher’s key available on the same page). Discuss as a class.

  • How do beavers help with wildfires?
  • What is a beaver’s habitat?
  • What can you do to help prevent wildfires?
Read: Would Beavers Make Good Firefighters?

Part 3: Town Hall Role-Play

In this activity, students will work together to solve an ecosystem problem: beavers building dams in a local waterway. Four solutions to the beaver problem are presented, each with pros and cons that must be considered carefully. Students will be assigned to research a particular perspective in the community (e.g., farmer, park employee, mayor…) to represent in a town-hall discussion of these four solutions. Students will give short speeches to try to influence a ballot vote that will determine the final resolution. You can see a full set of community roles and access handouts for students on the Lesson Plan.

Part 4: Writing Extension

If time allows, students can choose to complete one of the following writing activities:

  1. Reflection Essay: How do you feel about the way the town hall went? Did you identify with the role you were assigned or did your personal opinion differ? Which community member(s) did you find most persuasive? What were the results of the vote? Do you agree with this resolution?
  2. Letter: Write to a local council member or state representative. Describe the importance of beavers and their dams. Suggest possible steps to protect beavers or even reintroduce them in places where they’ve lost habitat.
  3. Research Report: Research another animal that provides special benefits to the local ecosystem. Describe the animal, its habitat, and its needs (food, shelter, etc.) Then explain how other organisms in the ecosystem rely on it.

    That’s Not All!

    Don’t forget to check out the extra resources located on the article’s page and browse for other related articles on our site, including an audio version of this article.

    Title photo: North American Beaver at Carburn Park in Calgary, Alberta. Photo by Chuck Szmurlo.

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