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Lesson Ideas

Teaching Activities About Ecology and Biodiversity

This collection highlights teaching activities, hands-on lessons, and online simulations we found on the web that can help students learn about ecology and biodiversity. They are created by science educators and partner education organizations. Just as all our original content is free, we only recommend external resources that are free for teachers.

1. Endangered Whales Activity

This activity was authored in 2018 by teachers Beth Marass and Jayne Ricciardi as part of summer educator programs offered by the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute (MBARI). Included are a lesson plan, lesson presentation, student handouts, and YouTube video tutorials on the online tools used during the lesson. In this activity, students use genetic sequences to determine if whale meat in fish markets is from endangered species. Students will use the NCBI website and BLAST tools to compare DNA sequences.

Image from MBARI

  • Activity: web page
  • Topic: genetics, marine mammals, biotechnology, DNA sequencing, forensic science
  • Level: high school

2. Coral Reef Activity

This activity was published in 2017 by the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) as part of an extension collection of educator resources. The 26-page lesson plan includes teacher materials, student handouts, and assessments that introduce students to coral reefs and how humans can impact the marine environment.

Image from NOAA

  • Activity: PDF
  • Topic: coral reefs, ecology, marine habitat
  • Level: middle school

3. Marine Protected Areas Activity

This activity was published by NOAA as part of its extensive educator resources. The 8-page lesson plan includes teacher materials, a student handout, and an assessment tool. In this activity students will learn about the importance of marine protected areas and how they can be successful, creating a “gallery wall” of their findings to share with the class or school.

Image from NOAA

  • Activity: PDF
  • Topic: conservation, marine habitat
  • Level: middle school, high school

4. Virtual Field Trips of Elkhorn Slough

This activity is offered by Elkhorn Slough, a wetland reserve located on the California coast. Originally published in 2020 as “virtual field trips,” these activities appear to have been rebranded as “flyover” visits. As of September 2023, links to student and teacher resources appear on a pop-up bar from their Education Resources page while the videos are found on YouTube. Lessons focus on animal adaptations, energy flow through the ecosystem, watershed functioning, and human impacts in the estuary.

Image from Elkhorn Slough

  • Activities: Flyover 1 is a 5-minute virtual exploration of “Trail to Parsons Overlook.” Worksheets are available for students in K-1, 2-3, 4, and 5-6. Flyover 2 is a 4-minute virtual exploration of “Salt Marsh to Mud Flats.” A worksheet is available for students in K-8.
  • Topic: adaptation, energy systems, watersheds, human impacts
  • Level: varies

5. Lesson Sets from WWF

These 19 lessons sets are topical collections of digital and print classroom materials published by the World Wildlife Foundation (WWF), an international interest group founded in 1961 to “protect places and species that were threatened by human development.” Some of them (currently eight) are available in Spanish. They also link to videos the WWF has compiled to supplement the core lesson plans. In these lessons, students of various levels will learn about biodiversity, endangered species, and ecological interactions.

Image from WWF

  • Lesson sets: English, Spanish
  • Topic: biodiversity, conservation, endangered species, ecology
  • Levels: varies

6. Right Whale Investigation

This activity was published in 2008 by the Smithsonian Institute’s Office of Educational Technology as part of its Learning Lab collections. It offers a “multi-step lesson” with supplemental audio and visual resources drawing from the Smithsonian’s natural history, postal museum, and magazine units. In this activity, students go on an interactive investigation into the movement and behavior of North Atlantic Right Whales. This exploration helps students make connections between endangered species and human protections for animals.

Image from Smithsonian Institute

  • Activity: web page
  • Topic: conservation, endangered species, marine mammals, natural history
  • Level: middle school, high school

7. Ecosystem Mapping Activity

This activity was developed by three researchers – Ed Barbanell, Meghann Jarchow, and John Ritter – for the InTeGrate program at Carleton University that operated from 2012 to 2019 with funding from the National Science Foundation. It includes a PowerPoint presentation, student materials, and a student worksheet with teacher key. In this activity, students use GoogleEarth to learn about and assess ecosystem services in areas.

Image from InTeGrate

  • Activity: web page
  • Topic: ecology, ecosystems, technology
  • Level: high school

8. Land Use Mapping Activity

This activity was published in May 2018 (with updates in 2020) by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI), a private biomedical research organization founded in 1953. It features a video – with an “audio descriptive version” – showing Indigenous communities in Darién, Panama, mapping their land with drones. In this activity students use a worksheet to reflect on this video. Worksheets and materials are available in both English and Spanish.

Image from HHMI

  • Activity: web page
  • Topic: conservation, land use, technology, human impacts
  • Level: high school

9. Nitrogen Cycle Game

This activity was developed by Lisa Gardner and was last updated in 2022. It is published by the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research (UCAR), a multi-university research institute funded by the National Science Foundation and based in Boulder, Colorado. In this game, students learn about the nitrogen cycle and the reservoirs in which nitrogen can be found. Game station signs and student sheets are available in both English and Spanish.

Image from UCAR

  • Activity: web page
  • Topic: nitrogen, atmosphere, life cycles
  • Level: middle school, high school

10. Nitrogen Cycle Activities

This activity was published in 2014 by the Utah State University Extension as part of its Stream Side Science materials. It includes a core classroom activity as well as suggested extension activities. In this activity, students learn about the nitrogen cycle and do experiments testing water from different sources.

Image from USUE

  • Activity: web page, PDF
  • Topic: nitrogen, water, human impacts
  • Level: middle school, high school

11. Everglades Activities

This collection is published by the Everglades Foundation, a nonprofit group founded in 1993 to “restore and protect the greater Everglades ecosystem.” Resources are organized by grade groups (K-2, 3-5, 6-8, 9-12) or by special focus (science content, media materials, dual language). Activities include age-appropriate content like coloring sheets, videos, games, scientific explorations, and more. While English is the primary language offered, some supplements are available in Spanish or Haitian Creole.

Image from Everglades Foundation

That’s Not All!

Check out our full collections of adapted research articles on Ecology and Biodiversity. Each article comes with tailored teaching resources, lessons, labs, and other activities for your students.

Title photo by Saad Alaiyadhi

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