-Life Science Unit Guides

Ecology Unit – Teacher’s Guide

Welcome! This post has been written with the intention of helping you plan an engaging and comprehensive Ecology Unit for your middle school science class. If you’re arriving to this page from somewhere other than the Teachers Pay Teachers site, this is the product that this guide was written for. Here’s how I teach using these resources:

Note: Items are listed in the order in which they would be used. Lessons are not broken into specific “days” as many of us have vastly different timings per class period. 

  1. Ecology Vocabulary Activities
    I always start my units with a vocabulary sheet. I’ve found this works for me for several reasons. 1) All students get an introduction to the vocabulary they’ll be required to learn. 2) All students are capable of this task. No copy pasting, only writing. For difficult students, this is a chance to praise them for successfully completed work. They will do it, because they can. 3) I need a very unfun assignment for early test finishers that won’t incentivize students to rush. I always pass out the vocabulary for the next unit as students finish the test from the previous unit. If you’re going in cold, you may not want to do it this way.
    This product also includes two other vocabulary activities which work great when a lesson doesn’t quite finish the class as a time filler.
  2. Ecosystems Presentation
    I like to start with this short presentation that get’s students prepared for some of the concepts we’ll be using throughout the unit. It’s a really engaging lesson. The images are really rich with details, and I always call students up to the board to point out all the abiotic factors in the image or count the population of the butterflies etc.This resource includes an extension where students investigate the biotic and abiotic factors in a biome. This year I even had the students draw their biome on an index card and created a little collage from the work.
  3. Biomes Webquest
    Take a day (or two) off while your students complete this best selling webquest! I’m not sure how in depth you’d like to go as far as requiring students to actually memorize information about each biome. Personally, I don’t consider it a priority, but I do like to introduce the different types of habitats. This webquest should make it easy for your students to learn on their own. Discuss it later in a flipped classroom style!
  4. Ecosystem Shadow Box Project
    Optionally, at this point you may decide to assign the students a biome to recreate in a shadowbox. This is a classic project that even I did as a student. The finished products can be really gorgeous and fun to display. Check out some more of our student work here. 
  5. Populations Presentation
    Another relatively quick presentation covering the key vocabulary related to populations including population density, emigration and immigration, limiting factor, and carrying capacity.This resource emphasizes population graphs and includes a homework or extension activity where students must interpret a population graph.
  6. Energy Models Presentation
    Introduce food chains, food webs, and energy pyramids with this presentation.This resource includes a homework or extension assignment where students identify different types of consumers (producer, primary consumer, herbivore, omnivore, etc.) in a food web.
  7. Food Web Practice
    A second assignment for practicing with food webs and identifying the different kinds of consumers based on the evidence shown.
  8. Ecosystem Card Sort
    This is a fun open ended activity where students can start to see the interdependence in an ecosystem.Make this activity inquiry based by having students categorize the cards in the way that makes the most sense to them. From there you can reemphasize vocabulary (abiotic vs. biotic, consumer vs. producer, and omnivore, carnivore, herbivore, scavenger, and decompose). Challenge students to find new ways to organize their cards!Additionally, students can each be given a card and then “become” their card. Use yarn and have the students pass the yarn to another student whose card depends or is connected to their own. Have students pass the yarn until the whole ecosystem is quite entwined. Some students may never get the yarn. Have a student step out of the ecosystem. Any other student who feels the tug of the yarn is therefore connected to the missing link and would be affected by a change.
  9. Create a Food Web (FREE)
    I like to task students to create their own food webs as well. To make things more exciting, I allow students to design a food web for a made up ecosystem if they want. To make things even more intense, I usually use the best food web on the test! We always get some gorgeous student work from this assignment.
  10. Food Webs Webquest
    This is such an engaging website! I have advertised this assignment as emergency sub plans as it won’t require much from you. My students have always had a great time with this activity. After reading a short summary of a species, the students must place it within the food web. If the trophic level is correct, the species will stick. Otherwise, they must try again. Even if all the species stick, though, your food web may not be perfect. I always challenge students to continue until they get the whole thing perfect which normally whips the class into an excited frenzy to see who can complete it first.
  11. Food Web Quiz
    Test your students’ knowledge after several days of practice with this quiz. Could be formative for feedback or summative.
  12. Interactions of Living Things Presentation
    Review the concepts that have already started to emerge and develop themselves in the minds of your student with a final presentation on the interactions of life in an ecosystem. Topics included are: natural Selection, adaptations, niche, competition, predator/prey and symbiotic relationships: mutualism, commensalism, and parasitism
  13. Endangered and Extinct Species Web Activity
    Allow your students to explore the outcomes of imbalance within an ecosystem over the next days beginning with this fun research assignment on endangered and extinct species. This activity will begin to bring in the human element as your students begin to comprehend the interdependence of all ecosystems with human life.
  14. Invasive Species Project
    Take it one step further with this invasive species project. You can go as in depth with this topic as you like, but the purpose will be that students can explore how human activities have introduced non-native species to ecosystems and the effects which follow. Have your students develop tri-fold boards about their species, web pages, or present to the class!
  15. Ecology Formative Quiz (Multiple Choice)
    This unit includes a quick multiple choice formative assessment which may be useful to help students gauge their learning as a test approaches.
  16. Study Guide and Unit Test
    In most units I require a performance based summative (such as a project) as well as a written test. This study guide and test cover all the topics in this unit, allowing students to express their knowledge with a variety of question types.
  17. Mars Biosphere Reading
    This reading is a free resource on my site, and serves as an intro to a biosphere project I have added to my ecology unit. In this assignment, students explore the Biosphere 2 Project in Phoenix, Arizona and begin to connect their ecology knowledge to the idea of engineering a remote ecosystem on Mars or another planet. The projects were a lot of fun, and my students really ran with their imaginations. See more of that project here.

This product is designed to be affordable and useful to teachers in middle school science. Help me serve you and others through this bundle (or the creation of new resources) by leaving feedback. My work is meaningful when it takes some of the stress off of YOU.

Teaching is a weird job. I’d love to connect and discuss our successes and failures on my instagram (@laney.leee).  Please reach out and ask me anything.

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