Ecosystems and Biological Evolution

Michelle Marcus for
Type Category
Instructional Materials
Image/Image Set , Unit , Assessment Item , Animation/Movie , Case Study
This resource, vetted by NSTA curators, is provided to teachers along with suggested modifications to make it more in line with the vision of the NGSS. While not considered to be "fully aligned," the resources and expert recommendations provide teachers with concrete examples and expert guidance using the EQuIP rubric to adapted existing resources. Read more here.



This unit includes five lessons that build student understanding on why certain organisms survive better than others in a specific habitat. The lessons include: 1) Lesson 1-Biomes (students learn what biomes are by gathering information and creating a biomes chart after watching a video and viewing a PowerPoint. They make predictions about what animals they think might live in each biome and why they think that), 2) Lesson 2-Adaptations (students discuss different animals in the area where they live and why they think the animals are adapted to survive there. Then students become experts on specific biomes in small groups, fill out a graphic organizer, and write a short informational piece about their biome to share with others), 3) Lesson 3-Biomes Experts (students share their expert informational pieces with the class), 4) Lesson 4-An Animal That Can Survive in All Biomes (students use the information they have learned to create an animal with at least 2 adaptations to help it survive in all the biomes. Student share and explain their drawings to others. Then they fill out an animal adaptation chart for their created animal -self assessment - and can revise their animal drawings if needed), and 5) Lesson 5-Adaptations and Environmental Changes (students share their work and drawings from the lessons so far with each other to review what they learned prior to completing an open-ended adaptation quiz).

Intended Audience

Educational Level
  • Upper Elementary
  • Grade 5
  • Grade 4
  • Grade 3
Access Restrictions

Free access with user action - The right to view and/or download material without financial barriers but users are required to register or experience some other low-barrier to use.

Performance Expectations

3-LS4-3 Construct an argument with evidence that in a particular habitat some organisms can survive well, some survive less well, and some cannot survive at all.

Clarification Statement: Examples of evidence could include needs and characteristics of the organisms and habitats involved. The organisms and their habitat make up a system in which the parts depend on each other.

Assessment Boundary: none

This resource is explicitly designed to build towards this performance expectation.

Comments about Including the Performance Expectation
In Lesson 2 (Adaptations), the teacher may need to provide additional information and examples in order for students to fully understand the concept of adaptations (such as photos of different organisms in various biomes--arctic fox, red fox, cactus plants, etc.) Throughout the unit, students are informally constructing explanations and using evidence to support their ideas. To more completely meet the performance expectation, students could be asked at the end of the unit to construct an explanation using evidence from what they learned to answer the question: "Why can some organisms survive in certain environments and others cannot?" Alternatively, a more focused type of question could be asked, such as "Give examples of animals that can survive and those that cannot survive in the tundra" or "Could an alligator survive in the tundra? Why or why not?" Students could share their ideas in a science talk and then be given the opportunity to revise or add to their thinking based on what they learned from others.

Science and Engineering Practices

This resource is explicitly designed to build towards this science and engineering practice.

Comments about Including the Science and Engineering Practice
Throughout the lessons, students are asked to gather information from multiple sources, synthesize the information, then communicate it to others orally and in written form. In addition to the options provided in the lessons, the teacher might allow students to communicate their ideas in other creative ways (e.g., creating videos, screencasts, etc.).

This resource appears to be designed to build towards this science and engineering practice, though the resource developer has not explicitly stated so.

Comments about Including the Science and Engineering Practice
During this unit, students analyze and interpret information from various sources on biomes and animals (websites, videos, Powerpoints) to identify features of biomes, animal adaptations and how these two things connect. The teacher could explicitly identify this practice so that students are aware of what this practice is and how important it is in science.

Disciplinary Core Ideas

This resource is explicitly designed to build towards this disciplinary core idea.

Comments about Including the Disciplinary Core Idea
When watching the biome videos, students could take notes and develop "I wonder" questions. Later, they might use maps to identify where the biomes are located. Teachers may want to modify the specific biomes studied in the unit depending on the needs and interests of students. Rather than simply learning about forest biomes (as specified in the unit), students could investigate rainforests, coniferous forests, and/or temperate deciduous forests. In addition to the resources identified in the unit, the teacher could read books from the Biomes of North America series by Rebecca Johnson to provide additional information for students. These books include: A Walk in the Tundra, A Walk in the Desert, A Walk in the Prairie, A Walk in the Rain Forest, A Walk in the Boreal Forest, A Walk in the Deciduous Forest, A Journey into a River, A Journey into an Ocean, A Journey into a Lake, a Journey into an Estuary, and a Journey into a Wetland.

Crosscutting Concepts

This resource appears to be designed to build towards this crosscutting concept, though the resource developer has not explicitly stated so.

Comments about Including the Crosscutting Concept
The teacher can introduce or review the concept of cause and effect, and point out how it comes into play throughout the unit: If animals have features and behaviors that help them get what they need, they will survive better in a certain environment.

Resource Quality

  • Alignment to the Dimensions of the NGSS: This unit strongly supports the Disciplinary Core Idea and Science/Engineering Practices. The teacher can weave in the crosscutting concept of cause and effect.

  • Instructional Supports: Worksheets, Powerpoints, focus questions and other resources are provided as well as videos showing the lessons in action in the classroom. These videos often highlight instructional strategies that can be used when leaners struggle with the activities or concepts. Helpful tips from the master teacher who created the unit are also included.

  • Monitoring Student Progress: Several types of assessments are provided in this unit. Lesson 1 begins with a formative assessment: What do you think determines what organisms can live in certain environments? Students are given the opportunity to self assess their animal adaptation creations in Lesson 4 and an open-ended summative quiz is provided in Lesson 5. Images to go along with the quiz are provided (making it more accessible for all learners). In addition, student progress can be monitored by assessing their worksheets and their thinking in science notebooks (if they are used in this unit).

  • Quality of Technological Interactivity: Links to videos and other resources are seamlessly provided in the lessons.