This lesson plan–developed by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s K-12 Program–is adaptable for grades 3-8 and features BeastBox, a game that explores how animals use sound to interact with each other within their ecosystems. The big idea of this lesson is  that all ecosystems support both plant and animal life, but have diverse sets of interacting organisms.

Lesson Plan Common Core State Standards Alignments

Students will:

  1. Define ecosystem
  2. Describe the characteristics of a specific ecosystem and compare them to others
  3. Identify a few key animals found within an ecosystem and explain how they communicate



Ecosystems are biological communities of organisms along with their physical environments. They are composed of biotic (living) and abiotic (nonliving) factors that interact through nutrient and energy cycling. Ecosystems can be terrestrial (on land) or aquatic (in water). Preview the tips page Getting Started: How Can My Students Use BeastBox? which describes three ways to use BeastBox in your classroom. Preview and play BeastBox to plan how you will adapt it to your students’ needs. Read BeastBox: SnapThought Prompts  for information about SnapThought and specific SnapThought prompts to provide students during game play. Build background knowledge or reinforce the topic with these BrainPOP movies: Birds, Ecosystem, Land Biomes, Tropical Rainforests, Deserts, Savanna, Fish, and Mammals  

Lesson Procedure:

  1. Project the BrainPOP topic Ecosystems on the whiteboard. Read aloud, or have a volunteer read the summary that appears below the movie player.   
  2. Ask students what defines an ecosystem and make a list of characteristics on the board. Have students explain their answers. Once all thoughts have been shared, synthesize the points in your list into an accurate definition that everyone agrees on.
  3. Introduce the primary ecosystem in your area (i.e. eastern temperate forest, Great Plains, subtropical wet forest, etc.) and brainstorm its characteristics. Consider the following:
    • What type of climate is typical of your ecosystem? Is it often rainy? Snowy? Dry?
    • Is it a generally flat ecosystem, or are there changes in elevation?
    • What types of plants do you most commonly see?
    • Is it terrestrial, aquatic, or a mixture of the two?
    • What species of animals can you find?
  4. Once students are familiar with the characteristics of yoru local ecosystem, distribute the printable Meet the BeastBox Ecosystems.
    • Borneo rainforest
    • Chesapeake Bay
    • Great Barrier Reef
    • Madagascar rainforest
    • Okavango River Delta
    • Sonoran Desert
  5. Identify the similarities and differences you notice between the six ecosystems. As a class, make a chart comparing and contrasting the same characteristics you thought about when discussing your local ecosystem (i.e. temperature, rainfall, topography,  plants, animals, etc.).