Grade Levels: 6-8

In this lesson plan, adaptable for grades 5-8, students play the Nitrogen Cycle Game which challenges them to figure out the sequence or cycle in which nitrogen atoms move through the world–in soil, the atmosphere, plants and animals–and the actions that cause them to change from one form to another, such as nitrogen fixation, plant assimilation, plant death, lightning, and more.


Lesson Plan Common Core State Standards Alignments

Lesson Plan Next Generation Science Standards Alignments

Students will:

  1. Discover that the nitrogen cycle includes different pools or reservoirs that nitrogen atoms move among.
  2. Understand the events and processes that cause nitrogen to change form and move through the nitrogen cycle.
  3. Recognize the role of time and human behavior on the nitrogen cycle.


  • Computers or other devices with Internet access
  • Interactive whiteboard


atmosphere, bacteria, molecule, nitrogen, plant assimilation, plant death, precipitation


This lesson plan features a game called Nitrogen Cycle Game developed by our partner,  Field Day Lab. The game develops students’ understanding of how nitrogen atoms move through various forms including soil, the atmosphere, plants, and animals as well as how actions such as lightning, bacteria digestion, plant assimilation, plant death, herbivorism, and nitrogen fixing plant bacteria cause nitrogen to change form.

Preview and play the Nitrogen Cycle Game to plan how you will adapt it to your students’ needs. If students will be playing in small groups, review tips on Setting Cooperative Gaming Expectations.

Read the Nitrogen Cycle Game: SnapThought Prompts for ideas on how to use SnapThought with this game, and for specific SnapThought prompts to provide students during game play.

Depending on your classroom routines and available technology, you may want to consider these grouping options:

  • 1:1 with students and devices
  • Two to three students sharing one device and swapping ideas and the device back and forth
  • Station model where small groups rotate through using the devices

Build background knowledge or reinforce topics with these BrainPOP movies: Nitrogen Cycle, Carbon Cycle, Earth’s Atmosphere, Atoms, Body Chemistry, and Water Cycle.

Lesson Procedure:

  1. Assess students’ prior knowledge of the nitrogen cycle by asking them what they know about the carbon cycle, such as What is nitrogen? What role do animals and plants play in the nitrogen cycle? How is nitrogen converted from one form to another? What kind of human activity can affect the nitrogen cycle? In what ways does this activity impact the nitrogen cycle?
  2. Next, build students’ understanding of the nitrogen cycle by showing the BrainPOP movie Nitrogen Cycle to the whole class on the whiteboard or other display. Make sure students understand the sequence of events and processes that make up the nitrogen cycle.
  3. Have students watch the movie again with a partner from within the Make-a-Map tool. Show them how to select the Cyclical Relationship Map by clicking the My Maps icon on the left and hen Use map templates.  As they watch the movie again, have them pause and fill in the concept map.
  4. Display the Nitrogen Cycle Game on the whiteboard. Play the game tutorial for the whole class, reading the narration or inviting volunteers to read. After the character explains how to play, reiterate that the objective is to get most of your team’s nitrogen pieces into the goal zones, which is achieved by understanding how nitrogen moves through the environment.  Remind the class that players can choose to move their own team’s nitrogen piece toward the goal zone, or their opponents away from the goal zone. Continue the tutorial to show how the game is played.   
  5. Once students understand how to play, divide the class into partners or small groups of Red and Blue to play against each other at their own computers or devices. Instruct them to select the “Multiplayer: Same Screen” version of the game with the “10 turns” option. Explain that a player on the team is to select a card and read the card description aloud to the team, and together determine where the nitrogen piece will move and why. Then have the team select which piece they want to move -- their own or their opponent’s--and make the move.
  6. If students have individual logins through My BrainPOP, encourage them to use the SnapThought® tool to take snapshots during game play, and reflect on their discoveries. For suggested prompts, see Nitrogen Cycle: SnapThought Prompts.  
  7. Circulate as students play and help as needed. Listen in to make sure they are using strategies and their knowledge of the nitrogen cycle, rather than guessing. Remind them to recall their nitrogen cycle concept maps, or have them refer to them if they’re still accessible.
  8. Bring the class together to discuss what they learned about the nitrogen cycle. If students are using SnapThought, encourage them to share their reflections.

Extension Activities:

Have students create a nitrogen cycle collage or make a digital version of the nitrogen cycle, explaining each step in the process.