Let's Create An Ecosystem

Grade Level:7th
Time frame:2 hours


Introduce students to the concept of ecosystems by allowing student to create their own ecosystem in a jar.

TEKS: 7.12 Science concept. The student knows that there is a relationship between organisms and the environment. The student is expected to:

  1. identify components of an ecosystem;
  2. observe and describe how organism including producers, consumers, and decomposers live together in an environment and use existing resources;
  3. describe how environment support varieties of organisms


Learning activity game, handouts, one-gallon jars or aquariums (one per class), insects, insect collecting tools and supplies, shovel

Getting Ready:

Terms to know: Producer, consumer, decomposer, autotrophic, heterotrophic, saprotrophic, herbivores, carnivores, omnivores, ecosystem, habitat, ecotone, landscape


Use the learning activity developed by Dr. J.A. Jackman to introduce trophic levels, functions, and habitats of insects. (activity provided in attachments).


The class will then create an ecosystem in a large container. All the component must be in the ecosystem to work. Use insects collected on school campus. (procedures provided in attachments)

Safety Tips:

Give students boundaries of where they can collect insect

Concept Discovery:

At this point go into details about the energy and nutrient flow an ecosystem. Start with the sun and a brief explanation of photosynthesis, and then take the students from producers through saprotrophic levels. Explain how an ecosystem is a cycle and how it starts over after the saprotrophic level. Explain ecosystem, habitat, ecotone, and landscape. Give example of each in reference to your school grounds.

Going Further:

Keep the ecosystem in the class and watch what happens over the entire year. . . introduce new insects as the seasons change and see what happens.


Class discussion on their ecosystem with regards to each of the concepts presented in class.


Students will tell about their ecosystem with regards to each of the concepts presented in a journal. Students will keep a journal for six weeks. Student will be required to write in their journal at least three days each week describing the changes they observe. Weekly grades will be given for complete journal entries.

Language Arts (journals)

Adapting this activity for younger student can be done by the teacher collecting the insects and setting up the ecosystem for the students and each day they discuss the changes they observe.

Easy Ecosystem...How Can You Make an Ecosystem?

Materials: soil, aquarium, sand, rocks, green plants, twigs and sticks, crawling insects (ants, beetles, caterpillars) earthworms, screen, masking tape


  1. Place the soil in the bottom of the aquarium.
  2. Add the sand and rocks.
  3. Position the green plants so they will be easy for the insects to climb on and under.
  4. Add an arrangement of the twigs and sticks.
  5. Add the crawling insects and earthworms one at a time.
  6. Place the screen on top of the aquarium.
  7. Tape around the screen so it stays in place. Watch the insects and plants adapt to the environment. What happens in the ecosystem you created?
  8. When you have finished observing the ecosystem, release the insects in the places where you found them.


The earth is an ecosystem, an environment of plants and animals living together. In any ecosystem the balance of living things is important. Plants must provide food and oxygen for the animal, and the animal must provide carbon dioxide, a colorless gas, and nutrients for the plant, this process of recycling, or revising, is constant in an ecosystem.

Potter, Jean. John Wiley & Sons INC,. Nature in a Nutshell for kids: over 100 activities you can do in ten minutes or less. NewYork, 1995.


May 19, 1994

John A. Jackman


Develop a set of cards with each card representing an insect or a group of insects. On each card include a short statement of what the insect does, what it looks like or some interesting fact. Also include habitat and function.

For functional categories use herbivore, predator, internal parasite, external parasite, scavenger, or similar categories. Prepare a small sign for each category.

Present an introduction of insect diversity and all of the functions that insects perform in nature. Relate insects to other herbivore/predator systems like gazelle/lions or triceratops/tyrannosaurus. Point out that insects function in other ways as well. Suggested facts:

-about 1 million insects now have names, really 3 to 30 million kinds
-most insects are smaller than your fingernail-under 1/4 inch-we see the giants
-more kinds of insect activity and function than any other group

Define the functional categories.

Point out that insects function in more than one category. Some are opportunists and some change as they change life stage.

Read each card and pass them out one to each youth. If you want they can read them but sixth graders will have trouble with the words, will not speak up well and it takes much longer if they read them.

Once each youth has a card have them move to a station for their function. I used signs for herbivore, predator, etc. However, some of the insects will have more than one function and will have to walk back and forth between the signs with their function.

After they move around a bit stop them and point out that all these insects are in their backyard, all of the functions are underway buy ignored because insects are small. Point out that there are many herbivores and scavengers, probably fewer predators, and even fewer specialists like parasites.

You can modify the activity also to include habitat and have them move to the correct habitat that is on their card.

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