Activity 1: World Ecosystems: Many Places, Many Faces

PDF versions of Activity 1: World Ecosystems: Many Places, Many Faces are available in English and Spanish.

Objectives: Kids will learn the definition of a species and ecosystem. They will see typical examples of ecosystems and use their knowledge of adaptation to determine which species belong in those ecosystems.

Materials: poster with ecosystem photos, species cut-outs, tape or Velcro


Do you know what an ecosystem is? [if yes, allow to respond, if no, continue]

An ecosystem is a community of species that live in the same place and interact. Do you know what a species is? [allow to respond] A species is a group of animals, insects, or plants that look similar and that can reproduce, or have babies. For example, do you think that a frog and a cat could have a baby? Why not? That’s right, because they’re different species.

Many species live together in an ecosystem, and different ecosystems have different species. Can you name some examples of ecosystems that you’ve learned about before? You’ve probably heard of the rainforest – that is an ecosystem! We’re going to see some other cool ecosystems right now from all over the world.


  • Have a poster with a map of the world and four different ecosystems enlarged on the map (a coral reef, a rainforest, a desert, and an arctic region). Ask the kids to describe what they see in each ecosystem picture. Then, ask them why they think each ecosystem is different (explain that the location and climate of each ecosystem makes them all very different – for instance, an ecosystem of species underwater is going to be completely different from one on land). Cut-outs of a few species will taped or attached with Velcro on each ecosystem in a visible manner.
  • Next, show the kids the species cutouts on the table, which will include one to a few species that belong to each ecosystem. Ask them to match each species (by sticking it to the poster with Velcro) to the ecosystem that they think it belongs in. If they get the ecosystem right, ask them how they knew that was the right ecosystem (hopefully they’ll recall something about coloring from the adaptation activities). If they don’t know which ecosystem the species belongs in, walk them through one or two of the examples, explaining why each one belongs in the ecosystem it does, and then see if they can do the rest.
  • Ask them about some charismatic creatures they might now about and the ecosystem they live in, for instance: lions and the savannah, sharks and the ocean, buffalo and the prairie, etc.

Post-activity discussion questions:

  • Why do you think each species belongs in a certain ecosystem, and can’t be put into a different ecosystem? [Wait until someone remembers adaptation. If not, reintroduce the concept and explain that organisms survive only in the ecosystems they are adapted to. Note from Rafa: disregard neutral theory!!]
  • What do you think would happen if we moved one of the species out of their ecosystem and into another one? What would happen to the species itself, what would happen to the ecosystem you took it out of, and what would happen to the ecosystem you put it into? [explain that each ecosystem is balanced and any disruption will have a big impact on that balance. Refer them to the trophic chain activity “the Building Blocks of Nature”)