Habitat survey and food web

Students lay a frame over a small square of ground (beach, meadow, park, grassy area, school grounds), and record every living thing they can find. Optional: link the living things into a food web.
Science content
Biology: Features, Adaptations of Living Things (K, 1, 3, 7)
Biology: Classification of Living Things, Biodiversity (1, 3)
Biology: Food Webs, Ecosystems, Biomes (3, 4)
  • science notebook/worksheet and pencil for each student
  • square made of pipe cleaners for each student pair or small group
  • optional: collecting boxes for small animals, to study and release again
  • field guide or phone app to help identify species

Out in the schoolyard/park/beach, give each pair or group of students a square of pipe cleaners. Ask them to place the square on the ground in any place they wish.
Tell students that scientists taking surveys will have a larger quadrat of 1m by 1m and will take all day to take their survey. They do not choose where to place their quadrats, but at regular distances along a transect line (a straight line through the ecosystem being studied).

Students draw a square in their notebooks/on a worksheet, and map out what they see in their square. They draw the shapes of rocks/plants/seaweed, and the location of all the other living things they can find. Help students identify species of seaweed, animals or plants using field guides.
Alternatively, for mapping skills, give the students an aerial map of the area. They draw where their square is, as well as mapping the things they find in their square. (See last photo.)
At the side of their square drawing, students can use a Key to write out the species names, with a letter abbreviation, which can be used to label the map e.g. R=rockweed, P=plantain.

Students should try to find every living thing in the square, and may need teaching to slow down and look ever more closely. There is always one more thing to find, and given time students will notice things that they did not see to start.

Gather as a group and combine data to write all the living things that they have found on a board.
Then ask students who eats who in this habitat. Link the living things with arrows, to build up food chains and eventually a food web. Add in bacteria, plankton and other living things too small to see, in order to feed the lowest levels of the food web. Also add in the sun, which provides energy to the producers, such as plants, seaweed and other algae.
From the few living things each student found, they can see how they are part of a much greater food web and ecosystem.

Attached documents

Food web of rocky shore on page 2 of…

Seaweeds commonly found on Vancouver beaches : Sea lettuce (Ulva), Green string lettuce (Ulva), Sugar kelp (Saccharina), Bull kelp, Japanese wire weed (Sargassum).

Grades taught
Gr K
Gr 1
Gr 2
Gr 3
Gr 4
Gr 5