How Much Diversity is There in This Habitat?

For this investigation, you will be conducting a type of scientific research called a "field study." Using observations and measurements, you will be describing what you find in 1 square meter of habitat. First, you will locate an area to study and identify the boundaries of your square meter. Try to select an area that appears to have some diversity of plant and animal life.

Once you have marked off your square meter to study, draw a picture/diagram of what you observe in your site. Try to draw using as much detail as possible. Identify each plant, animal and/or object observed and label them in your drawing.

Time Required for the Task: 

1 hour or more.

Disciplinary Core Ideas

Crosscutting Concepts

  • Cause and Effect
  • Patterns
  • Scale, Proportion, and Quantity
  • Structure and Function
  • Systems and System Models

Science and Engineering Practices

Task Write Up

Big Ideas and Unifying Concepts: 
Life Science Concepts: 
Science in Personal and Societal Perspectives Concepts: 
Inquiry Process Skills: 
Mathematics Concepts: 

Suggested materials

  • Clipboards and paper
  • Pencils, colored pencils
  • Field guides: wildflowers, insects, trees and shrubs, etc.
  • Magnifying glasses
  • String
  • Meter sticks or tape measures
  • Garden stakes, wire plant markers or wooden markers (and possibly a hammer or rubber mallet to pound them into the ground if needed)

This task came at the beginning of a unit on habitats. Students began by selecting a square meter site to observe and investigate in the school yard. They were told to find a site that had some diversity in terms of plants, animals and other objects in the site. This was the first drawing/diagram students did of their sites. During the unit, students would draw/diagram their sites several more times, improving on the detail and identification of plants and objects in their site as well as observing the changes and interactions that occurred within the sites.

Instructional Stages
What the Task Accomplishes

This task was used for preassessment purposes. Students had little prior experience with drawing/diagramming an outdoor site and identifying and labeling things within a site. This task was used as a means to preassess students’ abilities to draw, identify and label a diagram. This information was then used to inform instruction and assist students in improving their skills in these areas. Throughout the unit of study, students would learn to use a variety of field guides as reference tools for identification.

How the Student Will Investigate

We began the unit by discussing what students knew about habitats. We related and compared ideas about habitats to their own homes and neighborhoods. We also discussed what a square meter was and how students would measure and mark them. Students were then given meter sticks, string and markers and told to select and mark off a site that appeared to have some diversity.

Once outside, the students worked in teams of two to select and mark their sites. Using clipboards, paper and pencils, students drew observations of their sites. Field guides were available to use in identifying plant or animal life within the sites. Finally, students labeled drawings to identify the objects in their sites.

Interdisciplinary Links and Extensions

During the course of the unit, students observed their site over time and over seasons and recorded the changes. Students also conducted investigations about their sites based upon questions they had relating to the interdependence of the plants and animals that lived or “visited” the sites.

The final project of this unit was an electronic field guide that students created on the computer, using Hyperstudio. The components of this field guide included digital pictures of the site showing various objects observed, scanned diagrams of the site, diversity inventories, identifications made at the sites and any other relevant information. Students also made connections to related websites.

Social Studies
Students might be interested in researching the history of the area they are studying. What used to be there? How has the area changed over the years? How have humans impacted the living things that reside and visit here?

Language Arts
Some students wrote and illustrated big books, creative stories and poetry about habitats. There are many wonderful children’s books that deal with habitats.

Some of these include:

  • The Gift of the Tree, by Alvin Tresselt
  • An Oak Tree Dies and a Journey Begins, by Louanne Norris
  • Matthew’s Meadow, by Corinne Demas Bliss
  • Nature Spy, by Shelley and Ken Kreisler Rotner
  • A House is a House for Me, by Mary Ann Hoberman
  • Keep Looking!, by Millicent Ellis Selsam
  • The Butterfly Hunt, by Yoshi, Ruth Wells
  • How to Hide a Butterfly and Other Insects, by Ruth Heller
  • Where Does the Butterfly Go When It Rains?, by May Garelick
  • Wild Wild Sunflower Child Anna, by Nancy White Carlstrom
  • Songs for the Seasons, by Jamake Highwater
  • Song for the Ancient Forest, by Nancy Luenn
  • The Great Kapok Tree: A Tale of the Amazon Rain Forest, by Lynne Cherry
  • Look!, by April Wilson
  • Somewhere Today, by Bert Kitchen
  • Farewell to Shady Glade, by Bill Peet
  • At Home in Its Habitat; Animal Neighborhoods, by Phyllis S. Busch
  • One Small Square..., by Donald M. Silver
  • And So They Build, by Bert Kitchen
  • The Giving Tree, by Shel Silverstein
  • A Tree Is Nice, by Janice May Udry
  • The Forgotten Forest, by Laurence Anholt
  • Forests, by David Lambert
Teaching Tips and Guiding Questions

Students may need some help selecting diverse sites and may need to spend some time looking for the “perfect” site. You may wish to use garden stakes or markers for the sites, since they will need to stay up while students make further observations. Sites should be fairly close together but allow room for students to move around outside of the perimeter of them to make observations. Students may also need to talk though a strategy to systematically “cover” the entire area while observing, to be sure that it is a thorough observation.

Some guiding questions include:

  • What made you select this site? How do you know that it is a diverse site?
  • What do you notice when you look at your site? What do you hear? What do you smell?
  • How do different objects in your site feel when you touch them? Can you show any of these things (textures, sizes, shapes, etc.) in your drawings?
  • Did you observe any animals or insects? Did you observe any evidence that animals or insects live here or visit here?
  • Did you see more of some kinds of plants than others? How do you know there are more?
  • Did you find living and nonliving things in this site?
  • Did you see more of some kinds of animal evidence than others?
  • Is there evidence that humans have been here?
  • How will you show/draw the different objects in your site? How can you draw this site so that it is as accurate as possible?
  • What things can you identify already? What things might you have to look up?
  • How will you label the objects in your site?
Concepts to be Assessed

(Unifying concepts/big ideas and science concepts to be assessed using the Science Exemplars Rubric under the criterion: Science Concepts and Related Content)

Life Science – Structure and Function; Populations and Ecosystems; Regulation and Behavior: Students identify characteristics of organisms (needs, structures, senses, behaviors). Students describe and show examples of interdependence such as food chains and life cycles within a specific habitat.

Science in Personal and Societal Perspectives – Populations, Resources and Environments: Students look for evidence and describe how human actions can cause changes in vegetation, ecosystems and/or entire landscapes. Students show an understanding of conservation and why it is needed.

Mathematics: Students use precise measurements and collect, organize and analyze data appropriately.

Possible Solutions

Students draw and label a detailed diagram of their habitat site. Both plants and some animal evidence should be noted. Students may use a key for labeling or directly label the objects in the site. Students should show appropriate sizes, shapes and textures for their objects and make observations of all parts of the area observed. There is some evidence that students used a field guide to identify unknown plants or objects.

Student Anchor Papers & Task-Specific Assessment Notes

A somewhat detailed drawing/diagram of the site is included. Different shapes differentiate the plant matter. There are no labels or identification of what is in the site. Some insects are included but are drawn as more cartoon-like than lifelike. Incorrect numbers of legs are shown and smiles are included on the “faces” of insects.


A drawing/diagram of the site is included. There is some detail in the drawings. Different shapes differentiate the plant matter. There are some labels of what is in the site but no specific identification of types (“flowers,” “plants”). The drawing includes a lot of nonessential area outside of the observation space. An animal home ("ant hole") is identified and labeled, but the drawing lacks enough detail of texture or shape to indicate that the student made a careful observation of it.


A detailed drawing/diagram of the site is included. The student seems to have included everything in the site in the drawing. Different shapes and sizes differentiate the plant matter. Labels are included, and there is some evidence that the student began to identify unknown objects ("maple leaf," "fern"). The drawing includes a lot of nonessential area outside of the observation space. Several animal homes ("ant hills") are identified and labeled. Drawings show some detail of texture and shape to indicate that the student made a careful observation of them.


A detailed drawing/diagram of the site is included. The student seems to have included everything in the site in the drawing. Different shapes, textures and sizes differentiate the plant matter. Labels are included, and most of the plants/objects are identified using a field guide ("birch leaves," "fern," "crabgrass," "purple aster"). An animal home ("ant hill") is identified and labeled. The drawing shows detail of texture and shape — indicating that the student made a careful observation of it.

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