Life Science
Interdependence Among Living Systems

Natural systems have many components that interact to maintain the living system.

Benchmark: Animal Needs

Recognize that animals need space, water, food, shelter and air.

Benchmark: Habitat & Needs

Describe ways in which an animal's habitat provides for its basic needs.

For example: Compare students' houses with animal habitats.


Standard in Lay Terms 

MN Standard in Lay Terms

Natural systems have many parts that rely on each other to maintain balance.

Big Ideas and Essential Understandings 

Big Idea

An animal's habitat is the place that provides the optimum space, food, water, oxygen, and other substances as well as suitable temperature and light.  Animals are part of a natural system.

Benchmark Cluster 

MN Standard Benchmark   Recognize that animals need space, water, food, shelter and air.   Describe ways in which an animal's habitat provides for its basic needs.  For example: Compare students' houses with animal habitats.

The Essentials

This video is a great review of the standard and a way for students to remember four basic needs of animals.  The students can learn the song and review four of the basic needs; the class could then discuss space as another requirement not included in the song and brainstorm ways to add space into the song.

  • NSES Standards: Life Science; Content Standard C:  As a result of activities in grades K-4, all students should develop understanding of: 1.The characteristics of organisms, NSES
  • AAAS Atlas:  Most living things need water, food and air.  5C/ People need water food, air, waste removal and a particular range of temperatures in their environment, just as other animals do. AAAS
  • Benchmarks of Science Literacy: Benchmarks of Science Literacy

Framework for K-12 Science Education

All animals  need food in order  to live and grow. They obtain  their food from plants  or from other  animals.  Plants need water  and light to live and grow. 2LS1.C

Animals depend  on their surroundings to get what  they need, including food, water,  shelter, and a favorable  temperature. Animals depend on plants  or other  animals  for food. They use their senses to find food and water, and they use their body parts  to gather,  catch, eat, and chew the food. Plants depend  on air, water,  minerals  (in the soil), and light to grow. Animals can move around, but plants  cannot,  and they often depend  on animals  for pollination or to move their seeds around. Different  plants  survive better  in different  settings because they have varied needs for water,  minerals,  and sunlight. 2LS2.A

Living things can survive only where their needs are met.
If some places are too hot or too cold or have too little water  or food, plants  and animals  may not be able to live there.  2LS4.C

Common Core Standards


Use basic concepts of measurement in real-world and mathematical situations involving length, time and money. Measure the length of an object in terms of multiple copies of another object. 

Language Arts Standards: With guidance and support from adults, recall information from experiences or gather information from provided sources to answer a question.


Student Misconceptions 

Organization of Living Things:

  • Behavior and habitat  are criteria for classification.
  • Food is anything useful taken into the body including: water, minerals, carbon dioxide (plants), and sunlight.
  • Students concept of digestion is often confused both in the route and the process.
  • Digestion is the process that releases usable energy from food.


  • People are not animals.
  • Things are living only if they can move, breathe, eat and drink.
  • Birds, fish, insects, worms are not animals.
  • All animals can move from place to place.
  • All animals are four-footed or furry.
  • All animals are wild.
  • Animals are large and are found in zoos, on farms and in homes as pets.
  • All animals live on land.
  • Insects cannot live in water.
  • Spiders are insects.
  • Fish do not need air, and they sleep with their eyes closed.



From: Norton-Meier, L., Hand, B., Hockenberry, L., & Wise, K. (2008). Questions, claims and evidence. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.

Excerpted from a preschool unit on "Animals Have Basic Needs," which explores the question:  Who is in control of learning?

"Animals such as mice, rabbits, birds, guinea pigs, chicks, ducks, and fish were all around the room during the course of the unit.  After a few weeks of taking care of the animals, we began a discussion on what students had been observing.  One student said, 'Our bunny needs food and water every day.  We know this because we put food and water in his bowls in the mornings and then the food and water is gone the next morning.'  Another student said, 'Ducks need food everyday, too.  We feed them all the time.  As soon as we put food in the bowl, they eat it.  They also need water.  As soon as we put water in their bowl, they begin drinking it.  Sometimes they swim in it.'  Similar conversations continued among the students as they talked about the different animals."

When students rear animals in their classroom, it allows them to observe animals' needs firsthand and confront their misconceptions as they discuss the animals' needs. 


Instructional Notes 

Suggested Labs and Activities

1.  A lesson in PDF form for grade 1: "What's Your Habitat?" which lays out the needs of humans and compares them with the basic needs of animals.  This unit would be a good introduction to this unit as it allows students to make connections with their own needs.  After exploring this idea, students would compare and contrast their needs with the needs of animals.  This also brings up the conversation about whether humans are animals which may be a new idea for some students. Get Outside

2.  FOSS Insects Investigation 1: Mealworms: Students raise their own mealworms and maintain the mealworms' habitat to learn the basic needs of animals. FOSSweb Insects

3.  Life Cycle Lessons 1 - 8: These lessons guide students and teacher through the rearing of monarchs along with journaling to document their basic needs.  Oberhauser, K. (1999). Monarchs in the classroom (pp. 54-78). St. Paul, MN: University of Minnesota Department of Fisheries, Wildlife and Conservation Biology.

4.  Ecology Lesson 3: Who Ate My Food?  Students choose an insect to research and find what it eats.  They use sentence strips to make a book of insects and their food.  Oberhauser, K. (1999). Monarchs in the classroom (pp. 112-113). St. Paul, MN: University of Minnesota Department of Fisheries, Wildlife and Conservation Biology. 

1.  Lesson plan for first graders to study animals and their habitats. After reading a book and learning the needs of animals, students research the habitat for one animal. Animal habitats lesson linked with book

2.  Ecology Lesson 1 & 2: What is Butterfly Habitat?  Make a Field Guide & Wall Mural showing what is needed to sustain life for butterflies.  Oberhauser, K. (1999). Monarchs in the classroom (pp. 106-111). St. Paul, MN: University of Minnesota Department of Fisheries, Wildlife and Conservation Biology.

3.  Lesson on animal needs with overview of selected animals and their habitats.  The last part of the lesson provides background on building an earthworm habitat. Animal habitats lesson with a variety of animals

4.  Use of K-W- L to lead through a study of habitats.  Students draw their own ideal habitat.  Connections are made to other organisms.  The class creates a habitat with the appropriate animals and their required needs.  Then students play a game, "Habitat Grab," to reinforce the concepts. Habitat Grab game

Instructional suggestions/options

1.  '97 Framework Life Science: Building understandings of biological concepts through direct experiences with living things, their life cycles, and their habitats.

2.  Conservation Lessons 1-4: These lessons lead the class through planning and implementing a schoolyard habitat for butterflies.  The last lesson uses the schoolyard habitat to observe and record the organisms living in the habitat.  Oberhauser, K. (1999). Monarchs in the classroom (pp. 194-214). St. Paul, MN: University of Minnesota Department of Fisheries, Wildlife and Conservation Biology.

3.  This game reinforces vocabulary words for organisms and habitats you studied: Vocabulary game for habitats

Instructional Resources 

Additional resources

1.  Bird unit that includes a lesson on bird habitats as they relate to bird migration: Bird habitats

2.  Lynne Bleeker's list of science books: Lynne Bleeker's science workshop books list

Here are some from the "Organism (and/or Habitat)" list:

  • Ganeri, A. (1994) Animals in their homes.
  • Black, S. (1993) Animals and their homes activity book. Scholastic.
  • What's Inside? Animals Homes. Dorling Kindersley, Scholastic Edition, 1993.
  • Hartley, S, (1997). Animal Homes Scholastic Reading Discovery.
  • Siler, D. One Small Square (series) Learning Triangle Press.  This series includes a number of habitats including, backyard, arctic, coral reef, woods, etc.
New Vocabulary 


  • Air: gases living things need to live.
  • Food: what living things eat for energy and to stay alive.
  • Habitat: place that has everything a living thing needs to live.
  • Shelter: place for protection from weather or danger.
  • Space: place to live and move in.
  • Water: liquid needed by all living things.
Technology Connections  

1.  Interactive activity that teaches animals' basic needs: Interactive lesson on animals' basic needs.

1.  An interactive quiz where students match an animal with habitats: Interactive habitat matching game.

2.  FOSS web activity where students play a matching game to discover which animals live in specific trees: FOSS web matching tree habitats with animals.

3.  National Geographic online lesson showing students photographs of animals and their habitats, focusing on how the animals' needs are met in the habitat: National Geographic online lesson using animal and habitat photographs.

4.  Using the computer, students work with a partner to research the habitat needs of an animal and then create artwork depicting that habitat: Habitat research lesson with art product.

Cross Curricular Connections 

Language arts connection: 

This game reinforces vocabulary words for organisms and habitats you studied: Vocabulary game for organisms and habitats

Math connection: 

Students measure the amount of food or drink an organism consumes in a given time (daily or weekly as appropriate to the organism).


Assessment of Students

1.  What do animals need to stay alive?

2.  Draw a habitat (place) for our classroom sowbugs (substitute other organism as it relates to the organisms you studied) so they can stay alive.

3.  Draw a picture of an animal that lives in our schoolyard.  Draw its habitat to show how its basic needs are met there.

Assessment of Teachers

1.  What animals have you raised or had as a pet?  What animals live in your yard, local park or schoolyard?  How are these animals' needs met in these environments?

2.  Observe birds or other animals in your environment.  How are their needs related to seasonal changes?

3.  How do urban expansion and global warming impact the habitats of local wild animals?


Struggling Learners 

Struggling and At-Risk

This page shares ideas for teaching specific math and science topics to struggling and at risk students: math and science strategies for at-risk students.

English Language Learners 

A. From: Corder, G. (2008) Supporting English Language Learners' Reading in the Science Classroom. In E. Brunsell (Ed), Readings in science methods, K-8: An NTSA press journals collection (pp. 223-227). Arlington, VA: NSTA Press.

Corder discusses three ideas to support English Language Learners in the Classroom: 

1. Setting a Language Objective. 

In general, stating an explicit objective for a lesson is considered a good teaching practice.  An example of an objective in a science classroom might be "The student will determine the density of the sample."  This example is a content objective and identifies "what a student should know and be able to do" (Echevarria et al. 2004, p. 21).  English language learners' needs, however, extend beyond the science content alone.  They need opportunities to listen, speak, write, and read English.  Research suggests inclusion of language objectives along with content objectives. (Echevarria, Vogt, and Short 2004, p. 22).  Language objectives range from lower order, such as, "The student will underline unfamiliar words in the passage," to higher order such as "The student will read the four authors' descriptions and synthesize a model."  The language objective's level should vary based on the language proficiency of your students.  All objectives must be comprehensible and explicitly communicated to students.  The manner in which you direct students to an objective will determine its effectiveness: First, post the objective in a location that gives students access; second, orally state the objective; third, refer to the objective at the beginning and end of an exercise that demands reading.

2.  Supplying Background Information. 

Many English language learners enter our classrooms with a different set of experiences than their fluent English-speaking counterparts (Echevarria, et al. 2004). This means that many of them lack the background knowledge required for reading that many texts may take for granted.  Therefore, teachers must supply that necessary background knowledge.

It may be necessary for you to "model how to follow steps of directions needed to complete a task" (Echevarria et al. 2004, p. 25) such as a lab or project.  As you model, you can think aloud by orally stating the objects you are manipulating and your thought process as you proceed.  Modeling supplies English language learners with a visual image and accompanying terminology from which they can draw when encountering those terms and concepts in a reading passage.

When students encounter unfamiliar words, a reading passage becomes more difficult for them (Dale and Chall 1948; Klare 1974). To counter this, you can pre-teach key vocabulary.  All difficult terms should be considered, even those that are not considered science vocabulary.  For example, you can create and maintain a word wall by defining, discussing, and posting words that students identify as unfamiliar.  This technique provides valuable pre-reading instruction, while creating a resource to which students can quickly refer and reinforce English language gains.

3.  Linguistic Modification of Text

Researchers have identified several specific characteristics that affect a text's level of difficulty, and you can draw on their findings when simplifying your own texts:

First, passages with longer words and longer sentences are more difficult to read (Bormuth 1966; Flesch 1948; Klare 1974). 

Second, passive voice is not always as clear as active voice (Forster and Olbrei 1973; Savin and Perchonock 1965; Slobin 1968).  An example of passive voice is "The cause had been identified by scientists."  An example of active voice is "Scientists identified the cause."

Third, a long string of consecutive nouns elevates reading difficulty (King and Just 1991; MacDonald 1993).

Fourth, a coordinate, or independent, clause is more difficult to read than a subordinate, or dependent, clause (Botel and Granowsky 1974; Wang 1970).  A coordinate clause can stand by itself as a sentence, while a subordinate clause cannot.

Fifth, an abstract statement is more challenging to comprehend than a concrete statement (Cummins et al. 1998).  An example of an abstract statement is "Record your data."  An example of a concrete statement is "Record the volume of the cylinders in Table 1."

B. "Kit Inventory" Activity

Michael Klentschy, superintendent of El Centro Public Schools, El Centro, California, taught this activity at the NSTA Science and ESL conference in St. Louis, MO, April 2007. 

Before teaching, collect the materials that will be used in a unit or lesson.  Have cards ready to write the name of the materials for a word wall and designate a portion of the room for the word wall.  You could also display the word wall on a display board for future use. 

Divide the class into teams of three or four students.  Have one student volunteer to introduce the first item.  Show this one student the item and have them answer the following questions: What color is it? Where have you seen it before? What is it used for?  Put the object in an opaque bag and the student then shares with the class the answers to the above questions.  The student groups have 1 - 2 minutes to predict what they think the object is.  Student groups share their ideas.  Then the object is revealed and posted along with its word card on the word wall.  Keeping the object or a picture of it next to the word card provides a resource for students as they proceed through the unit of study and need to find words for objects in the lesson.

Extending the Learning 

1.  Investigations  Students who need more challenge can conduct investigations regarding the basic needs of the organisms studied in the classroom. 

2.  Reading:  Students who need more challenge can read books about the topics in the classroom and present this information to the class through reports, PowerPoint presentations or posters. 


A. From: Brown, P. L., & Abel, S. K. (2008) Science for All. In E. Brunsell (Ed), Readings in science methods, K-8: An NTSA press journals collection (pp. 215-217). Arlington, VA: NSTA Press.

Gay (2000) describes culturally responsive teaching as having these characteristics:

It acknowledges the legitimacy of cultural heritages of different ethnic groups.

It builds bridges of meaningfulness between home and school experiences as well as between academic abstractions and lived sociocultural realities.

It uses a wide variety of instructional strategies that are connected to different learning styles.

It teaches students to know and praise their own and each others' cultural heritages.

It incorporates multicultural information, resources and materials in all the subjects and skills routinely taught in schools.

Culturally responsive instruction should include authentic activities.  Authentic activities provide students with the opportunity to explore how the subject under study is socially relevant and connected to their everyday lives.  Instruction should move away from using a collection of disconnected hands-on activities and toward interaction and manipulation of ideas that are valuable beyond the school walls. 

B.  From: Allen-Sommerville, L. (2008). Capitalizing on Diversity. In E. Brunsell (Ed), Readings in science methods, K-8: An NTSA press journals collection (pp. 221-222). Arlington, VA: NSTA Press.

Eight Successful Field Tested Strategies:

  1. Assume that students can learn.
  2. Use exciting and challenging hands-on activities.
  3. Talk to students about their learning styles.
  4. Develop a repertoire of content strategies and activities.
  5. Learn about the history and culture of the various groups.
  6. Help students see themselves as future scientists and appreciate the multicultural history of science.
  7. Build opportunities for success into the curriculum and create climates conducive to learning.
  8. Provide diverse learning experiences.

C.  Display posters depicting scientists from the students' cultural background doing science in the classroom.  An easy way to do this is to take photos of your students doing science.

Special Education 

From Brunsell, E. (Ed.). (2008). Readings in science methods, K-8. Arlington, VA: NSTA Press.

Steele lists a number of ideas for teaching strategies to be used with special education students: 

1. Collaborate with special education and general education teachers. 

2. Create lessons based on themes or big ideas. 

3. Incorporate explicit instruction on the lesson topics. 

4. Use graphic organizers and visual representations. 

5. Model behaviors and strategies you want students to follow.

Study strategies include:

1. Study guide use. 

2. Material review tips. 

3. Note-taking practices. 


Classroom Observation 


Administrators observing lessons where students are observing habitats will see students caring for various organisms, making observations using hand lenses, measuring tools, making entries in their science notebooks, and cleaning or otherwise maintaining animal habitats.  Students' interest may be louder and messier than other curricular lessons and is a good indicator of high student interest and engagement.  See the National Science Teacher Association position paper on teaching with live organisms.  NSTA position paper on live animals in the classroom

  • If you have pets at home, students can observe and participate in providing the needs of the family pet.
  • Have students record a list of organisms found in their backyard.  If you take a family trip, make a new list of organisms found at the vacation location.  Compare and contrast the lists.