K.4.2.1 Natural Systems

Life Science
Interdependence Among Living Systems
Standard K.4.2.1

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

Benchmark: K. Components in a System

Observe a natural system or its model, and identify living and nonliving components in that system.

For example: A wetland, prairie, garden or aquarium.


Standard in Lay Terms 

Students will be able to observe and name living and nonliving things in a real or model habitat or other environment.

Big Ideas and Essential Understandings 

Big Idea:

This standard can correlate with Minnesota Standard K. Life Structures: Living things are diverse with many observable characteristics. 

This standard also correlates with the Minnesota Standard K. Practice of Science: Scientific inquiry is a set of interrelated processes used to pose questions about the natural world and investigate phenomena.

Children need to understand the definition of living and what makes something alive. Some animals and plants are alike in the way they look and in the things they do. Other plants and animals are very different from one another. Altas Vol. 2 - p. 31

General similarities and differences among organisms are easily observed. Children can focus on any attribute - size, color, limbs, fins or wings. Benchmark p. 101 Benchmark p. 101  

It is not difficult for students to grasp the general notion that species depend on one another and on the environment for survival. But their awareness must be supported by knowledge of the kinds of relationships that exist among organisms, the kinds of physical conditions that organisms must cope with, the kinds of environments created by the interaction of organisms with one another and their physical surroundings, and the complexity of such systems. Students should become acquainted with many different examples of ecosystems, starting with those near at hand. Benchmark Chpater 5

Students should investigate the habitats of many different kinds of local plants and animals, including weeds, aquatic plants, insects, worms, and amphibians, and some of the ways in which animals depend on plants and on each other. Benchmark Chapter 5

Benchmark Cluster 

MN Standard Benchmarks : Observe a natural system or its model and identify living and nonliving components in that system.K.


This is the song The Green Grass Grows All Around.  It would be a great starting point for this standard.  What environment were they in? What did you observe? How did each item need each other?

Green Grass Grows All Around

  • NSES Standards:

Systems and subsystems, the nature of models, and conservation are fundamental concepts and processes included in this standard. Young students tend to interpret phenomena separately rather than in terms of a system. Force, for example, is perceived as a property of an object rather than the result of interacting bodies. Students do not recognize the differences between parts and whole systems, but view them as similar. Therefore, teachers of science need to help students recognize the properties of objects, as emphasized in grade-level content standards, while helping them to understand systems.


  • AAAS Atlas:

Something may not work if some of its parts are missing. 11 A/2 p. 133 vol. 1

Most living things need water, food and air. 5 C/2 p. 77 Vol. 1

Animals eat plants or other animals for food. 5 D/1p. 77 vol. 1

Plants and animals both need to take in water, and animals need to take in food.  In addition, plants need light.5E/1 P.77 vol. 1


  • Benchmarks of Science Literacy:

Animals eat plants or other animals for food and may also use plants (or even other animals) for shelter and nesting. 5D/P1

Living things are found almost everywhere in the world. There are somewhat different kinds in different places. 5D/P2


Framework for K-12 Science Education

There are many different  kinds of living things in any area, and they exist in different  places on land and in water. 2LS4.D

Common Core Standards (i.e. connections with Math, Social Studies or Language Arts Standards):

Math Standard: Geometry and Measurement: Recognize and sort basic two- and three-dimensional shapes; use them to model real-world objects. K.3.1.2 -Sort, classify and order objects by size, number, and other properties and describe the attributes used.


Student Misconceptions 

Lower elementary-school students can understand simple food links involving two organisms. Yet they often think of organisms as independent of each other but dependent on people to supply them with food and shelter.

NSDL Science Literacy Maps

Elementary students may believe that a system of objects must be doing something or interacting in order to be a system or that a system that loses part of itself is still a system. Source

Young children do not recognize trees as living although they understand that seedlings are alive. ( Berthelsen, B. (1999). Students Naïve Conceptions in Life Science.   MSTA Journal, 44(1) (Spring'99), pp. 13-19.  Source


Teacher will tell the class they will be taking a quiet walk around the school environment inside the classroom or building.

Before leaving the teacher will ask the students if they know what an environment is...give the definition: The surroundings( area) or conditions in which a person, animal, or plant lives or operates. What is the name of the environment we are in now?  School, classroom, etc

Teacher will ask the students to name what they think they may observe and list them on chart paper.

Teacher will give/remind any rules about moving through the classroom or school. Students will go on a quiet walk. Students will bring a science journal/notebook. Students will quietly and slowly walk through our the environment and draw and label what they observe( see, hear, feel).  The teacher may need to remind students to look up, down, to listen, etc.

When the students return they will name what they observed and see if their predictions were correct. The teacher will write other items on the chart paper that were not there before.

**If the teacher has already taught the difference between living and nonliving (Minnesota Standard K.4.1.1) then the teacher will make a t-chart and students will sort what they saw into living and nonliving groups.

Students draw and label what they observe in a science journal/notebook as they walk (or you may want to wait until they return or take a few drawing breaks through out the walk).

When they return the students will go back to the list of predictions to see if they were correct.  Students can name other objects and the teacher will write items that were not predicted to the list.

Afterward the teacher can make a t-chart and students will list what is living and nonliving.

Ask the students through out the lesson why we have these items.  Ex.  Walls/roof- to keep the building and the weather out, doors, - so we can get in and out of a space, windows - so we can let light in and fresh air in and keep bugs and weather out, hallways- so we can move from one space to another, drinking fountains - so we can get a drink if we are thirsty etc.  All of this should lead the students down the road to asking why we have certain things in our world and how they help and are dependent on each other.


Instructional Notes 

Instructional suggestions:

All students, especially those who live in circumstances that limit their interaction with nature, must have the opportunity to observe a variety of plants and animals in the classroom, on the school grounds, in the neighborhood, at home, in parks and streams and gardens, and at the zoo.

But observing is not enough. The students should have reasons for their observations-reasons that prompt them to do something with the information they collect.

The reason can be to answer the students' own questions about how organisms live or care for their young.

Some students may enjoy displaying, with drawings, photographs, or even real specimens, all the living things they can find where they live.

The point is to encourage them to ask questions for which they can find answers by looking carefully (using hand lenses when needed) at plants and animals and then checking their observations and answers with one another. Benchmark Chapter 5  

Use these resources to integrate the nature and process of science into your teaching.

K-2 Teacher's Lounge

Keys to Inquiry

This is a great resource for teachers to gain insight on how students think. 

The Power of Children's Thinking by Karen Worth: Children's Thinking

Science songs for all concepts and topics. Science Songs

Butternut Hollow Pond. Brian J. Heinz. Illustrated by Bob Marstall. Millbrook Press. 32pp. Trade ISBN 0-7613-1325-7, $15.95; Library ISBN 0-7613-0268-9, $22.90. (I) The reader explores the interdependence of organisms in a pond with particular emphasis on food webs. Excitement reigns as an animal quickly changes its role from hunter to hunted. Through text and watercolor illustrations, the reader develops an appreciation of ecology and the environment. NPS (I, IV)

Crab Moon. Ruth Horowitz. Illustrated by Kate Kiesler. Candlewick Press. 32pp. Trade ISBN 07636-0709-6, $15.99. (P, I) In this story, Daniel discovers horseshoe crabs laying their eggs on a sandy beach during the full moon. As readers learn about the spawning of horseshoe crabs, they can feel Daniel's excitement as he explores his discovery. Author's Note. CAR (I, IV)

The Forest in the Clouds. Sneed B. Collard III. Illustrated by Michael Rothman. Charlesbridge. 32pp. Trade ISBN 0-88106-985-X, $16.95; Paperback ISBN 0-88106-986-8, $6.95. (I) This volume presents a vivid picture of Earth as a system via the cloud-shrouded areas of the mountainous tropical rain forests of Costa Rica. The focus is on the delicate balance of the flora and fauna in this ecosystem. Bibliography, Web Sites, Maps, Glossary. PSB (I, IV, VII)

A Handful of Dirt. Raymond Bial. Illustrated with photographs by the author and others. Walker. 32pp. Trade ISBN 0-8027-8698-7, $15.95; Library ISBN 0-8027-8699-5, $17.85. (I) Colorful photographs and meaningful text present the nature and importance of soil and the many forms of life it supports. This work takes the reader on an "eye-opening, down-in-the-dirt tour of one of Earth's most common but precious resources" - soil and its ecology. Further Reading, Index. JKH (IV)

Marine Mammal Preservation (The Science of Saving Animals series). Peggy Thomas. Illustrated with photographs. Twenty-First Century Books/Millbrook Press. 64pp. Library ISBN 0-7613-1458-X, $23.90. (A) Students learn how scientific studies of animal behavior combined with public awareness can help to save lives of marine mammals. Research and rehabilitation techniques for whales, manatees, seals, and sea otters are featured. Glossary, Further Reading, Index. LMN (IV, VI, VII)

Our Big Home: An Earth Poem. Linda Glaser. Illustrated by Elisa Kleven. Millbrook Press. 32pp. Trade ISBN 0-7613-1292-7, $14.95; Library ISBN 0-7613-1650-7, $21.90. (P) Sun, rain, air, animals, people - all are a part of the Earth, our big home. Portraits of children and animals are whimsically detailed through delightful multicultural drawings from around the world. The language is melodic and full of cheerful metaphors that make the characters lively and memorable. PSB (I, IV, V)

River of Life. Debbie S. Miller. Illustrated by Jon Van Zyle. Clarion Books. 32pp. Trade ISBN 0-395-96790-2, $15. (P) Rich in word choice, this book develops strong images of the life cycle that unfolds along a river, as winter melts into spring and spring becomes the warm days of summer. Inviting illustrations help tell this story of a river ecosystem. Glossary. TH (IV)

Spring Thaw. Steven Schnur. Illustrated by Stacey Schuett. Viking. 32pp. Trade ISBN 0-670-87961-4, $15.99. Paper ed. (F) Puffin Books. (P) Amidst beautiful illustrations, the text explores the changes in farmland as the signs of spring appear. More than melting of the snow, the story observes the gathering of maple syrup, the magnificence of young lambs, and the return of birds as spring arrives. NPS (IV, I)

This Is the Tree. Miriam Moss. Illustrated by Adrienne Kennaway. Kane/Miller. 32pp. Trade ISBN 0-916291-98-7, $14.95. (P) The author has created the story of an ancient baobab tree and the wildlife in Africa that cohabitate with the tree. She has chosen a prose poem as the literary form for telling the story of this remarkable tree. The final double-page spread describes the parts of the tree in detail. JMH (IV)

Wild and Swampy. Written and illustrated by Jim Arnosky. HarperCollins. 32pp. Trade ISBN 0-688-17119-2, $15.95; Library ISBN 0-688-17120-6, $15.89. (I) Mangrove Swamps come alive. Acrylic paintings created from pen-and-ink journal sketches detail observations of a naturalist. This poetic account of life webbing through unique relationships creates visions beyond the story. Wild and Swampy weaves a tapestry of science and art. A great read-aloud selection despite a typographical error in the introduction that identifies a fir tree as "fur." Author's Note. JCS (I, II, IV)

Selected activities:

The same types of observations as state above in the vignette should place in as many environments as possible for the students.  For example:

Take a walk through a nature area:

Review the meaning of environment and ask if they know what habitat means: The area or environment where an organism or ecological community normally lives or occurs or the place where a person or thing is most likely to be found. Here is a link to a habitat song.

Habitat Song

Before students go on the nature walk describe to them where you will taking a walk this time. See if they can predict the environment or habitat. IF they cannot give them the answer.  Then ask what they think they will see and why.  Teacher writes predictions. **If the teacher has already taught the difference between living and nonliving ( Minnesota Standard K.4.1.1) then the teacher may want to ask if they believe the item is living or nonliving.

Students draw and label what they observe in a science journal/notebook as they walk (or you may want to wait until they return or take a few drawing breaks through out the walk).

Students will go back to the list of predictions to see if they were correct.  Teacher will add other items that were not predicted to the list.

Afterward the teacher can make a t-chart and students will list what is living and nonliving.

If you do not have a nature are that you can visit go on this virtual "Walk Through the Woods" Virtual Walk in the Woods 

Field Trip to the Aquarium:  Same as above.

If you are unable to visit a large aquarium set up a small aquarium in the classroom with a variety of aquatic animal and plant life along with a nonliving items such as pebble, rock, treasure chest etc. The students will be able to observe this aquatic environment and name the items and decide if they are living and nonliving.

Here are a few links to virtual fish tanks.

Virtual Fish Tank

Fish Tycoon Virtual Aquarium

You could do these same steps above for a walk to the: lake/beach, a garden, a farm, a pond, a park, and much more.  The more experiences the children have the more vocabulary they gain, the better equipped they are to compare and contrast animals, plants, and other living as well as nonliving things.

There a lessons for observing and making sense of the living world.

Living World Lesson

Here is a link to many ways to make a variety of terrariums.


Here is a link on how to make an ant farm-

Ant Farm   

Here is a link on how to make a worm hotel - Worm Hotel

Is It Alive? - This unit has a variety of lessons that take the students through developing the concept that all things can be classified as living and non living, Identify and compare the differing features of differing animal species, observe and identify the characteristics that distinguish animals from plants and choose and plan a suitable environment for a class pet.

Is it Alive lessons

Foss Kits:  If you do not have Foss kits you can look online for the lesson along with a variety of online activities and home/school connections. Foss Website

Animals Two by Two - Investigation 1 - Part 1-3, Investigation 4- Part 4

Foss- Animals Two by Two

Trees- Investigation 1 Part 1, Investigation 2 - Part 1

Foss - Trees

A video on how animals get their food from their environment Animal Video

Instructional Resources 

Additional resources or links:

Biome This is an interactive biome site called, " What is it Like Where You Live?".  It        shows what it is like to live in a variety of areas around the world.

Science Songs

New Vocabulary 


Living - having life/not dead;having the characteristics of a living thing

Nonliving - does not have life;does not have the characteristics of a living thing

Observe -The action or process of observing something or someone carefully  in order to gain information.

Ecosystem - an area that contains organisms (e.g., plants, animals, bacteria) interacting with one another and their non-living environment.

Technology Connections 

1. Match Animals to their Habitats Game Drag the animal to the correct picture of where the animal lives

2. Living vs. Nonliving Interactive Activity BBC Activity Decide which ones move by themselves. Teacher directed.

3. Put the Animals in their home Funschool Drag the animal to the correct enviornment and the animal will stop shaking.

4. Kritter Craze Beacon Webquest. Learn about basic needs and habitats through pictures

5. Growing Plants Activity BBC Interactive Activity. Water a plant and watch it grow.

6. Habitat Maker - Students can make their own habitat

7. Pancake Wood -The interactive site, Welcome to Pancake Wood, lets students explore the woods at different times during the day and helps us learn what animals need in the woods. 

8. Living and Non-living Things - This interactive site helps children find living and nonliving things in various environments.

9.  Caterpillar - Build your own caterpillar depending on its environment

10. Habitats - Find living and nonliving things in the habitats.

11. Explore Animal Homes - from Springboard Magazine

12.  The Farm - [Reading skills required] Visit several areas of the farm and notice the different types of things which live there. This is an excellent beginning site that teaches your students about the farm in addition to practicing beginning computer skills such as clicking once and using arrow keys.

13.  Match Animals to their Habitat - select one of the twelve habitats at Animal Universe and choose animals that live in that habitat (select Maybe Later on the registration screen)

14.  Snuffy's Safari (Sesame Street) - travel to one of three environments and search for animals that live there using Sunffy's binoculars.

15.  Squish the Fish - [Reading skills required] Help Squish travel out across the reef to find his lunch. He needs to find friends who will help him hide from his nemesis, Big Tooth Blob. Learn about shape, color, and behavioral adaptations for survival.

Cross Curricular Connections 

Art - Children could use many mediums of art to make a real or invented environment.

Habitat Diorama

Habitat crafts

Music - There are many songs about our world and its environments.

Environment songs

Language Arts:  Students can draw pictures of habits and label the picture or write simple sentences to tell what is in the habitat.



Students will be able draw or make a model of an ecosystem, label the parts as living and nonliving. 

Using a rubric to grade the level of understanding during observation of the lessons along with a checklist for each student during the lessons is a good way to monitor progress and understanding if this standard.


Just beginning


Below grade level


At grade level


Exceeds grade level

Beginning to understand the concept or standard: relies on teacher support

Developing skills concept or standard with varied performance, needs continued practice and some support from the teacher

Demonstrates secure, consistent understanding of the concept or standard without teacher support; works independently and consistently

Exemplary performance of skills well beyond grade level, insightful responses

Teachers: Questions could be used as self-reflection or in professional development sessions.

  • What do I need to know and understand about the standard? What do my students need to know and understand about the standard?
  • Ask yourself 3 questions: What do my students already know about this standard (Did I use a preassessment?) What will I do if my students do not know the information? What will I do if my students already know and understand the information?
  • How did I use inquiry in my lessons?( See Minnesota Standard K. - Scientific Inquiry...)
  • What worked well and what should I change?

Administrators: If observing a lesson on this standard what might they expect to see.

Teacher should act as a guide. The teacher should be asking many questions; answering a question with a question guiding the student to find the answer to his/her own questions

If observing a lesson on this standard what might they expect to see.

The science teacher must have the content knowledge and the pedagogical content knowledge necessary to deliver their instruction effectively and in an engaging way. A good science teacher uses a variety of methods to effectively deliver the content to various population groups. Some researchers have found that pedagogical content knowledge and organizational skill in the planning and development of the lessons are qualities that good teachers have. (Tytler, R. and Waldrip, B. (2004). International Journal of Science Education. 26 (2), 171‐194.) The objective should be clearly stated, the level of questioning should be at all levels.

Student science achievement and student interest in science subjects and careers will improve if teachers consistently use research-based instructional practices, materials, and assessments so that each student:

  • Reveals preconceptions, initial reasoning, and beliefs;
  • Is intellectually engaged;
  • Uses evidence to generate explanations;
  • Communicates and critiques their scientific ideas and the ideas of others;
  • Makes sense of the learning experience and draws appropriate understandings;
  • Makes connections between new and existing scientific concepts by understanding and organizing facts and information in new ways; and
  • Reflects on how personal understanding has changed over time and recognizes cognitive processes that lead to changes. Observation Protocol
  • To observe inquiry in lesson students should be able to form a question, make a plan, do the investigation, record and report, reflect, revisit, and plan again, if needed.


Struggling Learners 

Struggling and At-Risk:

Many strategies and suggestions for special education or ELL students could be used for struggling or at risk students. The pre-teaching of the vocabulary or content using visuals or hands on experiences prior to the whole class lesson helps the students stay focused on the lesson and students find they will be able to share information.

English Language Learners 

Like special education students, some ELL students need to have vocabulary and concepts taught in small groups before whole group content lessons are taught. The use of pictures with vocabulary and content is very helpful.  Research shows it is helpful to have vocabulary or content taught in the students first language before having it taught in English.  Here are a few other helpful tips.

Students should work in groups when possible to solve problems or conduct experiments. Provide many hands-on experiences as ELL students learn best by doing and seeing lessons.

Show ELL students at all proficiency levels a sample of a completed project or assignment

Have students compile notebooks or science journals

Have students prepare collections of science objects, such as sticks and leaves.

Use "hands-on" experiential activities that do not rely on academic language for understanding

Prepare large charts that summarize the steps involved in experiments.

Ideas from: ELL resource

Extending the Learning 


Gifted and Talented Modules for E-learning Leading Teachers: E-learning modules for Gifted and Talented (G&T) leading teachers provide opportunities to reflect on G&T issues and approaches to addressing them, to practise strategies which have been found to be effective and to develop action plans for your own context. The modules also provide links to a range of resources and exemplification. Module 1: Teaching and learning, is part of the gap task between face-to-face training provided by LAs.

Other modules cover identification, leadership, good practice, working with parents and carers, transfer and transition, learners with particular needs, learning beyond the classroom, career development, Early Years Foundation Stage, Key Stages 1 and 2, primary science, English, mathematics, secondary science, music, PE and sport and EAL.

Primary Science Module: This module will examine using a high degree of challenge to benefit all pupils, including the gifted; how to increase challenge and encourage higher order thinking through discussion, scientific enquiry and focused recording as well as how to map classroom outcomes to the Institutional Quality Standards (IQS) and Classroom Quality Standards (CQS).                                     

If students already show that they know and understand this concept they should be able to do a small but more in depth independent or partner study on a ecosystem and list 5 - 10 new facts about the system and share these with the class

The student can choose to do a study comparing/contrasting things two different ecosystems.  Using a Venn Diagram or T-chart draw what makes them the same/different.

The student could invent a new environment by using what they learned or know about ecosystems. They could illustrate, make a model, label the living and nonliving things in the environment, and write a description how they all help each other. 

Write a poem or song about an ecosystem.


The study of the ecosystems from around the world is a great way to get students from other parts of the United States or world to connect to something they have experience with. This would be a great place in to include social studies standards dealing with geography.

Pictures, photos, objects used in the lessons should encompass a wide variety of items from around the world.  For example if you are using or showing various plants, animals, or people find those that are from around the world.  Use  of books that show a wide variety of pictures of people, animals, habitats, plants etc from all over the world.

Find the nearest Multicultural Center for lots of information about cultures around the world.  Here are a few websites of multicultural centers.

North Suburban Multicultural Resource Center

St. Paul Schools Multicultural Center

Special Education 

There are many different kinds of special education students.  Depending on the students special education needs some need pre-teaching of the vocabulary or content prior to the whole class lesson, preferably using visuals.  This helps the students stay focused on the lesson and students find they will be able to share information. 



This is a fun interactive site that families can do together for some fun science learning.

Dynamo's Lab

Foss Website: Parent Resources: Home/School Connections:

Foss- Home School Connections

Peep and the Big Wide World:  Great site for easy at home science activities.

Peep and the Big Wide World