Lesson – Introduction to Biomes

To start my Biomes unit this year, I tried something new. I thought it was so successful I had to post about it here. Please feel free to use this and tell me how it goes. I believe the strategy could be used for almost any subject/content when you start a unit. I am going to do my best here to step you through each part of the lesson, but feel free to reach out to me if you want more details.

  1. On the board, I wrote these directions for when the students came into class. “On a piece of paper, write every word you can think of related to ‘Biomes’.” I did not collect this list and was upfront about that when asked. I allowed about 3 minutes of quiet writing after the bell before moving on.
  2. On the board, I drew a simple mind map and explained while I drew. I put a circle in the middle and wrote Biomes inside the circle. Then I branched out from the center -Tundra on one side and Desert on the other. Off of these two biome types, I added words like cold, polar bears, Arctic, permafrost for Tundra, and dry, snakes, sand, Sahara for Desert. Then, I added color to connect each of these branching words. For example, I circled polar bears and snakes in red because they were both animals. I explained each of these steps to the students.
  3. After demonstrating the mind map, I asked students to create a mind map under or next to their word bank. They could use additional words than were in the word bank if they had thought of new ones. I allowed enough time until it appeared 70% of the students were no longer adding to their work.
  4. Now came the fun part. I gave a 2 foot by 2 foot white board to each table group (3-4 students). I asked the groups to create a mind map that encompassed the ideas of every member in the group. I offered multiple colors of dry erase markers if they wanted them. I expected each member of the group to participate and contribute. To accomplish this, I walked around and sometimes had to do a little prodding to get the more reluctant students to jump in.
  5. Once the initial board mind map was done, I had them view a different group’s work. To do this, I told group X to go to group Y. When there, group Y would explain their organization strategy, though not read every word on the mind map. Group X would read the words to themselves. I asked Group X to notice what was different from their product and what they would change (add to or delete) from their mind map based on group Y. Then, we switched and Group Y went to listen and see Group X’s product. I only had them share with one other group.
  6. Next, I showed the train ride clip from “Zootopia” and asked the students to notice what they saw in the clip that might be helpful to add to their boards.
  7. Groups returned to their boards to make a “final” product. I added a component to this part, though, that I think was helpful. If, while the group was finishing modifying their board, a student had a relevant question, the student was to write the question on a sticky note. For example, if a student asked the group, “Is a city a biome?” and they could not agree on an answer, then the student would write that question on the sticky note. I collected these questions near the end of class.
  8. I asked students to stand up and share their final boards with the class. I did not ask them to read or describe anything, just stand up and show the class the board. After everyone shared, I read the questions and we discussed them. I did not give answers, just guided a discussion. Honestly, we ran out of time for all of the questions. I will hang onto them for later, but not the next class – probably the very end of the unit.
  9. Another funny/interesting thing happened. I offered students the option of taking a picture of their boards before erasing them. I was surprised at how many students wanted to take a picture of their boards. By doing this, I also received much less moaning when I asked them to erase the boards.

This was a great starter activity. The initial word banks students created were often very slim, some only had 3 words. By the time class was over (44 minutes later), the group boards were absolutely full. As I walked around, I saw some misconceptions on the board and it was a little difficult to not “correct” them, but I now have some ideas of what we need to make sure and address in this unit.

I think this activity also helped build some confidence in the students. I am excited to see how this unit progresses and what the level of engagement will be for my spectrum of students.

I am also planning to use this intro strategy for other units throughout the year. I would love to hear how any of you use this or a similar strategy to introduce a new unit and to assess prior knowledge.


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