Ecosystems Lesson – Living or Non-Living, Biotic or Abiotic?

Essential Questions:

What do “biotic” and “abiotic” mean? What are biotic and abiotic things found in our local ecosystem?

Activating Strategies:

1. The teacher starts hula hooping in the front of the room to get student’s interest piqued.

2. Students make educated guesses to answer the essential questions by discussing possible answers in pairs.

Teaching Procedure:

1. Give students the simple definitions of biotic- living or once living, and abiotic- never living.

2. Use the feather, paper, coin, and a small plastic item to discuss whether each is biotic or abiotic. The feather is biotic because it is part of a creature that was living. The paper is biotic, because it is made of wood from trees that lived. The coin is abiotic, because it is made of metal that is not alive, and never lived. The plastic item is abiotic. Although plastic is from petroleum, which originated as plant and dinosaur remains, that happened so long ago that we will consider plastic to be abiotic.

3. Have student pairs fold a piece of paper the long way to make two columns. Label one column “biotic,” and the other “abiotic.”

4. Pairs take a hula hoop, pencils, and their paper, along with a clipboard (or something to write against) outside. They find a spot within designated boundaries to place their hoop on the ground. Once placed, the hoop may not be moved.

5. Instruct students to observe carefully everything they can that can be seen within their hula hoop. Then, analyze whether it is biotic or abiotic, and categorize it by writing it under the appropriate column. Do this for 5-10 minutes.

6. Next, instruct students to infer what is likely underneath the surface of the area within their hula hoop. Have them think of everything they can all the way down to the center of the earth. Then have them analyze and categorize those things on their lists.

7. Last, have students infer everything they can think of that is likely above the area of their hula hoop, and analyze and categorize all of those things all the way up to outer space.
8. Optional- As time allows, let students do some hula hooping before you head back into the building.

Summarizing Strategies:

1. Come inside. Students compare lists with another team, comparing and contrasting biotic and abiotic lists. Students discuss any answers they disagree with, giving each other reasons for why they disagree with the categorization of any certain thing. After students check each others lists, they can ask about any certain items that they are not sure about. The teacher then models his or her thinking about how an item should be categorized.

2. Students answer the essential questions in the form of a half page “Ticket Out the Door,” which asks them to define “biotic” and “abiotic” in their own words, and to list 3 things they observed in their hula hoops that were biotic, and 3 things they found that were abiotic.


1. Feather, paper, coin, and small plastic item

2. One hula hoop per team of two students (a loop of yarn can be substituted.)

3. Paper and pencils

4. Clipboard (or something to write against) per team of two students

5. Copies of a “Ticket Out the Door”

6. Outdoor area large enough for students to spread out with their hoops