Animal Habitats

Limiting Factors Affecting Habitats and Species Survival

This Unit was Created using the Backward Design Model


As the library media specialist, I regularly incorporate the information and technology standards with the classroom curriculum standards. For this unit, I worked with fourth grade students and their science standards. The students are currently learning about ecosystems and studying habitats and the effects of environmental changes. I met with the fourth grade teachers to discuss how I could extend the students' learning in the library. The teachers wanted me to reinforce major components of a habitat and how these elements and other circumstances can become limiting factors within the environment for a species.




4.L.1 = Understand the effects of environmental changes, adaptations and behaviors that enable animals (including humans) to survive in changing habitats.

Information and Technology Standards

Technology as a Tool

4.TT.1.2 = Use a variety of technology tools to organize data and information (e.g., word processor, graphic organizer, audio and visual recording, online collaboration tools, etc.).


In planning this unit, I thought about the enduring understanding that the students should internalize as well as the information students should be familiar with and what was important to know.

Worth Being Familiar With

The students should be familiar with biomes, ecosystems, animal adaptation, habitat loss, habitat improvement, food chains, and climate.

Important To Know

It is important for the students to know the four basic components of a habitat (food, water, shelter, space), biotic (living) and abiotic (non-living) elements, interdependence, and survival.

Enduring Understanding

I wanted to students to remember that a variety of factors can affect a species. These limiting factors can extend beyond food, water, shelter, and space. I wanted to students to investigate additional influences which could impact an animal's habitat and affect the population of an animal species.

Essential Questions

This led me to develop essential questions for the students to examine.

  • How do environmental and outside influences within a habitat affect an animal population?
  • What solutions can be offered for species survival when faced with a limiting factor in the habitat?


I designed the assessment to include a variety of instruments allowing for informal and formal evaluation of the students' learning. These different assessment tools allowed for examination of learning and mastery both during and at the end of the unit. These assessment tools are aligned with the instructional goals.

Types of Assessment

  • Questioning = I developed a series of questions to use after the bear gathering food and water activity. The assessment tool of using questions allowed students to access prior knowledge and facilitated the opportunity for me to guide the students to a higher level in their thinking. The questions increased in complexity and spiraled from previous answers and were intended to encourage discussion and debate of multiple perspectives. The use of questions helped to set the stage for the rest of the unit lessons and activities.
  • Concept Mapping = I selected Popplet as the platform for students to use as their graphic organizer for brainstorming. Popplet enabled the students to have a visual representation of their brainstorming and allowed me to assess and guide their thinking process. The students were able to organize and rearrange thoughts as needed during the creation of the concept map and color code to distinguish ideas. Also, the students could make connections and identify relationships between ideas by linking them together within the concept map.
  • Problem Solving with Rubric = I designed the end product to include a problem solving situation as part of a performance task. I created a Google Slides presentation to provide an explanation and demonstration of the five steps. I wanted the students to utilize three of the five problem solving steps. The students were given a rubric I developed for this specific project so they had a clear outline of the expectations and requirements. This problem solving rubric was shared with all students in Google Drive. The concluding product incorporating the strategies for solving problems would be a paragraph typed in a collaborative Google Doc. The students needed to gather necessary information, consider solution possibilities and thoughtfully generate a proposed solution.

Problem Solving Steps

  1. Understand the problem
  2. Brainstorm all possible solutions
  3. Come up with a plan
  4. Carry out the plan
  5. Evaluate how it worked


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I chose to focus on a forest habitat for bears for this unit. Discussions throughout each activity enabled students to apply this knowledge to the broader scope that each type of habitat has components which can become limiting factors.

Bears in the Forest (with Questioning Assessment)

To actively engage students in an introduction to limiting factors in a habitat, I had each student pretend they were a black bear living in a forest. I explained that we would be examining the four basic habitat components of food, water, shelter, and space but provided very little information beyond that. Each student was given a shelter (a basket) and they had to find a place to put that shelter within the space (the library). Colored squares were scattered throughout the space and students were instructed they could collect only one square at a time, return it to their shelter, and then go back out to gather another square. I intentionally did not have quite enough water sources and only had enough food sources so that about two-thirds of the bears survived. To add additional complexity to the habitat, one bear was injured in a territory fight resulting in a broken leg (this student could use only one leg when moving), one bear had been blinded by an encounter with a porcupine (this student wore a blindfold), and one bear had two cubs in her den so she needed twice the amount of food and water sources to provide for them.

After all colored squares had been collected, I explained the different types of food and water sources that the squares represented. I revealed that each bear needed 80 pounds of food and water to survive. The students added up their total pounds of food and water sources and we engaged in discussion/debate regarding the four components of this habitat. The questions I asked allowed for me to check for understanding as well as analyze this activity with the students. Also the questions and resulting conversations with the class helped segue into the next lesson segment.

Research Other Limiting Factors

I provided instruction about the steps for problem solving using a Google Slides presentation. I explained that they would apply steps one, two, and three of the problem solving process to examine other threatening components in an animal's environment. The students worked in groups of three to learn information about other factors which can limit an animal population in a habitat. The students utilized the online databases in NC WiseOwl including the Britannica database in the Middle School Zone section. Then the students discussed the articles and selected one limiting factor on which to focus (pollution, deforestation, disease, wildfire).

Problem Solving (with Concept Map and Rubric Assessments)

After more researching to learn about the specific habitat limiting factor, the students brainstormed ideas to address or solve this problem. The students used the online tool Popplet to create an mind map of their ideas. Each member of the group communicated and shared potential solution suggestions. Using Popplet allowed students to organize, rearrange, and connect ideas as they brainstormed.

Next one student created a Google Doc and shared it in Google Drive with the other two students in their group. The students worked collaboratively to type a summary of their research and a plan to address that particular problem which is threatening habitats and animal populations. Students were able to add to and edit within their group's Google Doc. This project required the students to think critically by analyzing the concern and creatively by developing a solution. The students referred to the Problem Solving Rubric for guidance throughout the research, brainstorming, and writing process. As a culminating activity, each group shared their proposal with the class and encouraged questions, feedback and discussion from their classmates.

Popplets Created by Students

collaborative Google Doc

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