Illinois Natural History Survey - University of Illinois

Bugs, Beavers, Birch Trees, and Bluebirds: Download PDF

This information is taken from the Illinois Department of Natural Resources Kids for Trees. For more information and activities about trees, check their website.

SUBJECTS: Science, Art, Math, Language Arts 
SKILLS: observing, gathering information, reading, communication 
OBJECTIVE: Students will learn that in the forest, and in all of nature, there are millions of living things and that each one has a unique role to play.


How many types of living things are there in the world? Believe it or not, no one knows. Scientists have identified about a million and a half different living things: insects, animals, and plants. Over 54,000 species live in Illinois. But scientists also know that there are millions and millions of other living things that have not yet been identified or classified. There is a big word to describe the fantastic variety of things in this world. The word is biodiversity. "Bio" means life, and "diversity" means lots of different forms of it. In Illinois you can begin to understand the importance of biodiversity by studying bugs, beavers, birch trees, and bluebirds. birch.gif

Working Together in the Woods. In even a small wooded area there is an amazing variety of life. Every living thing in the woods has its own unique role to play. If there were no bugs or worms, we would not have soil to grow food and forests. If there were no good soil, there could be no trees. If there were no trees, there could be no beavers or bluebirds. Bugs and worms are major contributors to the foundation of our forests.

From the Little Woods to the Big World. Remember, trees are important to use as they make the air that we breathe. It is a big world so it takes lots of trees to make enough air. In some parts of the world there are some large wooded areas, especially in South America, Africa, and Southeast Asia. These woods are called rain forests, and they make much of the air for the entire planet Earth. In rainforests there are millions of living things. These living things are important to the health of the forest. Bugs and worms burrow in dead plants to help make soil. Trees grow in the soil. Animals and birds live in the trees and eat seeds, nuts and fruits. They help plant more trees so there are always fresh trees when old trees die. That is why it is important to understand every kind of living thing. Sometimes even scientists do not understand the job that a single plant or animal does. But scientists know that every job in nature is important.

Have the students gather at the windows of the classroom and look outside. From the windows, how many kinds of living things can they identify? Keep a list. Have them take their time, and since they are looking for diversity, be as specific as possible. Include people, different kinds of birds, animals, and plants. If they see dogs, list different kinds. Look for differences in trees and bushes. Don't forget grass and insects. Even in an urban setting, the length of the list should surprise students.

kidsnglobe.gif Divide the class into five groups. Each group should be assigned to draw or bring to class pictures of different things that live in the woods. One group should be assigned to trees, one to smaller plants, one to animals, one to birds, and one to insects. Offer a prize to the group that can find the largest number of living things.

On a globe show students areas of the earth that are predominantly rain forest. With a ruler or a piece of string, measure these areas, explain what the measurement means in miles then compare the area to an area with which students are familiar - the state of Illinois for instance, or the United States. Discuss the importance of such large areas.

Read with the class the book "Rain Forest" by Helen Cowcher. The book provides ample discussion opportunities concerning biodiversity and the relationship between people and nature. It also features wonderfully simple color illustrations that students can imitate.

Have students draw, with some attempt to show proportion, five different-size things that might live in a forest.

Take a trip to a wooded area and, as a class, find living things that most people wouldn't see. Such forest secrets might include moss on trees, insect larvae on leaves, small plants under large plants, and insects under logs or rocks. (Be sure to return all logs or rocks to their original positions.) Keep a list of the things you find and, in the classroom, discuss the role that these hidden life forms might play in the woods.

biodiversity, rain forest, species

Next lesson - Trees for Tomorrow

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