Find what you need fast!  Type in your keyword and search.

Fire in the Forest! - Exploring Organisms and Ecosystems

Context for this Lesson


TOPIC: Pine forest ecosystems/food webs, and the impact of environmental changes

GRADE: 4th Grade


  • How are organisms in the Texas Pine Forests connected to each other?
  • How do organisms depend on each other? What happens to these relationships when the environment changes suddenly?
  • How do disasters like forest fires impact the balance of the ecosystem? 


  • Posters with definitions of “producers” and “consumers”
  • Tape
  • Markers
  • String for the cards

Element Visuals: Sun (cardboard), CO2, Oxygen, H20 (blue fabric), Earth (baggy of dirt)

Animal Cards: (with info) Woodpecker, Cotton mouth snake, Cottontail rabbit, Squirrel, Opossums

Plant Cards (with info) Loblolly pine, Black cherry, Muscatine grape, Black walnut



§112.15. Science Grade 4

  • (9) Organisms and environments. The student knows and understands that living organisms within an ecosystem interact with one another and with their environment. The student is expected to:
    • (A) most producers need sunlight, water, and carbon dioxide to make their own food, while consumers are dependent on other organisms for food
    • (B) Describe the flow of energy through food webs, beginning with the Sun, and predict how changes in the ecosystem affect the food web such as a fire in a forest. 

Common Core State Standards:

Speaking and Listening Grade 4

Comprehension and Collaboration: 

  • (1) Engage effectively in a range of collaborative discussions (one-on-one, in groups, and teacher-led) with diverse partners on grade 4 topics and texts, building on others’ ideas and expressing their own clearly.
    • (a) Come to discussions prepared, having read or studied required material; explicitly draw on that preparation and other information known about the topic to explore ideas under discussion.
    • (b) Follow agreed-upon rules for discussions and carry out assigned roles.
    • (c) Pose and respond to specific questions to clarify or follow up on information, and make comments that contribute to the discussion and link to the remarks of others.
    • (d) Review the key ideas expressed and explain their own ideas and understanding in light of the discussion.


"Welcome back from lunch everyone! (Or, Good morning everyone!) Did anyone have anything particularly tasty (for breakfast/lunch) today? I really enjoyed my ____________. Does anyone want to share what they had for breakfast/lunch?"

Go around and talk about what different people had for lunch. If lots of students are listing similar items, encourage them to think about other things they ate. Use the following questions to deepen their understanding of the food they consume:

Take a moment to look at the list, then consider:

  • Do we see any products of producers (plants) and consumers (animals) on this list? Great! You pointed out some fruit/veggies listed on the board that come straight from plants (producers), and some meat/fish products that come directly from animals (consumers), but what about some of these other items?
  • Today I had a sandwich for lunch. What is bread made of? How do we get the wheat needed to make the flour that goes into my sandwich bread?
  • Some of us had meat in our lunches, which comes from animals, but ______ had cheese in their lunch. Where does cheese come from?
  • What other food items up here come from plants and animals? What about this_______(Oreo, candy, etc)? What do we think this is made of? Where does that come from?

"So seeing all of the different things up here and where they come from, are we consumers are producers? Take a moment to acknowledge how many different things we eat/how many organisms we rely on for food." You can even draw a little picture of the class (or a stick figure) and draw lines to all of the different foods on the board, to reinforce the concept of the human food web.


"We’ve spent some learning about food webs, and today we’re going to think about the web in our Piney Forests of East Texas. Yesterday we heard all about our different Pine Forest friends, and we talked about which organisms are consumers, and which are producers. Today we’re going to visit our forest friends again! Today we are each going to take on the role of an animal in the Piney Forest." 

Hand out organism cards.

"Take a moment to (review) familiarize yourself with a couple of key facts about your organism, which are listed on the back of these lovely pictures. You will be able to wear these throughout the lesson, so please feel free to refer to them at any time!"

Give them time to look at the cards.

"I’ll know you’re ready to start our next activity when I have your eyes. Now that you’ve taken a moment to review your organism, you are going to get to become it. Together we are going to create a Pine Forest Ecosystem in this classroom."



Bring students to a standing circle in an open area.

"In a moment I’m going to ask you, one at a time to enter into our forest picture, which is located here (gesture to the necessary part of the room). As you enter into our forest area, you will say, “This Setting Needs…” and you will say the name of your organism. Then you freeze in pose as your organism. So for example, if my organism was a fly, I would say: “This setting needs a fly” and freeze as a fly (do this as you are explaining). Try to find a pose that will be easy to hold, because we will be frozen for a while! Also, your organism can be near other organisms, but not touching. Any questions? Would anyone like to start?"

Allow students to all create their frozen organism poses in the setting, then…

"Excellent job! Now since all of you are organisms, I’m going to add a few essential elements to our forest ecosystem. This setting also needs…" Add the water (blue fabric), the Sun (cutout, CO2, Oxygen, and Earth (dirt) to the environment.  "From your spot, take a look around! You have made an excellent forest!" Give them a moment to shake out and refreeze before the next part of the activity. If they need to re-assess their pose, now is a good time to do so.


"Now that we know what this whole setting needs, lets think about what OUR organism needs. What do you, as your organism, need to survive? From your pose, take a look around, and point to something you need or consume? Is there anything else, you need? Take your other finger and point to that. We've created our very own food web, and it looks like there are lots of things our organisms need to survive! Look around and see if anyone is pointing to you. When I come around and tap your shoulder, share one of the things you need (that you are point to)."


Today we’re going to think about what might happen to this food web if there is a fire in the forest. Take a moment to imagine that there has in fact been a HUGE fire in the Piney Forests. The fire has stopped, but this once beautiful forest filled with ash, and smoke. The fire has destroyed a large portion of the forest, and we need to figure out how this fire is going to impact the animals and plants that are left.


"As a group, we need to find out how the fire impacted the organisms in the forest, and they are going to do next. In order to do this, we are going to conduct some organism interviews. In a moment we will pair up. One person will play their organism, and the other will play the organism interviewer, then we will switch so that everyone has a chance to be both their organism, and the organism interviewer. But before we do that, lets go over some interview questions. What are some questions we might ask the organisms in order to find out 'How the fire impacted them?'" Take a moment to brainstorm and write down a list of questions for the organism. Then: "What are some questions that we might ask organisms in order to find out 'What are they going to do next?'" Take a moment to write down a list of questions for the organism. If not already on the board or the wall, post these lists of possible interview questions so that the students can refer to these questions throughout the interview.

Allow students to get into pairs and find their own spot in the room. Within the pairs, assign one student as A and the other as B. "The As will start as the expert organism interviewer, and the Bs will play their organism. For the purpose of this activity, imagine that we have animal/plant translators, so we can speak to these organisms freely. After the first interview is complete, As and Bs will switch roles. Interviewers (As to start), remember your goal is to find out how the fire has impacted the organism you are interviewing, and what this organism is going to do next. Organisms (Bs to start) feel free to embody the emotions your organism may be feeling, and think about how to use the information on the back of your cards as you answer these questions. You will have 4 minutes to conduct your interview before we will come back together as a group."


After they’ve both As and Bs have had the opportunity to be both the organisms and interviewers: "Alright! I’m going to ask everyone to join us in this circle of chairs, next to your partner. In a moment, I am going to be stepping into the role of a Piney Forest ecologist from the Piney Forest Research Center. An ecologist is a type of scientist who studies ecosystems, and my character specifically studies the Piney Forests. I have gathered all of you together in the Piney Forest Research Center, because I have heard you have interviewed some organisms from the forest and she would love to hear what you have found. To begin, As you will be the interviewers, and Bs you will be the organisms, and then we will switch. We’re going to enter into the drama in 3, 2, 1, and begin."


Ecologist (Teacher in Role): "Hello everyone, thank you so much for joining me here today. My name is Stephanie Pines, and I am one of the ecologists here at the Piney Forest Research Center. We are very worried about the health of this forest after such a devastating fire, and we here at the research center need to know how the plants and animals have been impacted in order to figure out what we need to do next. Now I hear that each organism here with us today has brought a representative, a highly trained organism interviewer, who is here to help each organism voice his or her concerns. Let’s start with our A group of interviewers, As please raise your hands. Would anyone like to share what he or she found?"

Have each interviewer sit with their animal, and state which organism they interviewed. Listen to what the interviewers have to say about the organism’s concerns. After the interviewers have a chance to speak, give the animals a chance to weigh in on the discussion as well. After all of the As have gone, switch to the B interviewers and repeat the process. After this is done: "Wow. It looks like getting this forest back in running order is going to be trickier than I thought. Well, thank you all so much for sharing your thoughts and your interviews with me. I have to get back to the Piney Forest Research Lab and report what all of you shared today to my fellow ecologists, so we can figure out what we need to do next. Thank you. again."

Facilitator takes off her hat. "Alright everyone, we’re going to end our interview drama there. If everyone could stand up, take off their organism cards and leave them on your chairs (or on the floor depending on where they are) shake it out, we’re going to leave our organism characters and interviewer characters here." Once they shake out their characters, students return to their desks. 




  • After hearing all these interviews and responses, what are some major problems could a fire in the pine forest cause?


  • What did you learn from all the different species and organisms?


  • What would happen if key part of your environment went missing?
Extensions/Applications : 


Variation: Have the students write up a newspaper report for the Piney Forest Daily from the perspective on their organism.

Extensions: Host organisms on a talk show and play out the "drama" of the fire a bit more.