Subject: Science
Topics: Living and Non-living parts of an ecosystem
Duration: 30 minutes


Living vs. Non-living | Print |  E-mail


  • Students will observe the non-living and living components of the garden ecosystem.
  • Students will learn how the two components are interdependent.


  • Ball of Yarn
  • Marker
  • Name tags


  • Anytime

Group Size

  • Whole class

California State
Content Standards

L.S. 3.a



An ecosystem is a natural unit consisting of all plants, animals and micro-organisms (living) in an area functioning together with all of the non-living physical factors of the environment. Ecosystems can show a complex relationship between the living and non-living factors. This activity shows the interconnectedness of an entire ecosystem. For example, some minor air pollution can have an affect on an amphibian (they are sensitive to pollution because they breath through their skin as well as their lungs). This can cause the insect population to increase on one end of the food chain as well as cause predators of the amphibian to not have enough food. The increased insect population may change the plant population, depending on what they eat. Therefore, one small change in the ecosystem can cause a complete shift in what it looks like.

The lesson below can physically show the connection between living organisms and non-living organisms in the ecosystem. It can be used as an introduction to the concept of how ecosystems are interconnected.



Ecosystem: An ecosystem includes all plants and animals in an area functioning together with the living and non-living components of the environment.
Interconnected:  In any given ecosystem, a change in one part of that ecosystem can have an affect on the whole.

Attention Grabber

Show students how to take a mental picture of the garden. They make a frame with their hands and try to remember everything that fits inside that frame. Students can have about 3-5 minutes to walk around the garden and take mental pictures of what they see. Stress the importance of trying to remember everything within their frame!


Garden Activity    go_top

  • Have the students come back and make a circle. With a partner, they can share some of the things they saw.
  • Have a few partners share. For each thing they see, ask if that thing is or was alive OR if it never was alive and never will be alive. A good example of something that is considering living is a dead leaf. Even though it is dead, since it once was alive, it is considered “living”. A rock is a good example of something that is nonliving, because it never was living and never will be living.
  • Allow students to think and share with a neighbor some examples they saw (or didn’t see if they think of the “air”) that are living and non-living.
  • Have a ball of yarn ready. One student will hold onto the string and share something that is living or nonliving. You can ask them if it is living or nonliving to check for understanding. When they share their answer, they can hold onto their string and then (gently) throw the ball to someone else in the circle. They can be asked to share something they saw that is living or nonliving. This continues until everyone in the circle is holding onto string. While they are doing this, write on a sticker the part of the ecosystem they shared. This is helpful for the students to remember each other’s role in the ecosystem.
  • Gently pull on the string. Ask students who felt the tug to raise their hand. Gently pull on another string and ask students to raise their hand if they felt it. The string, just like in an ecosystem, connects them all. We call this interconnectedness.
  • Share an example of how if the water or air, the non-living components of the ecosystem, are polluted, it can have an affect on everything. You can share a story about a farmer who sprayed their field with pesticides killed the insects, then the fish and birds, and larger animals. Students who would be affected by this can let go of the string. Students still holding on need to check to make sure they are supported in their changed ecosystem. Do they still have food? Do they have water?

Wrap Up  go_top

  • Review examples of living and non-living factors they saw in the garden ecosystem. Review what the word “interconnected” means. Have students raise their hand if they were affected by the farmer who used pesticides. Ask students what they can do to help make sure they do not harm an ecosystem.


What's Next?

  • Make an art project that can depict the living and non-living components of an ecosystem.
  • Make a poster to ask people not to pollute our air or streams.
  • Continue the study of living and non-living through studying soil. Soil is composed of different sized rocks (sand, clay, and silt) and organic material (decomposed living things). Have students feel samples of sand, clay, and silt. Fill a jar with soil and water. Put on the lid and shake. They can watch the different layers of soil separate.