Lesson Plan 4: Can farming affect biodiversity?

Grade levels: 4 to 6.

Subjects: Science, Biology, Agriculture, Environmental Education

Duration: Classroom time (45 min + 1.5 hours + 50 min) + 3.5 hour on-farm session

Description: Students play a detective mission game in which they visit a farm and surrounding area and observe differences in ecosystems and in plant and animal species to learn how farming practices can affect the environment and biodiversity. Students present their findings orally and through a poster presentation. Learning objectives: By the end of the activity, the students will be able to:

  • Collect biodiversity-related field data using simple observation techniques;
  • Summarize and present research findings in written and oral forms;
  • Analyze and interpret data to arrive at a conclusion based on various sources.

Skills: Students will develop skills in the following areas:

  • Field data collection;
  • Poster presentation.

Materials: Notebook, pencil, detective mission, measuring instruments (ruler, tape measure), observation materials (tape recorder, digital camera, magnifying glass), drawing/painting materials, flip chart paper or other large sheets of paper.

Vocabulary: agroecosystem, biodiversity, ecosystem, indicator.


Initial preparation:

  1. Select a farm with various ecosystems where students can walk around to observe how farming practices have affected the environment. Depending on the farm, different ecosystems may include a grain field, a vegetable garden, an orchard, a fish or duck pond, a forest, a lawn or a hedgerow. Obtain permission to use the farm and invite the host farmer(s) to join in the activity and answer students’ questions. Ask the farmer how agriculture has affected the landscape and biodiversity on and around the farm. This information should be shared with the adult chaperones so that they can answer students’ questions.
  2. Prepare a detective’s mission with clues specific to the chosen area. (See sample below.) Classroom preparation: (45 minutes)
  3. Start activity with a KWL chart or word wall to explain key vocabulary. (See appendix 1.) Explain learning objectives.
  4. Have students read “Can farming affect biodiversity?” in Biodiversity, food and farming for a healthy planet before going to the farm.
  5. Introduce concept of an indicator in the context of biodiversity and agriculture. For example, “What happens when you go to a farm and ask ‘how does agriculture affect biodiversity?’ out loud? Probably nothing because the plants, animals, trees and soil won’t answer in a human language. Instead, you need to look for clues to find the answer. In biology and in other sciences, these clues are called indicators. An indicator is a sign of something else. One indicator you might find is a fallen tree on the edge of a field. When trees are felled to create space for planting crops, the remaining trees are more exposed to the elements. The remaining trees may not be used to the strong winds. They are more vulnerable and more likely to fall. So, cutting down trees for farming can stress the remaining trees and eventually reduce biodiversity. A fallen tree is a clue, or an indicator, of how agriculture affects biodiversity.”

At the farm: (3 hours)

  1. At the farm, set ground rules on safe and appropriate outdoor behaviour. Verify with the farmer areas that children should not enter (e.g. because it is too dangerous)
  2. If the farmer chooses, he or she can give a short tour of the farm before the game so the students will know what crops are grown and which animals are raised. Encourage the students to ask questions.
  3. After the tour of the farm, if possible, explain the rules of the game.
    • Divide students into teams of five, each accompanied by an adult. Assign a role to each student (e.g. someone to take notes, someone to read the detective mission aloud, someone to keep track of the time, someone to report findings to the class, someone to monitor to energy level of the group). Students may rotate roles throughout the activity.
    • Students must follow the ground rules.
    • Each team receives a biodiversity inspection kit comprising of detective mission, notebook, pencil, crayons, ruler, magnifying glass, digital camera, tape measure and tape recorder.
    • Each team is responsible for completing detective work for a given area.
    • Each team has 1.5 hours to complete the detective mission and return to the main base.
    • Throughout the activity, the adults in each group should help the students identify the appropriate vocabulary and ensure that all students participate. The adults should ask probing questions in steps 1 and 2 of the detective mission to ensure students recognize linkages between biodiversity and agriculture.
  4. Have student teams complete the detective mission, then write or draw a summary of their results on a large sheet of paper. (1.5hour)
  5. After the activity, have the class share their observations and compare the differences among groups observing different ecosystems. Encourage the students to describe their observations. Help students to identify appropriate vocabulary from their descriptions of their observations.

Classroom follow-up: 1.5 hours

  1. Explain the characteristics of a good poster (artistic elements such as colour, layout and use of graphics, and information elements such as important sections and appropriate poster language). See internet resources for more ideas.
  2. In their groups, have students create a poster illustrating two ways – one positive, one negative – of how agriculture affects biodiversity.
  3. If using a KWL chart, have the class complete the L column. Poster event: 45 minutes
  4. Host a poster presentation event. Invite other students, parents and teachers to read and enjoy the group posters. One member of the group should remain with the poster to answer questions. Each group member should stay with the poster for ten minutes. (If the class is doing lesson 3 – “How do farmers grow food around the world?”, combine poster presentation with the garden celebration.)


  • Each team submits a notebook with the completed detective mission sheet.
  • Active student participation in class discussion about each team’s observations and analysis on how farming changes an ecosystem, and in poster presentation event.
  • Artistic and content quality of group posters.
  • See appendix 3(a) and 3(e) for sample rubrics to assess participation, group work and posters.

Internet resources: