Keywords: succession, research, ecosystem, habitat; Grade Level: fifth through eighth grade; Total Time for Lesson: 60 minutes, or two 30-minute lessons; Setting: classroom

Concepts to Be Covered

  • Animals need food, water, cover, and space to survive
  • Forest succession provides for many various habitats.
  • Wildlife species depend on the stages of forest succession for food and cover.

Goals for the Lesson

  • The students will identify and illustrate the four main stages of forest succession: grass and forbs, shrubs and saplings, pole timber, and mature timber.
  • The students will list the natural habitat and preferred food of a given wildlife species.
  • The students will identify the stage of forest succession preferred for a given wildlife species.

Subjects: science

Topics: forest succession and wildlife

State Standards Addressed: Ecosystems and Their Interactions (4.6.A) ; Understand that living things are dependent on nonliving things in the environment for survival: Identify basic needs of a plant and an animal and explain how their needs are met, Identify plants and animals with their habitat and food sources, and describe how animals interact with plants to meet their needs for shelter.

Materials Needed

Teaching Model: Direct Instruction-Research-illustrating

Direct Instruction

"Today we are going to learn about the four stages or a forest and many types of wildlife that can be found in the forest." Define the following:

  • Succession: predictable change in a plant community over time. Give the names and descriptions of the four stages (Taken from Forest Stewardship: Wildlife (217K pdf) and Pennsylvania Wildlife No. 1: Wildlife-Habitat Relationships [2.1M pdf]):
  • Grass and forbs: a grassy field, providing food and cover as well as insects and seeds for small mammals.
  • Shrubs and saplings: this brush habitat provides low cover and woody browse, as well as berries and seeds.
  • Pole timber: after 15 to 20 years, trees 4 to 10 inches in diameter; least productive.
  • Mature timber: cavity trees, overstory trees, dead wood and leaf litter.

Have students create a large mural showing the four stages of forest development. The teacher can allow this to be done any number of ways:

  • put students into groups of four, making each student responsible for one stage, or requiring each student to add an illustration to each stage.
  • Divide the class into four groups and assign one stage to each group;: they create a mural for their assigned stage and then connect the four completed murals. [Students can be assigned a type of plant and be required to research the necessary information; however, I do not feel this is appropriate for third grade students.]

(Possible break point, dividing this lesson over two days)


  1. "Now that we know a little more about the forest, we need to understand why the four stages are important."
  2. Explain that many species of wildlife live in the forest, but they don't all use the same space.
  3. Review that animals need food, water, cover, and space to survive (page 5 of Wildlife is All).
  4. Tell the students that they will be conducting research on a specific animal. They will illustrate the animal, identify what it eats, and identity the habitat of that animal.
  5. Allow the students to draw a slip of paper from the container of various wildlife entries.
  6. Provide ample time and materials for the students to conduct the necessary research. See literature citations for reference materials.


After conducting the research, students must illustrate, color, and cut out the animal they selected. On the back of the animal, the student must list what it eats and its habitat. Upon completion, the student shows you his/her animal for evaluation, and then attaches it to the corresponding stage of the forest mural that was created.


The student work can be assessed based on whether the directions were followed. Did the student illustrate the animal, identify what it eats, identify its habitat, and mount it correctly on the mural? Each of the four aspects can be given 25 points, (see pages 4 and 9 of Forest Stewardship: Wildlife ).


Sullivan, Kristi, and Margaret Brittingham (1994). Forest Stewardship: Wildlife . University Park, Pa.: The Pennsylvania State University.

DeLong, Colleen, and Margaret Brittingham (1997). Pennsylvania Wildlife No. 1: Wildlife-Habitat Relationships . University Park, Pa.: The Pennsylvania State University.

Brittingham, Margaret, and Colleen DeLong (1998). Management Practices for Enhancing Wildlife Habitat . University Park, Pa.: The Pennsylvania State University.

Wildlife Is All Around Us: Book 1, The Wildlife Detective. 4-H Wildlife Conservation Program, Unit 1. University Park, Pa.: The Pennsylvania State University.


Hope Wenzel, Tyrone Elementary School, PA