Note to Teachers
The term species refers to a certain kind of organism (e.g., a specific
plant or animal). Typically, different species are characterized by
distinct, physical features, such as color, size, and/or structure.
Scientists called taxonomists classify organisms into groups, based
on their specific similarities or differences. Taxonomy is, in many
ways, similar to organizing books in a library (fiction and non-fiction;
hardback and paperback). It is estimated that there are as many as 5-14
million species on the earth today, most of which have yet to be discovered!
An organism's home is referred to as its habitat, providing all that
it needs to survive: food, water, shelter, and space.
Each organism has a specific role (or job) referred to
as its niche. Plants are called producers because they make their own
food; herbivores feed only on plants; other animals, called omnivores,
feed on both plant and animal matter; carnivores feed strictly on meat.
Organisms that break down fallen leaves and other dead matter are called
decomposers, returning nutrients to the soil (Mother Nature's recyclers!).
All of these organisms depend upon each other in the environment. An
extinct species refers to a type of organism that no longer exists.
Some examples include dinosaurs, dodos, and passenger pigeons.
Extinction occurs under natural circumstances. In the
case of dinosaurs, it is believed that the force of an asteroid colliding
with the earth approximately 65 million years ago stirred up a cloud
of dust that caused continuous darkness for several months. Without
sunlight, plants could not produce food, organisms died, and species
became extinct. In fact, it is estimated that, since life began approximately
3.5 billion years ago, 90-98% of all species that have ever existed
are now extinct!
species have so few individuals remaining that they are in danger of
becoming extinct. This could be due to natural causes (e.g., volcanic
eruptions; extreme climatic changes) or human activities (e.g., habitat
destruction; hunting). For instance, tropical rain forests provide habitats
for more than one-half of all living species; however, an estimated
40 million acres are being destroyed annually (an area approximately
the size of the state of Washington) at a rate of more than one football
field per second! As habitats disappear, so do the species that depend
upon them for survival.
At the turn of the century, hundreds of thousands of chimpanzees were
found in twenty-five African nations. Today, only five countries still
have populations of greater than 5,000. The main threats to chimpanzees
are habitat destruction, disease, and illegal hunting for food or wildlife
trade. It is uncertain if chimpanzees, now listed as an endangered species,
will be able to survive in the long term.
Duration: 30-45 minutes
Setting: Classroom or outdoors
Subject Areas: Biology, Geography, Math, Social Studies
Process Skills: Observing, Comparing
Materials Needed: Chairs or carpet squares, cassette player,
music cassette (preferably African music).
1. Ask the class if they can name the four essential require ments of
any animal in its habitat. To illustrate each of these needs, ask the
students to animate them as follows: food - rub your stomachwater -
pretend to drink from a cupshelter - hold your hands over your head
in the form of a roof space - extend your arms straight out from the
sides of your body
Teacher Tip: These illustrations should be repeated frequently during
the activity in order to reinforce the students awareness and understanding
of their meanings.
2. Arrange the chairs (or carpet squares) in a circle. Explain to the
students that each chair (or carpet square) represents a habitat requirement
(food, water, shelter, or space) in a forest. The students represent
a population of chimpanzees dependent upon these resources for their
Teacher Tip: At the beginning of the activity, have twice as many
chairs or carpet squares as students, if possible.
3. Ask students the following questions: How do chimpanzees obtain food
from their environ- ment? Water? How do they find shelter? Why is space
Teacher Tip: Chimpanzees eat fruit from the trees, drink water from
streams and lakes, and make nests in trees; the forest provides enough
space and resources to support social groups.
4. Explain that you are a forester who is logging in this area; you
are cutting down trees to ship to a foreign country to be used to make
furniture. Each time you cut down a tree, you will remove four chairs
(or carpet squares), because there now will be less food, water, shelter,
and space to meet the chimpanzees needs. Ask each student to stand next
to one of the chairs or car- pet squares. When the music starts, the
students begin walking around the chairs (or carpet squares). When it
stops, each student sits in the nearest chair (or stands on a carpet
Teacher Tip: Only one student may occupy each chair or carpet square
at any time.
5. Before beginning the music again, remove four chairs. As the available
habitat shrinks, not all students will be able to find a chair or carpet
square when the music stops. Those who do not have a place will move
to the side of the room, representing chimpanzees that did not survive
the loss of habitat. Continue this Deforestation DanceTM until the number
of chairs (or carpet squares) and "chimpanzees" are reduced
6. Ask the students the following questions: What would happen if the
habitat were destroyed com- pletely? Can you propose ways to prevent
this from happening?
Teacher Tip: reforestation; education; alternative means of agriculture;
different building materials; tree farming.
With each constructive suggestion, replace four chairs to the circle,
allowing the "chimpanzees" to return to the "forest."
Teacher Tip: It is important that all students rejoin the group before
the end of the activity.
7. In conclusion, hold a student-centered discussion: How might the
destruction of natural habitats affect other animals? How might it affect
Teacher Tip: health, economics, aesthetics?
Write a story imagining that you are a tree, a flower, or some type
of animal. In this story, explain what life is like in your habitat.
What might you do if your habitat were threatened by destruction? Compare
areas in the school yard before and after a heavy rain. Where does water
collect? Where does it run off easily? Do you observe any erosion? Do
a survey of your school grounds and identify different habitats. Make
alist of the plants and animals you see. Observe these habitats during
different seasons of the year. Write a poem or song about habitats.