K-12 Teaching and Learning From the UNC School of Education

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This lesson is designed to help students understand the impact human actions can have (either directly or indirectly) on the earth’s natural resources. Using the worksheet below, students creatively couple a human action with an ecological community and identify a natural resource that becomes threatened as a result.

Teacher preparation

Classroom time required

30 minutes

Materials needed


  • Introduce students to the underlying theme of ecology: that all life is interconnected and that our actions can have lasting (sometimes unintended) repercussions on the environment.
  • Familiarize students with the concepts of natural resources and ecological communities.
  • This lesson will be more valuable to students if they understand the idea of bioaccumulation, eutrophication, photosynthesis (as a process that produces oxygen), and the consequence to climate of eliminating transpiration.


  1. Hand out the worksheet. Put students in small groups of 2-3 and have them spend 10-15 minutes brainstorming as many combinations as they can between a human impact (column 1), an ecological community (column 2), and a natural resource (column 3). Have students describe how the human action impacts the community and how the natural resource is threatened. For each combination, have students invent extra information in order for their mix-and-match to fit together. For example, students might choose “parking lot built with impervious material,” “conifer forest,” and “clean air.” In order to link these together, they could pretend that the parking lot is uphill from the edge of the forest. In the winter, ice trucks spread salt on the parking lot often, and the snow melt runs off down to the forest. Because of osmosis, the tree roots lose too much water to the salty run-off, the trees die, and therefore are not available to filter the air from the city.
  2. Call time and instruct each group to choose their best mix-and-match combination to present to the class. Use the overhead to help focus student attention during presentations by asking a group member to circle his or her group’s mix-and-match combination on the overhead while describing it to the class.


Challenge students to think of a way to reduce the threat to the natural resource of their mix-and-match combinations without eliminating the human action.

  • In what ways could the human action be changed to achieve the same result but with better environmental consequences?
  • Could any buffers or protection be placed on the ecological communities that might better preserve the natural resource?
  • What policies or laws could be passed that might help?

  • North Carolina Essential Standards
    • Science (2010)
      • Biology

        • Bio.2.2 Understand the impact of human activities on the environment (one generation affects the next). Bio.2.2.1 Infer how human activities (including population growth, pollution, global warming, burning of fossil fuels, habitat destruction and introduction...
      • Earth and Environmental Science

        • EEn.2.8 Evaluate human behaviors in terms of how likely they are to ensure the ability to live sustainably on Earth. EEn.2.8.1 Evaluate alternative energy technologies for use in North Carolina. EEn.2.8.2 Critique conventional and sustainable agriculture and...

North Carolina curriculum alignment

Science (2005)

Grade 9–12 — Biology

  • Goal 5: The learner will develop an understanding of the ecological relationships among organisms.
    • Objective 5.03: Assess human population and its impact on local ecosystems and global environments:
      • Historic and potential changes in population.
      • Factors associated with those changes.
      • Climate change.
      • Resource use.
      • Sustainable practices/stewardship.