Curriculum / For Teachers / Grow

Making a Terrarium

Students learn about biotic and abiotic factors and build a terrarium.

Making a Terrarium

· Encourage the students to watch the terrarium for changes in growth of plants and animals with a magnifying glass. In a journal, they can note their observation of the classroom habitat, paying attention to such things as increases or decreases in the growth of plants, numbers of insects, changes in appearance of organisms and evidence of how these organisms meet their basic needs.

· It may be helpful to break students up into pairs and have them make and observe one terrarium for each pair during the course of the lesson.

· Students may also use their terrarium as inspiration for the setting of a descriptive narrative.

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An ecosystem is an area in which living and non-living things exist together. Every area in nature contains both living and non-living things. Living things depend on each other and on non-living things in order to survive.

Ecosystems can be very small or very large. For example, a backyard is an ecosystem, and so is an entire desert.

There are rainforest ecosystems, and underwater ecosystems in oceans, rivers, and lakes.

The city or town that you live in is an ecosystem.

The nonliving things in an ecosystem are known as abiotic factors.

The living things are biotic factors.

All living things depend on nonliving things such as water, minerals, sunlight and air, to survive.



· Students will learn the importance of water and food for living organisms

· Students will understand the interdependence of organisms in an ecosystem



LS2.A Interdependent relationships in ecosystems

The food of almost any animal can be traced back to plants. Organisms are related in food webs in which some animals eat plants for food and other animals eat the animals that eat plants, while decomposers restore some materials back to the soil

W.4.3 Text Types and Purposes

Write narratives to develop real or imagined experiences or events using effective technique, descriptive details, and clear event sequences.




· Glass jars (large enough to hold at least 1 liter, or one large glass container per class)

· Small rocks and pebbles

· Charcoal

· Organic potting soil

· Small plants

· Journal

· Pencil



Choose plants that are small, slow growing, and perform well in humid environments. How the plants are arranged will depend on the size and location of the terrarium.

If the terrarium will be viewed from only one side, then place the tallest plants in the back and shortest plants in the front. If your terrarium will be viewed from all sides or if you plan to rotate it, plant the tallest plants in the middle and the shorter plants along the outside.

There is a wide range of plants to choose from. Most garden centers have an area reserved for indoor plants and you can usually find a variety of plants in 2-4” pots.

Another option is to take cuttings/divide plants you already have or start plants from seed. With closed-top terrariums, avoid planting cacti or succulents.

Some recommended plants are African violet, artillery fern, nerve plant, Swedish ivy, small philodendrons, strawberry begonia, spider plant, small ferns, and prayer plant.



1. Clean the container using soapy water and rinse well. Dry completely.

2. Add a layer of pebbles to provide drainage at the bottom of the container.

3. Cover the pebbles with about two inches of charcoal, and then a thick layer of about two inches of potting soil.

4. Place a few rocks in the terrarium.

5. Add small plants and decorate with branches and moss.

6. Slightly moisten the terrarium with water. Be careful not to use too much water.



· For a desert habitat, put 5-cm of sand on top of the gravel.

· For a forest model, put a 5-cm layer of soil on top of the gravel and add a handful of crumpled leaves.

· For a pond model, add another 5-cm of gravel and then add water until it is about 15-cm. deep.

· For a grassland model, add 5-cm of soil on the gravel.



1. List examples of living and non-living organisms in our ecosystems.

2. Define the words biotic and abiotic.

3. What are some of the roles of producers, consumers, and decomposers in an ecosystem?

4. What is the difference between a habitat and a niche?