Lesson Plan

What is Wild?

Bittern chicks
Bittern chicks

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Grade Level:
Third Grade-Fifth Grade
Environment, Wilderness
40-50 minutes
Group Size:
Up to 24 (4-8 breakout groups)
National/State Standards:
Common Core

Next Generation Science
ESS3.C Human impacts on earth systems
LS2.A Interdependent relationships
LS4.D Biodiversity


Students will learn about and discuss why we have National Parks set aside to be ‘wild’.  They will compare National Parks to their local surroundings in town or at school.


  1. Students will compare and contrast their home with wild environments.
  2. Students will define wilderness as a place not developed by humans.
  3. Students will be able to explain why we have National Parks and Wilderness Areas.


Grand Teton National Park is part of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem which is among the largest intact temperate ecosystems. Grand Teton National Park is a unique place which helps protect:

  • 310,000 acres of land including, sagebrush flats, rivers, forests and mountains.
  • Endangered species: grizzly bears, whooping cranes, wolverines and lynx.
  • 40 miles of the Teton mountain range with the Grand Teton at 13,775 feet and nine other peaks over 12,000 feet.
  • Over 1,000 different species of native plants.
  • 300 different species of birds.
  • 70 different species of mammals including elk, bison, grizzly and black bears, moose, and gray wolves.
Many children have never visited wilderness, though they may have images from stories or movies of what wild places look like. Drawing on students' own experiences and perceptions, these activities introduce the concept of wilderness by comparing wild places to developed places. The levels of distinction students make will vary with their experience, age, and the location of your community. A good definition of wilderness for young children is that of a place influenced by the forces of nature, where people visit, but do not live. The Wilderness Act of 1964 defines wilderness "in contrast with those areas where man and his own works dominate the landscape, [wilderness is] an area where the earth and its community of life are untrammeled by man, where man himself is a visitor who does not remain." Rod Nash, wilderness historian, believes that wilderness is so heavily weighted with meaning of a personal, symbolic, and changing kind that it is difficult to define.

A place designated as Wilderness may prohibit motors or even vehicles likes bikes, and typically does not allow hunting. It might even try to keep people from crowding a place so it stays as 'natural' as possible.

Since parts of National Parks, including Grand Teton, are managed as Wilderness, it makes them a living laboratory with few human influences, rife for scientific discovery. The solitude and ruggedness of many National Parks have also become one of the things people savor most about their visit. 



White board/Smart Board

Pencils and paper

Photos or videos of the National Park

Magazines for collage images


  1. Share with your students your own definition of "wild lands" or "wild place." You might also want to ask them to share their perceptions of these words with you. For older students, ask them to write down five or more words they associate with wilderness. Write all the words on the board. Explore the feelings associated with the word "wild." How does the word make you feel? Then add "erness". Wilderness areas are places that are wild and where humans are only visitors. Parts of Grand Teton National Park is considered Wilderness. Show students photos or videos from Grand Teton.
  2. Tell students that in preparation for your field trip to Grand Teton National Park, you are going to take an imaginary trip today to a place that is wild. Create your own story or use the following scenario to stimulate students thinking. Students could close their eyes or quietly act out the story you describe. "Imagine we are all going to put on our warm clothes, and pack our backpacks with our lunches and drinks for a day in the wild. We are going to travel in our magic school bus... everyone aboard and take a seat! We'll drive through town and past neighborhoods until we can't see highways, stores or gas stations. We drive a long time. It is such a long way, that everyone goes to sleep! The bus keeps moving until finally it stops at the edge of a wild place. You can hear a few quiet sounds. It smells clean and looks all white. Before you open your eyes, make a picture in your mind of what you might see in this wild place."
  3. On one paper labeled "wild" write down images as students share them. Encourage students to be specific in their descriptions. Also have available a paper labeled "developed" and record things students saw as they were leaving their school/city. For example, people (as well as plants and animals) belong in both places. But the types of plants and animals may differ and the numbers of each may be different in a wild place versus a town or school yard. Do wild animals have cages or leashes? Are there houses in wild places? How safe/comfortable do you feel?
  4. Review the words generated in the above activity and use magazines and the animal drawings in this guide to make collages of things that might be found in a wild place as well as things found in developed areas around cities and towns. Remember to point out that we all share the same air, water, soils, and scenic views that are exchanged between wild and developed areas.
  5. Show photographs and videos from Grand Teton National Park to help the students visualize what the Park and its inhabitants look like.
  6. Have them think about how Grand Teton National Park has been designated to be a wild place and some of the reasons why we need wild places (peacefulness, home for wild animals, place to study nature, scientific research, clean water source, sacredness, etc...).


Students can write several points on how and why their school yard/local park is similar to and different from Grand Teton National Park.

Students can discuss several reasons why we have National Parks and Wilderness areas.

Students can explain why different animals are found in National Parks than in their local town/park.

Park Connections

The lesson allows students to think about and discuss their role and the importance of protecting habitats for different types of organisms. 



Students could work in pairs to create their own National Parks and explain the various habitats and animals they are protecting.


Ask students to consider a world with no Wilderness/wilderness/wild places. Have them write/draw/talk about their feelings and reactions.


Set up a debate between one group who is in favor of Wilderness, and another group who would rather see that land developed.

Additional Resources

A Place Called Jackson Hole by John Daugherty

True Green Kids: 100 Things Kids Can Do to Save the Planet by Kim McKay & Jenny Bonnin


Wilderness, habitat, national park, protection