Lesson Plan

Enviro Musical Chairs

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Grade Level:
Sixth Grade-Eighth Grade
Biology: Animals, Biology: Plants, Botany, Conservation, Ecology, Environment, Marine Biology, Wildlife Biology
45 minutes
Group Size:
Up to 24 (4-8 breakout groups)
National/State Standards:
Standard 6: Students assess the interrelated cycles and forces that shape Earth’s surface, including human interaction with Earth. (ASDOE Elementary Science Standards: Grade 6-8, pp. 40- 73)


There's a certain mystique about the word “biodiversity” that seems to be associated with images of steamy jungles or wondrous new medicines, but the word more specifically refers to the number of species or 'species richness' of an area. One reason why tropical areas are so fascinating is that they contain the highest numbers of plant and animal species found anywhere on earth.American Samoa sits squarely in the tropics, so we should have a high biological diversity here, but we do and we don't


Students will be able to:

1. Define the vocabulary terms natural resources and conservation.

2. Identify several living things and explain the role of each in American Samoa's ecosystems.

3. Describe natural resources and conservation and how our actions can threaten the health of our ecosystems.
4. Learn about the role of the National Park of American Samoa in conserving our natural resources.


To start at the beginning, when American Samoa emerged as fiery volcanoes from the depths of the sea, they were devoid of plants or animals. As time passed and the terrain became more hospitable, life for organisms became possible, but the plants and animals still had to cross vast ocean distances to get here from someplace else.

American Samoa is really quite isolated in the Pacific Ocean, far from potential sources of plants and animals. To reach its shores, organisms would either have to blow in on the wind, drift for hundreds or thousands of miles on some piece of floating debris, or be carried in by another organism like plant seeds in a bird's stomach. The species that were successful probably got here by “island hopping” across the Pacific, spreading from island to island over the course of many thousands or millions of years.

The difficulty in getting here is best illustrated by the sparse representation of native mammal species. Over the past 1.5 million years that Tutuila Island (main island of American Samoa) has existed, only 3 mammal species (all bats) got here and established viable populations. Our native species list also includes about 478 flowering plants and ferns, 18 resident or migratory land and water birds, 20 resident seabirds, 3 skinks, 1 gecko, 2 sea turtles, and occasional other visitors (this list does not include any species presumably introduced by early Polynesians or all the recently introduced non-native species like rats, dogs, pigs, toads, myna birds, and many weeds).

There's a second reason for the low diversity on land -- the small size of the islands. In general, the smaller the island, the fewer the species on it. For example, tiny Rose Atoll (0.4 sq. mi) supports only 5 native plant species, 21 birds (virtually all seabirds), 2 geckos, and 2 sea turtles. So, although American Samoa technically has “tropical rainforests” due to the high level of rainfall (200- 300 inches per year in some mountainous areas), it lacks the high species richness found in the jungle rainforests of Indonesia, Africa or South America that are filled with hooting monkeys, poison dart frogs, pythons, and flesh-eating piranhas.

On the other hand, because of its isolation, some terrestrial species in Samoa have evolved over many thousands of years to such an extent that they have become distinctly different species found nowhere else but here. For example, 30% of plant species and the Samoan starling (fuia) occur only in the Samoan archipelago (which includes the Independent State of Samoa); and the Samoan fruit bat occurs only in the Samoan and Fijian islands. So, American Samoa’s rainforests may lack diversity, but they contain some species found nowhere else on earth.

Turning to the marine environment, it is the opposite situation. There is an incredibly diverse ecosystem just beneath the waves. Coral reefs are among the most species-rich ecosystems in the world. There are, for example, 961 near shore fish species which is an amazingly high number compared to many other coastal areas. To get a sense of this species-rich environment, if you were to dive on our reefs once a week, you could in theory see a new fish species on every dive for 18 years.

Although coral reefs are limited to shallow waters, usually around the fringes of islands, most coral reef species have eggs and larvae that can survive for weeks or months in the open ocean and get dispersed by ocean currents to new locations. As a result of this genetic exchange of marine organisms between islands, there are probably few marine species that are unique to the Samoan islands.


1. Chairs
2. Flash cards with description
3. Hole puncher

4. String
5. Marker

6. Radio

Handouts & Worksheets
1. Word Search
2. Living things Role Cards