Lesson Plan

Basics of Habitat

a great horned owl in a spruce bough
All animals need their own special habitat
NPS Photo
Grade Level:
Second Grade-Fifth Grade
Biology: Animals, Biology: Plants, Wildlife Biology
40 - 60 minutes
National/State Standards:
Alaska State Standards
Science: A12, 14, 15; B1, 2, 3; D1, 2;
English & LA: B3
Mathematics: C1, 2, 3; E2, 3


Use America's largest national park as a pathway to discovery!

In this lesson, students think about essential survival needs


  • To understand how living and non-living things interact and change in a forest community.

  • To identify the basic survival needs shared by people and all other animals—plants, food, water, shelter, and space.


Have the students identify five basic survival needs shared by people and all other animals: plants, sunlight, water, soil and air. Students will list and organize needs of people, pets and wildlife. Tell the students that all animals (including people, pets, and wildlife) need food, water, shelter and space in which to live. These must be in the quality and quantity required by the particular animal. Because animals need food, water, shelter and space to be available in a way that is suitable to their needs, we say that these things must be available in a suitable “arrangement.”

Use step two of this activity after step one, or alone if students know the basic needs already (see "Procedures," below). This activity provides a little more detail than step 1. Have the students: 

  1. identify their own basic needs for food, water, shelter and space in a suitable arrangement; and 
  2. generalize that wildlife and other animals have similar basic needs. Students draw pictures of people and animal homes, comparing basic needs.


Drawing paper, crayons


Put three words on a chalkboard, so that a column of words can be listed under each: People-Pets-Wildlife. Ask the students, “What do people need in order to be able to live?” List the students’ ideas in a column under the word, “People.” Do the same for “Pets” and “Wildlife.”

After the lists are made, ask the students to look to see which ideas seem to go together into larger ideas. For example, warmth might be combined with physical comfort and both might fit within the concept of shelter. See if the students can narrow down the lists and come up with the essential survival needs for people, pets and wildlife. The most basic survival needs will be the same for each of the three groups. The lists, when reduced, could include and be limited to:

 People Pets  Wildlife 
food  food food 
water  water  water 
shelter shelter shelter
space space space
arrangement arrangement arrangement
sunlight sunlight sunlight
sunlight sunlight sunlight
soil soil soil
air air air

Wrap Up

List at least four things plants and animals need for survival. How do plant needs differ from animal needs?

If desired, stop after the first step. For a fuller lesson or with older students, continue with this step. 

1. List the following words on a chalkboard: food, water, shelter, and space.

2. Read each word aloud, asking the students to repeat the words after you. (They may say the letters of the words and use the words for spelling.)

3. Food and water will be easy concepts for the students to understand. They are familiar needs for themselves each day. Shelter and space will be more difficult. Ask the students to explain what shelter and space are. Make sure the meanings of all four words are clear before you proceed.

 4. Give the students drawing paper and crayons. Ask the students to draw a picture of where they find food, water, shelter and space. Ask students to label the parts of their drawings where they find their food, water, shelter and space.

 Note: Food and water will not be difficult to identify. Shelter could be shown in a number of ways. Labeling a roof can show shelter. Space can be shown as the area inside and outside the house. It can include the house and yard. Space also can include the neighborhood. (Space actually includes all the areas used for survival.)
5. Once the drawings are complete, write two more words on the chalkboard: arrangement, habitat. Say the words aloud, asking the children to repeat them after you. (Again, these words may be used for spelling.)

6. Tell the students that when food, water, shelter and space go together in a special way, so that animals—including people—can live, we call that place a habitat. The food, water, shelter and space are in an arrangement that makes it possible for animals to live.

Optional: Ask the children if they could live in a home where the bathroom was four miles north, the kitchen was twelve miles west and the bedroom was nine miles east. The answer, of course, is likely, “No,” since the “arrangement” is not suitable for a person. Some animals do travel great distances in their habitat, however.

7. Ask the students to write the word habitat in big letters at the top of their drawings. Talk with them about the meaning of habitat.

8. Give the students another piece of drawing paper. Ask them to think of an animal—any animal. Ask a few students what animal they are thinking of. Identify whether the animals they named are “wild” or “tamed.” You will probably get both, that’s great! Then ask the students to think of other animals and decide whether they are normally wild or tame. It is important to make sure the students are thinking about both wild and domesticated animals.

9. Ask the students to draw a picture of their animal in a place where it lives. Ask the students to make sure they include: food, water, shelter and space in an arrangement that they think would make it possible for the animal to survive.

10. Ask the students to talk about their drawings, pointing out the habitat components they have included.

11. Ask the students to write habitat in big letters on the top of this drawing too. Talk with the students about how humans and other animals need food, water, shelter, and space. The arrangement is different for each, but all have similar basic needs. When food, water, shelter, and space are arranged in a way that is suitable for an animal to survive, we call that place where these things are available “a habitat”. When the students have an understanding of “habitat,” write a few sentences defining habitat on the chalkboard. As much as possible, make use of the ideas the students suggest. For example: Habitat is a place. It has food, water, shelter and space. These are things that animals need to live.

12. The students may now write these sentences on the back of one of their drawings or on a piece of writing paper. They may also read the words in the sentences you have put on the board, after you. They may also write their own sentences about what habitat is, drawing pictures to go along with the words.

Wrap Up

1. List the essential basic needs along with non-essential needs like music, art, video games, books, etc.

2. Choose which things wildlife need to survive: food, water, shelter, space arrangement, habitat, etc.

3. Choose which things people need to survive: food, water, shelter, space, arrangement, and habitat, and explain the choices.Write a sentence about what people and wildlife need to survive.

4. Tell a story. In the story, tell how a habitat meets the needs of different kinds of animals.

Additional Resources

This lesson is part of our "Pathways to Discovery" unit. The individual lessons can be done individually or as a larger unit of learning. They encourage the development of a student’s awareness and appreciation of the natural world and people’s relationship and role as a part of that natural world.

The lessons are a series of shorter activities that have been blended together under a specific theme with the intent that the activities will be coordinated with units in the existing school curriculum and texts. The materials are organized by grade level, but can actually be adapted for use at any grade level. Check out the full Pathways to Discovery unit of lessons, as well as links to other stand-alone lessons like this one.