Lesson Plan

Biodiversity Study

5 items lie on grass: metal hoop, clipboard with pencil, magnifying glass, plant and bug identifiers, and a knapsack.
Grade Level:
Middle School: Sixth Grade through Eighth Grade
Lesson Duration:
90 Minutes
Common Core Standards:
6-8.RST.3, 6-8.RST.4, 6.SL.1, 6.SL.1.b, 6.SL.1.c, 6.SL.1.d, 7.SL.1, 7.SL.1.b, 7.SL.1.c, 7.SL.1.d, 8.SL.1, 8.SL.1.b, 8.SL.1.c, 8.SL.1.d
Additional Standards:
Next Generation Science Standards: MS-LS2-1; MS-LS2-2; and MS-LS2-4.
Thinking Skills:
Remembering: Recalling or recognizing information ideas, and principles. Understanding: Understand the main idea of material heard, viewed, or read. Interpret or summarize the ideas in own words. Applying: Apply an abstract idea in a concrete situation to solve a problem or relate it to a prior experience. Analyzing: Break down a concept or idea into parts and show the relationships among the parts. Creating: Bring together parts (elements, compounds) of knowledge to form a whole and build relationships for NEW situations. Evaluating: Make informed judgements about the value of ideas or materials. Use standards and criteria to support opinions and views.

Essential Question

How much diversity is really in a small plot of land?


1. Students will be able to describe a type of plant by its structure.
2. Students will be able to use resources to interpret their observations of a small plot of land.
3. Students will be able to analyze their observations through graphing.


This lesson is meant to springboard a unit on biodiversity. It could also be a fun way to teach graphing skills in math class.

This lesson uses a ground cover study. These are used by scientists to study how much plant material is in a large plot of land. Developed in the 1950s, the Daubenmire Cover Class Method is now widely used across North America. It was developed by Dr. Rexford F. Daubenmire in the Pacific Northwest. The study uses quadrats which can be any size or shape, thus making it easy to use with your classroom. Suggested quadrats are in the preparation section.

Knife River Indian Villages NHS uses this lesson as part of their field trips on Prairie Restoration and Prairie Biodiversity. For this reason, the data sheet uses the trails in our park. Feel free to edit this document to reflect the area you choose near your school.


While in class, review the data sheet, plant species hand-out, and safety rules for the activity. Safety rules should include wearing appropriate weather protection (sunscreen, jackets, etc), wearing closed-toe shoes, looking around your area for obvious dangers (snakes, potholes, etc), washing your hands after the activity, and checking for tics after the activity (as appropriate for your area).

Explore the area around your school for this activity. The area needs to be safe for students to walk through; have different grasses, flowers, or shrubs; and be easy enough to lay down tape measures to determine where students will place their hoops.

Collect enough materials for each group of 2-3 members. Each group will need a magnifying glass, a clipboard with a Ground Cover Data Sheet (in materials), a Plant Features document (in materials), basic plant field guides for the local area (optional); and a quadrat. Quadrats can be purchased at a craft or hardware store or made by the students in advance. The quadrat pictured in this lesson is a 19 inch floral hoop from a craft store. It can also be a small hoola hoop, a square made out of wooden sticks, or a square made out of PVC pipe. Regardless of the material, it should have a diameter roughly of 20 inches.

You will also need 2 tape measures measuring at least 60 feet each and a small container with the numbers 1-60 written on small pieces of paper.


Download Ground Cover Study Data Sheet

Huge thank you to Seasonal Bio Tech Bryan Mathis for his research and Seasonal Park Guide Sierra Moeykens for her illustrations on this Plant Features document.

Download Plant Features Document


Day 1: 

  1. Divide the class into groups of 3 or 4 students. Ask students to determine roles for each of the group's members. The roles are recorder (writes down all the information), researcher (looks through the Plant Features document and field guides to identify species), and technician (places the study hoop and physically counts the different species). Explain that the group needs to work as a team where everyone helps each other in their roles. For example, everyone should be looking in the grass and in the field guides to support their team.
  2. Once the roles are determined, each member should collect the materials for their role. Recorder gets the clipboard, pencil, and data sheet. Researcher gets the handouts and field guides. Technician gets a magnifying glass and a study hoop.
  3. Teacher demonstrates the activity in a nearby area. Read each question and answer it aloud. Emphasize the preliminary questions concerning safety.
  4. Ask students to lay out measuring tapes in the shape of an L (similar to a graph). The measuring tapes should be approximately 60 feet each depending on your class size. The bucket with numbers is placed at coordinate 0,0. Groups take turns picking a number for the x-axis and a number for the y-axis. The number picked indicates how many feet on the measuring tape. The point where the x- and y-axis meet is where the group will do their observation.
  5. Groups answer the preliminary questions on their observation sheets. They immediately notify the teacher if there is a potential danger in their designated area. The teacher records this information and gives the group a new area to study.
  6. Groups observe the species in their hoops. Emphasis should be on differences (ie: there are 3 different types of flowers) and basic identifications (ie: plant has round, opposite leaves). Teachers should walk around and support where needed.
  7. When finished, groups switch roles and get a new location from the teacher. They start the observation process again on a new data sheet. If time allows, each student should have the opportunity to do every role.

Day 2:

  1. Lay out all the data sheets on a few tables in the classroom. Separating the tables will help to spread out the students and minimize confusion. Number the data sheets in large print with a permanent marker in the top right corner.
  2. Divide the class into 6 groups. Each group will be responsible for compiling the data of a different question. The questions as written on the data sheet are:
  • Are there any bugs or insects in your spot?
  • How many different kinds of flowers do you see?
  • How many different kinds of green plants do you see?
  • How many different kinds of grasses do you see?
  • What is most common in your hoop: grass, flower, or shrub?
  • What is the most common plant in your hoop?
  1. Ask each group to get out a piece of paper and write their question on the top. Then, number the page with as many numbers as there are data sheets from yesterday's activity.
  2. Ask each group to walk around and compile the data from the different data sheets onto their group's paper.
  3. Using blank printer paper, poster board, or technology, each group creates a graph showing the results of their data. Teacher walks around to check accuracy of work.
  4. Display the graphs. Invite students to look at the graphs and come up with conclusions. 
  5. Discuss student conclusions. Does this area show a lot of biodiversity? What was surprising about the information the class found? How could this information be used? Why is it important to have biodiversity? (This last question can definitely springboard into an entire unit on biodiversity!)


  • Biodiversity - Variety of life in a particular habitat
  • Random-Sample - A group in which each item or member has an equal chance to be chosen for a sub-group
  • Ground Cover - Proportion of the soil surface covered by some type of protective material
  • Quadrat - Two-dimensional sample unit of any size or shape used to study the distribution of an item over a large area
  • Estimation - Rough calculation of the value, number, or quantity of something
  • Observation - Action of watching something carefully to gain information
  • Grass, Flower, Shrub - Use the Plant Identification document (in the materials section) to point out basic descriptive terms for observing plants in each category.

Assessment Materials

How well did the students meet the objectives?

A rubric is a great way to determine if the objectives were met. The following statements are suggestions for rubric grading categories. Add or delete as appropriate to your students and to whether your focus was the math or the science.

  • Answered oral comprehension questions about his/her observations. 
  • Completed the Ground Cover Data Sheet efficiently and accurately. 
  • Used the available resources to accurately label plant features. 
  • Calculated the data correctly. 
  • Chose the appropriate graph (bar, pie, line, etc) and formatted it corrrectly.
  • Followed all safety guidelines.
  • Worked cooperatively in a group.

Additional Resources

Check out these great resources for activities and information on the Daubenmire Cover Class Method.

Contact Information

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Last updated: October 1, 2019