Alaska Sea Grant
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Patterns of Life
Students will explore, observe and collect data (through observation) on where they find plants (or seaweeds on a rocky beach) and animals in different types of habitats. After an initial exploration of the area, they will be guided to notice patterns in where they specific plants and animals and where they observe them in relation to what plants and animals need to survive.
Essential Question(s)
Why do animals and plants live where they do?
Why do animals and plants live where they do in the local environment?
PDF Investigation
Time Required
2 hours
Life Sciences
Investigation Type
Field Trip, Classroom
Grade Level
NGSS Performance Expectations
Materials Needed
  • Cards with images of local plants and animals (2 each)
  • Laminated identification cards or charts for local plant and animals (See Resources section)
  • Small nets
  • Magnifiers

Beach or and pond field trips:

  • Buckets or clear trays with handles
  • Small shovel for muddy/sandy beaches or tundra field trips

Optional: Stuffed animals, digital camera

NGSS Performance Expectation

Students who demonstrate understanding can:

Use observations to describe patterns of what plants and animals (including humans) need to survive. (K-LS1-1)


Knowledge - Students will know that:
  • animals need to take in food but plants and seaweeds do not.
  • plants and seaweeds need light and air.
  • different animals eat different kinds of foods.
  • plants and animals need water. Some live in the water and some live in the water part of the time.
Skills - Students will be able to:
  • observe plants and animals.
  • describe patterns of the ways in which plants and animals meet their needs.
  • answer the scientific question: How do plants and animals differ in terms of their needs?
Local and Cultural Connections
Many Alaska school district bilingual programs have resources for teaching local plant and animal names in the local Alaska Native language (as appropriate for this age group) and describing their cultural importance.

Invite an Alaska Native Elder or other cultural or local expert to share a story about a local animal that your students are likely to observe on a field trip. Invite them to be part of the field trip and explain how they know where to find plants and animals they harvest.

Emphasize that people have the same needs as other animals for food and water.
Teacher Preparation

Review Teacher Background information below (which includes suggestions for adapting the field trip activities for rocky beach, sandy or muddy beaches, and tundra field trip sites), including Prior Knowledge and possible Learners Misconceptions and how to address them.

For beach field trips, download and copy Beach Animals to make field cards. In addition, download and print color pictures of a gunnel and a tidepool sculpin. Obtain or create additional cards with photos or line drawings of local and animals, plants and/or seaweeds that your students may observe on their field trip to the beach or other habiats . (A diverse collection of plant and animal cards with line drawings are available as Alaska Ecology Cards from the Alaska Department of Fish and Game by request. Color photos of seaweeds can be downloaded from the Seaweeds of Alaska website.) For a class of 24 children, use 9-10 different creatures and 2-3 different plants or seaweeds. You will need one card for each student and two cards for half of the species for use in the matching game. You can also use realistic-looking stuffed animals, if available. Make copies of the “What Plants and Animals Need to Live” chart or draw the chart on the board. Review the completed chart.

Learning Experiences

Engage in classroom

(15 min.)

Pass out copies of the “What Plants and Animals Need to Live” chart or draw the chart on the board. Explain to students that they will be seeing plants on their field trip and that all living things can only live where they can meet all of their needs. If you have a bilingual education program, work with a bilingual teacher to help students learn the local Alaska Native names of plants and animals that people harvest for food, emphasizing that humans are animals with the same needs as other animals.

  1. Go through each of these categories of needs (water, air, sunlight, and “food”) and help students think through which of these plants and animals need. Explain that plants can make their own food with just air, water, and sunlight but that animals need to eat plants or other animals. Those that eat other animals are called predators and animals that get captured and eaten are called prey. You can also explain that while some predators on beaches move around and hunt their prey, some stay in one place and “eat” their prey as they pass sea water through their body.

  2. Introduce or reinforce the concept of patterns, by calling attention to the two different lines on the chart as different patterns that are true for all plants and animals.

  3. Students work in pairs or small group to play Pass the Portrait, using the picture cards. Students make their observations and answer the question, “What do you notice/observe?” The goal is for students to use the practice of observation to discern and communicate about similarities, differences and patterns in attributes like size, color, or shape.

  4. Give each student a picture card and then ask the students to match their organism with the same creatures another student has. Once together, they decide on what feature of the animal (color, shape, size, texture) they will describe to the whole group. Each pair (of originally paired up teams from the above “pass the portrait” activity) takes a closer look at their animal and decides together (scientists discuss, collaborate and work together) what their organism needs to survive based on its characteristics.

    Does it look like it can move and hunt down another animal as food?
    Does it look like it stays in one place and waits for food to come to it?
    If it’s plant-like, what does it need?
    Does it look like it needs to live in the water all of the time or some of the time? (For beach creatures, does it look like it needs to live in a tide pool, under a wet rock, or in a hole in the “ground”?)

  5. Students can place their cards in the “habitat.” This can be a piece of oval cut paper to represent a tide pool, tundra pond, or area of mud/sand beach. For the tundra, you can use a pan or tub with clay mounds or small boxes to represent the polygons, emphasizing how much wetter it is in the “troughs” and pouring water to demonstrate this if you use clay. This will provide practice in using a model to represent the natural world, another science practice emphasized in kindergarten.

Field Trip Preparation:
Discuss how to gently handle living things, especially animal at low tide, and put them back where they are found after study and observation. Practice with plastic or cloth creatures in the classroom, using a net and hands held together to gently hold and put them back in a pretend tide pool, pond or sandbox.

Engage—at the field trip site

(15 mins.)

At your field trip site, first allow for open-ended exploration for the first 15 minutes. Divide students into small groups with buckets and nets and describe the boundaries of the area they will explore. On rocky beach field trips, include both a rocky area and a tide pool, if possible.

These beginning observations have the focus question of “Where do you find plants (or seaweeds) and animals in relations to their needs for air, water, sunlight, or food? Encourage them to look for birds, either flying over, on the ground, in the vegetation and/or actively feeding.

Explore: (45 mins.) Once children have had an opportunity to investigate the area, the small groups come back together to focus in on particular species you and other adult chaperones can help them find.

Focus question:
What do the plants (or seaweeds) and animals need to live where they do? What’s the same and what’s different about plants and animals that live in the same kind of place?

Recommended focus species:
Rocky beaches:
Beach plants, seaweeds and on gunnels and/or sculpins. (Seeing the well-camouflaged sculpins in tide pools requires close attention to see them when they are still.)

Sandy/Muddy Beaches: Burrowing clams and worms, beach plants, eelgrass, shorebirds

Tundra Pond: Midges, fairy shrimp, evidence of insects in pond mud or tundra soil


(15 min.)

After exploring, mall groups come together with the guidance of an adult (teacher, parent volunteer, para-professional or aide) to talk about what they have noticed and to answer the above questions based on their observations and thinking.
Ask students to use their observations to explain what they have found out about seaweeds or plants and animals in different types of places (e.g., in tide pools and under rocks, on tundra polygon tops and troughs, in low-lying wet areas and shrubs, in the pond or along the shoreline).

Did you see different patterns of different types of plants and animals living in different types of places?
Did you find any ______ (one type of animal) in _____ (one type of area) (e.g., gunnels in tidepools)?

Did you find any plants in ________ (one type of area) (e.g., seaweed under rocks)?
Why or why not?Elaborate (15 mins.):
Students continue to explore under rocks near the tide pool and a second tide pool if available. Help students to make connections by comparing and contrasting what they find.


In the classroom after the field trip (30 mins.)

Each student will make a model of a creature or plant they observed and as a class, they will make a model of the habitat, using butcher paper, tape, staples, markers and other materials. Ask each student to describe what their seaweed/plant or creature needs to live where they observed it. (This provides additional practice using a model as well as describing the patterns they observed.)

Alaska Beach Habitats
Common Seashore Animals of Southeast Alaska

A field guide (images)

Between the Tides

By Mary Morris A Queen Charlotte Islands Reader, Pacific Educational Press, University of British Columbia, 1987, ISBN0-88865-044-2

Bilingual Resources
Chaa Salíi: Beach (Haida)Grade Level K-1. Sealaska Heritage Institute. Developed in Ketchikan and Hydaburg. Includes study prints and cut outs of common beach animals.  
Eék: Beach (Tlingit)Grade Level K-1. Sealaska Heritage Institute. Includes study prints and cut outs of common beach animals.  
What Plants and Animals Need Chart  
What Plants and Animals Need Chart (filled out)  
Images (PDF)
Tidepool Sculpin  
Penpoint Gunnel  
Crescent Gunnel  
Teacher Background

The NGSS kindergarten focus on the different patterns of needs by plants and animals lays the foundation provides for learning about the structure and function of plant parts in 1rst grade, biodiversity in 2nd grade, and inheritance of traits and adaptation in 4th grade.

Field Trips to Different Types of Habitats (rocky beaches, sandy or muddy beaches, tundra)

Field trips provide students with the opportunity to observe a variety of plants and animals and ponder what the different types of organisms need to survive. See the link in the Resources section for planning and teaching field trips.

Rocky Beach Field Trip: To observe the greatest diversity of seaweeds, intertidal animals, and changes in their distribution plan, your field trip around low tide. Students can also often observe land plants on their way to the beach in addition to seaweeds at low tide. They can begin to think about the needs of plants and seaweeds for air, water, and sunlight by observing the types of plant leaves and or seaweed blades and where they are positioned.

Your students are likely to be able to observe intertidal fish on many Alaska rocky beaches. Tidepool Sculpins are the most common sculpin found in tide pools in many areas. They require water not only to stay wet at low tide but also to be submerged so they can hunt other animals such as small invertebrates, isopods, amphipods, shrimp and worms in tide pools. They are well-camouflaged in the tide pools and stay very still until they dart out to capture their prey.

Gunnels and Pricklebacks are fish found in tide pools as well as under rocks in the mid- and lower tidal zones. During the spring, adult gunnels can often be observed guarding eggs after female gunnels lay them. They also require water to stay wet at low tide but can do so under rocks when the tide is out. They have flexible bodies covered with slime which allows them to squeeze through the spaces around rocks. They prey on small crustaceans, worms, clams, and fish eggs. When a group of University of Alaska Southeast students dissected sculpins, they found their stomachs stuffed with barnacle feet the sculpins had nipped off when the barnacles swept them through the water to feed!

Sandy/Muddy Beach Field Trip: These beaches often have seaweeds or eelgrass and a variety of marsh plants in areas with more elevation. A variety of shells often wash up in the strand line and students can observe different types of holes of burrowing animals. Plan to bring along a small shovel to excavate clams and worms. During spring and fall, students may be able to observe migrating shorebirds probing the beach for the clams and worms or ducks and geese feeding in ponds or offshore.

Tundra Field Trip: Many locations in Alaska have a very short window at the beginning of the school year to take a tundra field trip before it snows. Plan your tundra field trip within the first few weeks of school. Tundra habitats provide the opportunity to observe different types of plants on the tops of polygons and in troughs with their distribution related to their need for water.
Songbird and waterfowl migration is likely to be underway. Although insects may have completed their life cycle, you can help students find plant seeds and sample tundra soil and mud at the bottom of a pond to look for evidence of dormant insects and aquatic plant seeds. Students may also be able to observe where caribou or Arctic hares have grazed on shrubs.

Prior Student Knowledge

Give students opportunities to use vocabulary they will need on the field session: pattern, prey, etc.

Possible learner preconceptions, misconceptions and instructional clarifications:

Learner Preconception/misconception:
Students need to build an understanding of biological concepts through direct experience with living things in local habitats. The idea that organisms depend on their environment to meet their needs is not well developed in young children. Students should have opportunities to investigate a variety of plants and animals and observe ways they meet their needs.
Instructional Clarification: The focus should be on establishing the primary association of organisms with the environments where they can meet their needs, followed by later experiences in upper elementary of dependence on various aspects of the environment and structures and behaviors animals were born with or develop that help various organisms survive.

Learner Preconception/misconception: Students may not consider plant seeds or early or dormant stages of animals to be alive.
Instructional Clarification: The concept of living/non-living can be introduced at kindergarten, however, the misconception about seeds may persist until students are able to observe a plant grow from a seed during instruction about life cycles in 1rst grade.

Components of Next Generation Science Standards Addressed

Science & Engineering Practices

Analyzing & Interpreting Data

Use observations (firsthand or from media) to describe patterns in the natural world in order to answer scientific questions. (K-LS1-1)

Disciplinary Core Ideas

LS1.C: Organization for Matter and Energy Flow in Organisms

All animals need food in order to live and grow. They obtain their food from plants or from other animals. Plants need water and light to live and grow. (K-LS1-1)

Cross-Cutting Concepts


Patterns in the natural and human designed world can be observed and used as evidence.

Common Core

W.K.7 Participate in shared research and writing projects (e.g., explore a number of books by a favorite author and express opinions about them).
K.MD.A.2 Directly compare two objects with a measurable attribute in common, to see which object has “more of”/”less of” the attribute, and describe the difference.

K.OA.6 (Alaska Standard) Recognize, identify, and continue simple patterns of color, shape, and size.
Alaska Cultural Standards
Developed for Juneau School District by Jennifer Thompson, Juneau School District teacher and Hans Chester, Juneau Indian Studies Instructor. Adapted for Sea Grant by Marilyn Sigman
Last Updated on
Last Updated by
Marilyn Sigman
Alaska Sea Grant University of Alaska Fairbanks Alaska Department of Education and Early Development NOAA