Authentic Lessons for 21st Century Learning

Fire: Friend or Foe?

Fire Ecology as a Management Tool for a Tallgrass Prairie Ecosystem

Teresa Randall, Lindsey Link | Published: May 31st, 2023 by K20 Center

  • Grade Level Grade Level 10th, 11th, 12th
  • Subject Subject Science
  • Course Course Biology I, Biology II, Environmental Science
  • Time Frame Time Frame 120 minutes
  • Duration More 2-3 class periods


In this lesson, students explore the Tallgrass Prairie ecosystem and fire ecology as a management tool. They evaluate the prairie ecosystem's response to the impact of burning.

Essential Question(s)

How does fire impact prairie ecosystems?



Students explore various prairie ecosystem photos and images of prairie fires. They then write whatever descriptive words that come to mind as they look at them.


Students view a map of North American prairies and complete an I Notice, I Wonder activity. Students explore articles to begin a CER that will answer the essential question: How does fire impact prairie ecosystems?


Students participate in an activity to sort goods and services based on their knowledge of grasslands.


Students view an Individual Career and Academic Plan (ICAP) video to learn about the importance of using fire to improve plants and ecosystems.


Students complete their CER using their notes from the lesson and a list of prescribed vocabulary terms.


  • Lesson Slides (attached)

  • Card Sort Place Mat (attached; one per student)

  • Card Sort cards (attached; one set per student)

  • Claim, Evidence, Reasoning (CER) (attached; one per student)

  • Jamboard (linked)

  • Wakelet (linked)

  • Sticky notes

  • Pens or pencils


Introduce the lesson using the attached Lesson Slides. Display slides 3–4 to share the lesson’s essential question and learning objectives.

Move to slide 5 and share the linked Google Jamboard titled Three Sticky Notes. Share the Three Sticky Notes strategy and ask students to look at images on slides 2–5 of the Jamboard and add three sticky notes of adjectives that come to mind as they are doing so.

Share slide 6, if needed, to review what an adjective is. Move back to slide 5 with the instructions, reminding them to stop at the image on slide 5. Once all students have made it through the first set of images, have a class discussion to address any misconceptions.

Display slide 7 and instruct students to move on to slides 8–12 of the Jamboard, following the same instructions as before. Again, once students have completed this set of images, have had another class discussion, again addressing any misconceptions they might have.


Display slide 8 and share the I Notice, I Wonder strategy with students. Tell students they are looking at prairies in the U.S. The map of original and current North American prairies should elicit student conversation. Instruct them to write down their observations prior to them sharing their answers with the entire class or perhaps with an elbow partner. 

Display slide 9 and play the animated video that explains the Claim, Evidence, Reasoning (CER) instructional strategy. Stop the video at the 0:50 timestamp.

Display slide 10 and pass out the attached Claim, Evidence, Reasoning (CER) handout or post to Google Classroom. Pose the question “How does fire impact prairie ecosystems?” and instruct them to respond to the question in the “claim” box.

Display slide 11 and play the remainder of the animation before moving to slide 12 and sharing the linked Wakelet. Instruct them to use the articles to gather evidence that supports their claim.


25 Minute(s)

Display slide 13 and share the Card Sort strategy with students. Place them in groups of 2 and pass out the attached Card Sort cards and a Card Sort Place Mat. Instruct them to make their choices and place the cards on their placemat before moving on. Ask students to leave their placement paper intact.

Display slide 14. Tell students that prairies are responsible for everything they just placed on their card sort placement. Ask them to check their placements against the key on the screen. Discuss some of the differences and/or some of those that most frequently were placed in the wrong category. Mention that both goods and services are all vitally important to us as humans (point out the circle at the bottom of the diagram) and that, just like oceans, rainforests, deserts, etc., prairies provide humans with goods and services, too.


Display slide 15 and share the Surprising, Interesting, Troubling (SIT) strategy with students. Ask them to summarize what they will view in the following two videos.

Display slide 16 and show the Individual Career Academic Placement (ICAP) video with Andrew Warrior (5:41). Andrew Warrior is the agriculture coordinator for the Absentee Shawnee Tribe of OK. One portion of his job is controlled burns on tribal lands. If closed captions aren’t on, you may want to activate it as he does speak softly.

Display slide 17 and share the second video about Prairie Fire Controlling Invasive Species (4:52). This is actual footage of a controlled burn. 

Display slide 18 and hand out three sticky notes to each student. Instruct them to write their surprising fact on one sticky note, their interesting fact on another, and their troubling fact on the last sticky note. You may want to color-code the sticky notes to make it easier for students and yourself. Select a spot in the classroom for them to place their sticky notes. As the facilitator, at each of the three areas, select a few to read aloud to the entire class. Allow time for student discussion and encourage them to take notes and add evidence to their CER handout.


Display slide 19 and instruct students to review their notes from the lesson. Using the CER handout from earlier, they should review their original claim, organize their evidence into complete sentences that support the claim, and provide reasoning that explains why their evidence supports their claims. 

Move to slide 20 and share that they need to use the following terms in their final CER write-up. Display slide 21 and highlight that bulleted words are in the right-hand column.


American Prairie. Grassland Groupies. (2022, November 20). [Photograph]. Retrieved February 6, 2023, from 

Bauer, T. (2009). Harvest time on the prairies Manitoba. Wikimedia Commons. [Photograph]. Retrieved February 6, 2023, from 

Coconino National Forest. (2008). Anderson Mesa prescribed fire. flickr. [Photograph]. Retrieved February 6, 2023, from 

Coconino National Forest. (2008). Firefighter uses a drip torch during prescribed burn. flickr. [Photograph]. Retrieved February 6, 2023, from 

Freese, E. (n.d.). A Year in the Prairie Corridor. [Photograph]. Retrieved February 6, 2023, from 

Freese, E. (n.d.). Nebraska's Tallgrass Prairie Trailer. Nebraska's Grassland Legacy | PBT. [Photograph]. Retrieved February 6, 2023, from 

Herbert, N. (2019). Trout Springs Rx Fire. Firefighters using drip torches to ignite slash piles. flickr. [Photograph]. Retrieved February 6, 2023, from 

K20 Center. (n.d.). Card sort. Strategies.

K20 Center. (n.d.). Claim, evidence, reasoning (CER). Strategies.

K20 Center. (n.d.). Google Jamboard. Tech tools.

K20 Center. (n.d.). I notice, I wonder. strategies.

K20 Center. (n.d.). Three sticky notes. Strategies.

K20 Center. (n.d.). Wakelet. Tech tools.

Lundgren, M. (n.d.). Hidden wildlands. Low Intensity | PBT. [Photograph]. Retrieved February 6, 2023, from 

Lundgren, M. (n.d.). Hidden wildlands. Reintroducing an Old Flame | PBT. [Photograph]. Retrieved February 6, 2023, from 

Mayer, J. (2015). Prairie. flickr. [Photograph]. Retrieved February 6, 2023, from 

U.S. Department of the Interior. (n.d.). Wildland fire: What is a prescribed fire? (U.S. National Park Service). National Parks Service. Retrieved February 6, 2023, from,of%20meeting%20the%20burn%20objectives 

USFWS - Pacific Region. (2012). Pocket Gopher Prairies. flickr. [Photograph]. Retrieved February 6, 2023, from 

Sixflashphoto. (2017). Three Creeks - Prairie in Ohio. Wikimedia Commons. [Photograph]. Retrieved February 6, 2023, from 

skitterphoto. (2018). Firewood burning during sunset. Pexels. [Photograph]. Retrieved February 6, 2023, from 

Sortum, S. (n.d.). High plains wild: Film. Burning Prairie | PBS. [Photograph]. Retrieved February 6, 2023, from