Authentic Lessons for 21st Century Learning

Ecosystems, Human Activity, and Interactions—Oh My!

Human-Environment Interaction

Jane Baber | Published: June 8th, 2022 by K20 Center

  • Grade Level Grade Level 5th
  • Subject Subject Science
  • Course Course Environmental Science
  • Time Frame Time Frame 2-3 class period(s)
  • Duration More 120 minutes


In this lesson, students learn about the story of the near extermination and subsequent re-introduction of the Gray Wolf of Yellowstone National Park. Through this narrative, students learn about apex predators, keystone species, and ecosystems. They learn to form cause and effect statements, analyze data, and create presentations that pose solutions to a scientific problem. This lesson includes optional modifications for distance learning. Resources for use in Google Classroom are included.

Essential Question(s)

As a scientist, what would you recommend as a solution to the presence of predators in an ecosystem?



Students use a choice of apps to create a Word Cloud of key terms associated with ecosystems.


Students construct cause and effect statements based on snippets of data from a graphic about Yellowstone wildlife relationships.


Students role-play as scientists, recommending solutions to problems by presenting their data. These solutions are presented digitally.


Students examine new charts and data from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to make observations and draw inferences about how human/environment interaction problems can be approached.


Students use a range of data presented in this lesson to demonstrate understanding of the concept of apex predators and keystone species.


  • Yellowstone Species Cards (attached; one set per pair or small group of students)

  • Wolves Keep Yellowstone in Balance Infographic (attached; one per student)

  • Lesson Slides (attached)

  • Internet-enabled student devices


 Display slide 3 of the attached Lesson Slides to introduce the essential question: As a scientist, what would you recommend as a solution to the presence of predators in an ecosystem?

Display slide 4 to review lesson objectives:

  1. Demonstrate a deeper understanding of the forces that impact apex predators.

  2. Illustrate an understanding of the importance of keystone species in an ecosystem.

Display slide 5 to introduce the concept of a Word Cloud. Direct students to visit a your selected word cloud generator.

Once students have gained access, have the students create a Collaborative Word Cloud of key terms related to the lesson theme human-environment interaction.

Instruct students to use ECOSYSTEM as their first word. Have them individually brainstorm other relevant words. Discuss the connections among the words in the Word Cloud on slide 5 or draw one on the board to illustrate the concept.


Group students in pairs or small groups.

Display slide 6. Pass out your selected card from the attached Yellowstone Species Cards to each small group.

Instruct your students to create an effect statement, as shown on the slide, using the data on the back of the card. This effect statement should use the following format:

Because ____________________________, then ____________________________.

After enough time has passed for students to do so, have each group share out. 

Display slide 7 and give each group a full set of prepared Yellow Species Cards. Ask students to organize their cards to create a relationship map.

Resist giving students hints at how to structure their relationship maps. Challenge them to organize the cards in ways that make sense to them. It's likely that students will organize the cards in predator/prey hierarchy, by habitat or physical features, or by diet. Encourage students to think creatively about relationships among the animals on their cards.

After groups have completed their relationship maps, have each group or pair share out. After all groups have shared their maps, have students individually revisit their effect statements from their first animal data card.

Display slide 8. Have students examine the data on the back of all the animal cards. Ask them to identify any different causes from the data set that relate to their first effect statement.

Ask students, "What are the problems in this ecosystem described in your effect statements?"


Display slide 9. Propose the following question to the class:

"As a group of scientists, what would you recommend as a solution to the problems presented in this data?"

Give students enough time to analyze and write down an answer to the question.

Once each group has written down an answer, pass out copies of the attached Wolves Keep Yellowstone in Balance Infographic (or distribute the following link: Wolves in Yellowstone in Balance PDF) to pairs or small groups of students. Give groups a few minutes to read through the infographic.

Display slide 10. Using the questions below, ask students to examine the data in the infographic and the relationships among the animals.

  • What do you notice about the individual species?

  • What do you notice about the relationship between the species?

  • What do you wonder about the Gray Wolf as an apex predator?

  • Has your recommended solution to the problems presented in the data changed? How so?

Display slide 11. Challenge students to address the problems and concerns that scientists and ecologists in Yellowstone faced: What is the right thing to do when an apex predator is affecting other species?

Instruct students to present their solution digitally using your selected app(s). These presentations should include the following three elements, and should be structured as a CER (Claim, Evidence, Reasoning) statement:

  • One problem

  • Evidence

  • Reasoning

Have students present their solutions.


Display slide 12. Show students either the video on the slide (“Wolves of Yellowstone”), found on the National Geographic Resource Library online, or the video linked below (“How Wolves Change Rivers”). Both address how the reintroduction of the wolves changed the physical aspects of Yellowstone National Park for the better.

After viewing one or both of these videos, ask students what their theories are regarding how the impact of the wolves affected the health of Yellowstone.

Display slide 13. Introduce the concept of keystone species. Have students write down the definition of keystone species: a species that is integral to the ecosystem and food chain. Have students identify how the Gray Wolf is a keystone species.

Ask students to discuss any other animal they are aware of that might have changed the shape of the land where that animal lives.


Since the lesson began with a Word Cloud, ask students to revisit the notion of reflecting relationships through a Word Cloud. Using the same platform used in the Engage section (Word It Out or Word Art), have them create a new Word Cloud that reflects their new knowledge

Display slide 14 and the prompt human-environment interaction. Advise students that their first word must be the term ECOSYSTEM. After students have had time to work in pairs or small groups on their new Word Clouds, display them one at a time or have volunteers display their Word Clouds. Ask them to identify and explain any new terms they have added.