Engaging in the Fight Against Extinction Unit Driving Question: How can we, as planetary stewards, take an active role in saving species from extinction?

The Sixth Mass Extinction? Lesson Driving Question: How have humans impacted the Earth for better and for worse?

1. Have students explore images to develop an understanding of how humans and nature influence species survival.

  • Have students navigate to Joel Sartore’s Gallery: Conservation Stories and have them look through the photos.
  • After students have looked through the images and captions, use the following prompts to conduct a whole-class discussion about observations that support their previous learning about human and natural impacts affecting species:
      • In what images do you see evidence of human or natural influence on the survival of a species?
      • Describe the habitats of some of these animals, or choose one of the animals and describe/identify the habitat where this animal lives.
  • Create a class Know and Need to Know chart to gather students’ initial knowledge and lines of inquiry.
  • Explain to students that their final unit project is to develop a pamphlet that shares information about an endangered species, and the Know and Need to Know chart will be the main tool they will be using to guide their research and collect information.

2. Introduce students to the five major world biomes through encyclopedic entries and an infographic.

  • Distribute the Introductory Research on Biomes handout to each student and preview the information students will be gathering during the rest of this activity.
  • Read aloud the first two paragraphs of the encyclopedic entries on biome and ecosystem to students to develop background knowledge.
  • Display and read through the infographic What Are the Major Types of Biomes? highlighting the differences between the five types of biomes.
      • Explain that while areas are marked to represent the location of specific biomes, they are not the only location where each biome can be found.

3. Scaffold students’ understanding of how animals come to be classified as threatened or endangered.

  • Explain to students that they are going to be researching specific threatened and endangered species whose habitats are found within these biomes.
  • Read the Following the Science section in the National Geographic article How Do We Decide Which Species are Endangered or Threatened?
      • Share with students that the IUCN stands for the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, an organization that is tasked with gathering data about the environment and supporting governments in making policies using that data.
      • Have students discuss with a neighbor: Based on this article, how confident are you about how species are classified? Do you think the IUCN is a trustworthy organization?

4. Assign students to research teams focused on one biome and have the team select an endangered species from that biome to focus on throughout the unit.

5. Debrief the activity by revisiting the class Know and Need to Know chart.
  • Have students suggest information they’ve learned that should be added to the Know column.
  • Revisit the lesson driving question: How have humans impacted the Earth for better and for worse?
      • Solicit student volunteers to provide some examples from their research that support an answer to the driving question.

Informal Assessment

Collect the Introductory Research on Biomes handout at the end of this activity to review students’ documents for general understanding.

Extending the Learning

Check the National Geographic’s Explorer Classroom site to potentially connect with Rae Wynn-Grant (NG Explorer), an ecologist specializing in conservation biology or other relevant explorers.

Create a closed classroom website, blog, discussion board, or shared document for student teams to share questions, ideas, comments, and concerns as they conduct their research across this two-week unit.

Geo-Inquiry: Have students investigate the geographic distribution of biomes and the human impact on the prairie and its animals by participating in Altered Biomes, an Esri GeoInquiries activity.  

Subjects & Disciplines

Learning Objectives

Students will:

  • Research one of the world’s five major biomes and select a focal species that lives in that biome.

Teaching Approach

  • Project-based learning

Teaching Methods

  • Discussions
  • Reading
  • Research

Skills Summary

This activity targets the following skills:

Connections to National Standards, Principles, and Practices

Common Core State Standards for English Language Arts & Literacy

The College, Career & Civic Life (C3) Framework for Social Studies State Standards

  • D3.1.6-8:  Gather relevant information from multiple sources while using the origin, authority, structure, context, and corroborative value of the sources to guide the selection.

What You’ll Need

Required Technology

  • Internet Access: Required
  • Tech Setup: 1 computer per learner, 1 computer per pair, Interactive whiteboard, Monitor/screen, Projector

Physical Space

  • Classroom


  • Heterogeneous grouping
  • Large-group instruction
  • Large-group learning
  • Small-group learning
  • Small-group work

Background Information

Biomes are defined as major communities on Earth, classified by climate, predominant vegetation and characterized by species’ adaptations to that particular environment. Latitude and annual rainfall are also used to classify biomes.


While there are many ideas about how many biomes exist, there are five major categories of biomes on Earth: aquatic, desert, forests, grasslands, and tundra. The animal species living within the biome depends heavily upon the continent, country, or even smaller region in which the biome is located.

Prior Knowledge

  • None



having to do with water.


area of the planet which can be classified according to the plant and animal life in it.


all weather conditions for a given location over a period of time.

conservation ecology

study of Earth's biodiversity, with the goal of protecting species, habitats, and ecosystems. Also called conservation biology.


area of land that receives no more than 25 centimeters (10 inches) of precipitation a year.


any natural or human-induced factor that directly or indirectly sets a change to an ecosystem in motion.


community and interactions of living and nonliving things in an area.


organism threatened with extinction.


process of complete disappearance of a species from Earth.


ecosystem filled with trees and underbrush.


ecosystem with large, flat areas of grasses.


environment where an organism lives throughout the year or for shorter periods of time.


cold, treeless region in Arctic and Antarctic climates.

Articles & Profiles