Lesson 3.2: Conducting a Biodiversity Inventory

In this lesson, students will conduct a biodiversity inventory on their school grounds.

Grade Level: 6 - 12 or equivalent

Subjects: Science, environmental science, ecology

Concepts/Vocabulary: Biodiversity inventory, composition, distribution

NGSS Performance Expectations:

Middle and high school:

  • Asking questions and defining problems

  • Planning and carrying out investigations

  • Analyzing and interpreting data

  • Using mathematics and computational thinking

  • Constructing explanations and designing solutions

  • Engaging in argument from evidence

  • Obtaining, evaluating, and communicating information

5E Unit: Explain


  • Human-Environment Interactions

  • Cross-cutting Themes

  • Core Ecological Concepts

  • Ecology Practices

Universal Design for Learning Connections

Key knowledge (Students will know that):

  • Data is vital to supporting an argument or explanation of a natural phenomenon

  • Proper data collection procedures must be followed for accurate comparisons

  • By working in groups, more perspectives are included which makes for a stronger argument or explanation

Key skills (Students will be able to):

  • Plan and conduct a biodiversity inventory

  • Practice appropriate observation and field skills

  • Understand and be able to complete a field data collection sheet

Key dispositions (Students will value):

  • Nature and biodiversity for their intrinsic value to each of us and to society

  • The variety of life on their school grounds

  • The contributions of each group member to the lesson

Technology Connections: Internet resources, field guide apps for plants and animals such as iNaturalist, Seek, eBird, American Bird Conservancy's Bird Library, or others


  • Notebooks/electronic journal for each student to be used throughout the project as observation journals

  • Copies of the school grounds maps created in Lesson 2.2

  • Hula hoops, yard or meter sticks, or string for marking a small study area

  • Clipboards or cardboard for attaching data sheets outdoors

  • Large paper for presenting student answers (or other means of displaying the information)

Estimated Time for Lesson: 3-4 45-minute class periods

Lesson Objectives

Students will:

  • Conduct a biodiversity inventory of plants and animals on their school grounds.

  • Represent their observations using words, drawings, labels, and maps.

  • Enter their data onto survey forms.

  • Work in groups to accomplish these tasks.

  • Document their thoughts and insights about the activities in this lesson in a journal.

Assessment Opportunities

  • Contributions to class discussion

  • Quality of teamwork while working on the school grounds

  • Biodiversity data sheets

  • Descriptions of observations in student journals


Biodiversity inventories are generally conducted to measure the composition (what plants and animals are there?) and distribution (where are they?) of plants and animals within their habitats. Often this activity takes place to generate data and observations to inform ecosystem monitoring and management practices.

In this lesson, students will engage in a biodiversity inventory on their school grounds. Students could return to this area numerous times throughout the school year and repeat the inventory process, and would then be able to distinguish patterns and cause and effect relationships.

The terms "school grounds" and "schoolyards" are used interchangeably in this lesson.

Getting Ready to Teach

This lesson follows a sequential step pattern and requires background knowledge (see above). You should spend some time on the school grounds prior to beginning the lesson to familiarize yourself with the best places for students to do this investigation, keeping in mind spaces with a variety of landscape to observe, proximity to your classroom to maximize the amount of time you can spend outside, and having enough space for students to spread out.

Students should be prepared to spend time outdoors on their school grounds for part of this lesson. You may wish to invite local biologists to participate with the students to help with species identification, understanding the local ecosystem, and learning about their careers.

Students should have working knowledge of plant identification methods prior to beginning this lesson.

Please open the links prior to teaching the lesson. You may also refer to additional resources at the bottom of this page.

The Lesson

  1. Students will investigate this question: "What is the composition and distribution of plants and animals on our school grounds?"

Part I. Biodiversity Inventory: Vegetation Survey

  1. In the first part of this lesson, students will conduct a biodiversity inventory of the vegetation on their school grounds.

  2. Working in their groups, students may select a study area on the school grounds so that each group is collecting data in a different area. All student groups should have the same size study area.

  3. Student groups should mark their study area on a copy of the school grounds map they created in Lesson 2.2. They may use the same area as in Part II of Lesson 3.1 or choose a new area.

  4. Before going outside, have students practice filling in a data sheet. These steps can be done the day before doing the actual vegetation survey.

  5. The day of the survey, student groups should fill out the date, time, location, and weather information at the top of the data sheet.

  6. In preparation for going out to their study areas, students should collect their data sheet; clipboard or a piece of cardboard to assist with filling in the data sheet; pencils; and hula hoops, string, or pencils/sticks for marking the study area.

  7. On the school grounds, students should mark off their study area using a hula hoop, string, or it can be paced off and marked at the corners using pencils or sticks.

  8. Student groups should begin their inventories and look for these types of plants, looking up, at eye level, and down!

a. Grass: mowed or not mowed (meadow or tall grass)

b. Flowers: annuals or perennials, native or non-native

c. Ground cover: outer edges less than 12 inches apart and less than 12 inches tall

d. Bushes or Shrubs: more than 12 inches tall, but typically less than 15 feet tall

e. Trees

f. Fungus, Mosses, or Lichens: can be found growing on trees, logs, or the ground

  1. For each type of plant group, list the different species and how many you find in the first column, then the total number of that type of species in the second column. For example, for Mowed Grass, list the different species and how many of each in the first column, then the total number (or percentage of area) of Mowed Grass species in the second column.

  2. Make a note of species and where they are found in your journals or on your school grounds map.

Part II. Biodiversity Inventory: Wildlife Survey

  1. Repeat the steps 5-8 in Part I for the Wildlife Survey. Review the Wildlife Survey data sheet before returning to the same survey areas as for the Vegetation Survey.

  2. Student groups should begin their inventory with a stationary observation. Determine how many minutes students should observe before going outside. Set a timer to ensure accurate reporting.

  3. Remember: to see the most wildlife, stay still and silent!

  4. To fill out the data sheet, every time you see or hear a species of animal:

a. On site means within the boundaries of your study area.

b. The first time you see or hear an animal, place a tally mark in the first column.

c. Also place a tally mark in the correct On Site column whether the animal is hanging out in the study area or passing through it.

d. Off site means outside the boundaries of your study area.

e. When you see or hear an animal off site, do not count it in the total column.

f. Do count the off site animals in the correct column as to whether they are hanging out or passing through.

g. Hanging out means the animal is sitting, standing or crawling/slithering/running but generally staying in the study area.

h. When the animal is off site, passing through means it is flying over or moving so far away it disappears into the distance.

  1. After completing your stationary observation, walk around the site and look for evidence of other animals on site and off site. Remember other students may still be conducting stationary observations so keep your movements quiet and calm.

  2. Look up, look at eye level, and look down! Look under rocks. Remember: this area is a habitat and more-than-beings live there. Don't disturb any more than necessary and put things gently back as you found them.

  3. Accurately record where you find evidence of wildlife both on site and off site on the data sheet by placing a tally mark in the proper column each time you find something different.

  4. Make a note of species and where they are found in your journals or on your school grounds map.

  5. Back in the classroom, compare the different results students recorded. How would they answer the investigation question?

Part III. Presentation Preparation

  1. Have students open their journals and record their main takeaways from this lesson, including big ideas, relationships, and goals.

  2. Remind them that this overall project culminates in a presentation or other means of advocating for more ecological and culturally diverse school grounds.

  3. Using the Presentation Rubric, ask students to record some ideas in the "Presentation Ideas" section of their journal for the slide(s) or piece(s) of information to be included from Lesson 3 in the project presentation, if you will not be using slides. Label these ideas "Lesson 3.2" or with some other label that helps organize the information to align with the rubric. Students can work in their groups (which you may keep for the duration of the project) or individually.

  4. Collect the journals to keep for assessment and to ensure that all students are collecting the information needed for their presentations.

Additional Resources


  • Students can also use this electronic data sheet (Google form) to record the different species of plants and wildlife they observe as part of their biodiversity inventory.

In the Next Lesson (L 3.3)

Students will use the data they have collected to calculate the biodiversity index for their school grounds.