Used with permission:Modified by: Diane McDaniel


Science Lesson Plan: Forest in a Jar

Grade Level and Subject: 5th grade Science

Lesson Topic: Succession: “Forest in a Jar”

Purpose: The major purpose of this activity is for students to recognize the process of succession.

Overview: Succession is a term used to describe the ever-changing environment and the gradual process by which one habitat is replaced by another. Many habitats that appear to be stable are changing before us. In this activity, students will be able to see in miniature how a swampy area can be succeeded by a forested habitat.

ESOL Language Level: Early Production

Content Objectives: All students – including the ESOL students - will be able to: 

1) Understand and describe succession 

2) Summarize what they have learned about how environments can change

Language Objectives: Students will understand the concept of a changing habitat (succession) through a hands-on team activity.They will also learn new vocabulary related to the topic.They will work on this project in small groups to receive modeling of the new vocabulary, and to provide them practice.They will write about this new concept, using their new vocabulary words, in their journals. They will further reinforce their learning by participating in a HOMEfun activity.

Materials: Pint or quart jars (one per team), water, soil, aquatic plants (one per team), two cups bird seed.


Entire class: aquatic, habitat, and succession.

ESOL Students: aquatic, birdseed, environment, evaporate, forest, germinate, gradual, growth, rot, soil, suitable, succession, swamp.

Method: Students conduct an experiment using soil, water, seeds, a plant, and a jar, and then draw a poster to represent their observations and finding.

ESOL Methods: The modifications made for ESOL students are described in the presentation steps below, and include the following: cooperative learning, direct instruction, added context (props), use of several learning styles, steps written on the board for language learning/reinforcement, copying steps into journals to reinforce word recognition and spelling, “weather conditions” on the board to teach/reinforce weather related vocabulary and spellings, team discussions, journal writing (allow drawings as well as text), bulletin board with new terms and definitions (and with pictures for context), team monitoring by teacher, adequate time given.

Length of time: This activity will be done over several weeks, as it takes time for the habitat to change.Once the experiment phase is complete, the teams will have 2 weeks to complete their presentation.The HOMEfun activity will be due 3 weeks later.In-class discussion of this activity will help the entire class because it will serve as a review.


Introduction:Talk about habitats with the class, and have them provide examples of various habitats around the world.Ask them if they would like to create their own habitat in a jar.Tell them that they are going to do a fun experiment with a team, and that they will create a habitat and watch how it changes over time.Tell them that we are going to name this experiment “Forest in a jar”, and that they will watch a pond turn into a forest.


1.Put students in teams of four. ESOL: 1) have no more than one ESOL student per team, 2) provide additional context when explaining the lesson by using the props (jar, soil, etc.). 

2.Have teams put 2” of soil and 3” of water in a jar and allow it to settle overnight.ESOL: have these steps written on the board so they can see the word spellings.Have all the students copy these steps into their journals.

3.Plant an aquatic plant in the jar and put the jars in a window or under a grow light. It should grow well in this environment.ESOL: write this step on the board and have the students add it to their journal to reinforce word recognition and spelling.

4.Do not have teams replace the water that evaporates from the jar.ESOL: write the “weather conditions” in the jar on the board.(The first day write “heavy rains with flooding” to explain how the pond fills-up, then “dry conditions – no rain” until the water evaporates, then “daily rainfall” during the period students are adding water each day).This will help ESOL students learn/reinforce weather related vocabulary and spellings.

5.Once or twice a week, have teams add three or four birdseeds to the jar. While there is water in the jar, the seeds should germinate and then rot. Continue adding seeds even after the water evaporates. ESOL: write this step on the board and have the students add it to their journal to reinforce word recognition and spelling. 

6.As the water evaporates down to the soil the aquatic plant will die. The birdseeds will now find the environment suitable for successful growth. Sunflower seeds, which grow large, can be added to represent forest trees. They will now need to add water, as a substitute for rainfall, to keep the soil damp to keep things growing. ESOL: have the teams discuss what has happened in their jar, and write about it in their journals.Journal writing should only be done after group discussion.

7.Introduce the terms succession, aquatic, and habitat.ESOL: have a bulletin board in class with the terms and definitions, and with drawings or pictures to provide additional context.

8.Have each team make a poster, drawing, or other visual representation of what they saw happen to their "pond" and present it to the class.ESOL: small group sizes should insure their involvement, but teacher needs to monitor this.

9.Have the teams discuss changes in the habitat which they observed, then have each student describe, in his/her journal, 3 of those changes.ESOL: they can describe through drawings as well as text.


HOMEfun assignment: Have the student and a family member go to a pond.Have the student share with the family member what he/she has learned, through the in-class experiment, about how environments can change. Have the student and family member make observations and have the student be prepared to describe the plants seen growing in the water and growing on the shore.Have the student and family member discuss the parallels between this pond and the habitat of their home country (to necessitate both student and family member).Also have the student think about the parallels between this real pond and the "pond" in the jar.Have him/her be prepared to participate in a class discussion and share his/her observations.He/she can share photos, plant samples, and/or stories with the class about the pond he/she observed, or about similarities and/or differences between the local environment and his/her home environment.Adequate time will be given for completion of this activity.

Evaluation: To be certain that my ESOL student understands the lesson and masters the objectives I will set-up the lesson with his/her needs in mind.I will provide a context rich environment, carefully place the student in a team that will be beneficial, and closely monitor his/her journal writing throughout the project.During the team sessions I will observe the student’s participation.If the student is not comprehending, or not participating, I will spend one-to-one time with the student.I will take him/her to the various displays, and talk with him about them.I will ask open-ended questions and encourage him/her to talk.I will be constantly assessing the student’s comprehension and growth, and will teach, model, and scaffold to bring him/her to class level.Once the assignment is complete, I will have a final assessment of the student’s learning in the class discussion and by his/her journal reflection.The HOMEfun activity will serve to reinforce his/her learning.