Assignment Discovery Biomes Tundra

Student Objectives

  • Identify the world's major biomes.
  • Study one biome and its key features.
  • Create a map of each biome showing its location and key features.
  • Write a descriptive paragraph about the temperature and climate of the biome.


  • Elements of Biology: Biomes video
  • Computer with Internet access
  • Print resources such as atlases and encyclopedias
  • Newsprint and markers
  • Large outline of a world map
  • Colored pencils


  1. Begin the lesson by having students watch the program entitled Elements of Biology: Biomes. Tell them to focus on the following segments: "Tundra and Taiga," "The Temperate Zone," and "Deserts and Tropics."
  2. After watching, hold a brief discussion about biomes. Make sure students understand that a biome is a major ecological community that includes ecosystems with similar climates and organisms. Then make a class list of the world's major biomes. The list should include the following biomes:
    • tundra
    • taiga
    • deciduous forest
    • grasslands
    • savanna
    • desert
    • tropical forests
  3. Divide students into groups of four or five. Assign each group to one of the seven biomes on the class list, explaining that their task is to create map of a biome that includes the following elements:
    • The biome's location
    • A color-coded system indicating the climate and the vegetation
    • A representation of the animals that live in the biome
  4. Allow enough class time to work on maps. Tell students that they can find outline maps to use on the following Web site: Many reference books have this information. Suggest that they refer to an atlas or an encyclopedia. In addition, students can take a look at the following Web sites for additional information:
  5. After students have completed the maps, tell each group to write a descriptive paragraph about the biome, including such information as climate, average temperature, and unique features.
  6. During the next class, have each group share its map. At the end of each presentation, post the map on the bulletin board so that students can see a visual display of the diversity of biomes in the world.
  7. Conclude the lesson by asking students what they learned about biomes as a result of completing this activity. What do they know now that they didn't know before? Do they have a greater appreciation of the diversity of regions in the world?

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Use the following three-point rubric to evaluate students' work during this lesson.
  • 3 points:  Students identified all seven biomes; created an attractive, accurate map in their group; and contributed significantly to the group's accurate, descriptive paragraph.
  • 2 points:  Students identified five of the seven biomes; created a satisfactory map in their group; and contributed to the group's satisfactory paragraph.
  • 1 point:  Students identified fewer than four of the seven biomes; did not work with their group to create a map; and did not contribute to the group's paragraph.

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Definition: A major ecological community that includes ecosystems with similar climates and organisms
Context: Biomes are based on climate, so similar ones are found in different parts of the world.

deciduous forest
Definition: A biome in eastern North America, Asia, Australia, and Western Europe characterized by moist, temperate climates
Context: A deciduous forest includes trees such as elm, maple, and oak that have leaves that change color in autumn and fall off every winter.

Definition: The driest biome on Earth; arid land with usually sparse vegetation and less than 10 inches of sporadic rainfall annually
Context: Although little rain falls in a desert, a wide array of plants and animals thrive there.

Definition: A biome in a temperate climate, including the American Midwest, the pampas in Central South America, and the steppes in central Eurasia
Context: Antelope, bison, and wolves are among the animals that live in grasslands.

Definition: A biome in tropical latitudes characterized by a long, dry season and grasses and shrubs
Context: Africa has the world's largest savannas, where herds of wildebeest, elephants, and zebras live.

Definition: A biome just south of the tundra characterized by cold winters, a short growing season, and forests of coniferous trees
Context: The area that separates the tundra from the taiga is known as the tree line.

tropical forest
Definition: A biome characterized by a hot, wet climate found near the equator
Context: Some tropical forests are rain forests, where it rains much of the time; others have a wet and a dry season.

Definition: A biome in the northernmost parts of world characterized by long winters and short summers
Context: The tundra has permafrost, a hardened layer underneath the topsoil that remains frozen throughout the year.

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Academic Standards

National Academy of Sciences
The National Science Education Standards provide guidelines for teaching science as well as a coherent vision of what it means to be scientifically literate for students in grades K-12. To view the standards, visit this Web site:
This lesson plan addresses the following national standards:
  • Life Science: Matter, energy, and organization of living systems
Mid-continent Research for Education and Learning (McREL)
McREL's Content Knowledge: A Compendium of Standards and Benchmarks for K-12 Education addresses 14 content areas. To view the standards and benchmarks, visit
This lesson plan addresses the following national standards:
  • Science: Life Sciences ? Understands relationships among organisms and their physical environment
  • Geography ? Understands the concept of regions
  • Language Arts: Viewing ? Uses viewing skills and strategies to understand and interpret visual media; Writing: Uses the general skills and strategies of the writing process, Gathers and uses information for research purposes; Reading: Uses reading skills and strategies to understand and interpret a variety of informational texts

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The tundra biome is a cold and treeless plain where harsh conditions make it hard for plants and animals alike to survive. Around 20% of the Earth's land surface is covered with tundra.

Characteristics of the Tundra Biome
  • It's cold - The tundra is the coldest of the biomes. The average temperature in the tundra is around -18 degrees F. It gets much colder in the winter and warmer during its short summer.
  • It's dry - The tundra gets about as much precipitation as the average desert, around 10 inches per year. Most of this is snow.
  • Permafrost - Below the top soil, the ground is permanently frozen year round.
  • It's barren - The tundra has few nutrients to support plant and animal life. It has a short growing season and a slow rate of decay.
Two Types of Tundra
  • Alpine tundra - Alpine tundra is the area of land high in the mountains above the tree line.
  • Arctic tundra - The Arctic tundra is located far north in the northern hemisphere along the Arctic Circle. There are large areas of tundra in northern North America, northern Europe, and northern Asia.
Tundra Seasons

The tundra has two distinct seasons: a long winter and a short summer. Being so far north, the tundra has long nights in the winter and long days in the summer.

The winter lasts around 8 months and is extremely cold. In the middle of winter the sun may not rise for weeks. The tundra is frozen and often covered with snow during the winter and will reach temperatures of -60 degrees F.

The summer is shorter and is marked by the other extreme of the sun not setting. In the middle of summer the sun will be up for 24 hours. During the summer the temperatures may reach 50 degrees F causing the snow to melt in areas and wetlands to form.

What is permafrost?

Permafrost is a layer of ground below the topsoil that remains frozen throughout the year. This layer is generally only a few feet below the surface. Permafrost prevents trees from growing in the tundra because trees need to have deep roots and they can't grow in the frozen ground.

Plants in the Tundra

Plants that grow in the tundra include grasses, shrubs, herbs, and lichens. They grow in groups and stay low to the ground to stay protected from the icy winds. They tend to have shallow roots and flower quickly during the short summer months.

Most of the plants in the tundra are perennials that come back each year from the same root. This allows them to grow during the summer and save up nutrients as they lay dormant for the winter. They also tend to have hairy stems and dark leaves. This helps them in absorbing energy from the sun.

Animals in the Tundra

The tundra has a lot more animal activity during the summer than the winter. This is because most birds migrate south for the summer, insects lay eggs that wait for the summer to hatch, and some mammals hibernate for the winter. There are even some animals, like the caribou, which migrate south for the winter.

There are some animals that have adapted to winter in the tundra. Some of them change coats from brown in the summer to white in the winter so they can blend in with the snow. These include the arctic hare, the ermine, and the arctic fox. Other animals that are active in the winter include the snowy owl, musk oxen, and ptarmigans.

During the summer, the tundra will be teeming with insects. Wetland areas will be filled with mosquitoes. There will also be a lot of bird activity as they come to eat the insects and fish. Animals will be more active, coming out of hibernation or migrating from the south.

Facts about the Tundra Biome
  • The word tundra comes from a Finnish word tunturi, which means treeless plain or barren land.
  • The tundra is a very fragile biome that is shrinking as the permafrost melts.
  • Lemmings are small mammals that burrow under the snow to eat grasses and moss during the winter.
  • Polar bears come to the tundra for the summer where they have their babies.
  • Animals in the tundra tend to have small ears and tails. This helps them to lose less heat in the cold. They also tend to have large feet, which helps them to walk on top of the snow.
  • Plants that grow in tight groups to protect themselves from the cold are sometimes called cushion plants.
  • The Inuit people of Alaska live on the tundra.

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