Teaching Students about Winter Ecology

Studying winter ecology allows your students to understand the interrelationships between living things and their winter environment. This colder season opens up endless possibilities to discuss everything from temperature and atmosphere to hibernation and migration.

If you’re able take an outdoor field trip during this season, do it! This will give your students a unique, hands-on opportunity to experience plant and animal life in a different way. If you’re near a green space or park, you can explore how winter affects plants and animals in your local environment. Or if you’re really lucky, you may be close enough to a national park—such as Glacier National Park in Montana—for an unforgettable field trip. But even if you can only travel as far as your schoolyard or neighborhood, you can still bring winter ecology to life for your students.

Conservation groups across the country have already created some amazing winter ecology guides for students and amateur ecologists alike. These guides contain helpful background information (such as the Winter Ecology Teacher’s Guide), lesson plans, fun activities, and winter ecology resources that you can use in your classroom and adapt as needed. Need some inspiration? Here is just a sampling of winter ecology ideas you can use with your students, all from the sources cited below.

  • Play outdoor detective. Look for footprints, wing prints, tracks, trails, and impressions in the snow. Students will learn how to “read the land” for clues of animal movements and winter survival strategies for local creatures.
  • Be a snowflake sleuth. Students can learn what a snowflake is, how it’s made, and how no two flakes are alike—just like fingerprints.
  • Create a nature journal. Tapping into art, science, math, and language arts, students can make a journal over the winter months as they observe the changing of the seasons. They can draw pictures of the natural landscape, do a pencil rubbing, or attach a dried flower petal. They can write a poem, record an observation, or graph the time of sunsets.
  • Explore physical properties of snow. By building a snow fort, students study the concepts of weight, mass, volume, and density of snow (loose versus packed) in this hands-on math/science activity. (For detailed activity directions, see page 74 of the Blair DeSoto Environmental Education Partnership Curriculum Guide.)

No matter where you live, you can dig into winter ecology with fun activities that make abstract concepts concrete and engage students with their environment.


Author: Lisa Beach