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TRB 3:2 - Investigation 3 - Terrariums / Aquariums

Main Core Tie

Science - 3rd Grade
Standard 2 Objective 2

Group Size

Small Groups


Utah LessonPlans


Creating aquariums/terrariums help students understand how creatures depend on living and nonliving things.


Materials for Pre_Assessment / Invitation to Learn

  • small creatures
  • hand lens
Materials for Instructional Procedures


  • containers for terrariums
  • soil
  • plants
  • seeds
  • stones and sticks
  • leaf letter
  • spray bottles

Background for Teachers

Your students will become excited and engaged as they observe and care for small creatures such as crickets, meal worms, pill bugs, earth worms, snails, fish, etc. Many of these fascinating creatures can be easily obtained and kept in the classroom. Information and suggestions for some of these creatures are provided on the Creature Information (pdf) pages. Read through these sheets and chose a creature for your classroom.

Terrariums and aquariums can be made in many different ways using a wide variety of materials. See the Terrariums and Aquariums (pdf) pages for ideas on using terrariums and aquariums with your class.

Intended Learning Outcomes


1. Use Science Process and Thinking Skills

4. Communicate Effectively Using Science Language and Reasoning.

Instructional Procedures

Pre-Assessment/Invitation to Learn

This activity can be a brief observation of small organisms, or it could be expanded and developed in to a much longer discovery activity (see Background Information and Extension Activities).

Choose a small creature for your students to observe. One creature for each pair of students works well. The whole class could observe the same kind of creature of different creatures could be provided for each team. Some creatures, such as crickets, may need to be placed in a zip-lock bag or a clear petri dish. If using a zip-lock bag, use a straw to inflate the bag and then seal it closed.

Have students use a hand lens to make close observations of their creatures. Students should use a ruler to make measurements and carefully record their observations using notes and drawings. Encourage students to write down what they think they know about heir creature and what they would like to learn (see Creature Observations (pdf) page). Ask students to think about what nonliving things and living things their creature will need in its environment to survive? List their ideas on the board and discuss ways of providing those needs for their creatures.

Instructional Procedures


  • containers for terrariums
  • soil
  • plants
  • seeds
  • stones and sticks
  • leaf letter
  • spray bottles

1. Before beginning choose a method for making terrariums or aquariums (see Terrariums and Aquariums pages) and obtain materials.

2. Tell the class they will be constructing an environment for the creatures they observed in the Invitation to Learn activity.

3. Teams of 3-5 should work together to make one terrarium or aquarium. Depending on what kind of creatures are available you may choose to have each team make a different type of environment or each team could make the same kind of environment.

4. Ask the class to suggest what kinds of things they will need to put in the environments so that their creature will be able to survive. Have them think about what kinds of things are in the creature's natural environment. You may want to take the class outside and look for places they think their creature might live. Students may also collect a few items such as sticks, rocks, plants, leaf litter, or soil to put in their environments.

5. Demonstrate methods you would like students to use in constructing their environments. You may want to consider having students work outside. This will make clean up much easier if dirt happens to get spilled. Otherwise, spread newspaper to protect student's work surfaces.

6. After the terrariums are planted have students water them using a spray bottle. Make sure the soil is damp, but not soggy or muddy. If the soil is too wet, leave the lid open for a day or two to let it dry out.

7. Place a few dry leaves or leaf litter in the terrarium along with small stones and a few small sticks.

8. Place the completed terrariums under grow lights or in a bright place in the room. Do not place the terrariums in direct sunlight as they may overheat and harm the plants.

9. In a few days, after the terrariums have stabilized, it's time to add the creatures. Before adding creatures, make sure all openings that may be used as escape routes are closed.

10. During the following weeks teams should make and record observations (see Terrarium and Aquarium Observations (pdf) page). Allow teams to share their observations about the interactions between the living and nonliving things with the class. Discuss what is happening in the environments. If creatures are dying, try to discover why. Are they not getting the right kind of food? Is it too wet? Too dry?

11. Environments will need to be monitored and watered and provided with food. Additional creatures may be added to establish food chains such as grasshoppers and praying mantises.

12. At the conclusion of the activity, return any items that were collected to their natural environment and clean out the containers.



  • Students will use measurement to learn the size of their small creatures. (Standard IV, Objective 2)

Language Arts-

  • Have students ask, "I wonder" questions, such as "I wonder if worms can crawl backwards?" or "I wonder if pill bugs like light or dark places?" Next, have them do activities or research to find out the answers to the questions. (Standard VII,
    Objective 3)

Homework & Family Connections

  • Have the students make terrariums at home. Let them put plants and any small animals they want in them. Have the students write down any observations they notice happening in their terrariums each day.
  • Some students may want to make an aquarium. They can put any fish and water creatures in they would like. Have the students write down any observations they notice about the fish and water creatures each day.

Assessment Plan

Use student's observation sheets to determine if they understand what is happening in their terrariums.

Created: 06/18/2004
Updated: 02/05/2018