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Terrarium Habitats

Jean Neukomm and Danielle Peters

Concept Map
Assessment Plan
Lesson Plan 1
Lesson Plan 2
Orientation Video
Spring 2008 Projects Home
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CI 5329

Spring 2008

Dr. Dickinson

Terrarium Habitats Project

By: Jean Neukomm and Danielle Peters

Selected Grade: 4th

Soil, or dirt, is composed of weathered rocks, air, water and the decayed remains of dead animals and plants. The organisms living in the soil help to decompose organic matter and play an important role in the nutrient cycle. Students may have an aversion to getting dirty but they will want to dig right into this science project and create a terrarium habitat in order to observe the decomposition of soil.

The creation of a terrarium habitat allows students to explore a process that goes on just under their feet. Students walk on an important cycle of life without being aware of its importance. Initially, students will create the floor of a forest habitat, in the terrarium, with leaves, bark, birdseed and dirt.  Living organisms such as a small plant, pill bugs, and earthworms will be put in the terrarium. The students will be able to observe changes in the soil as decomposition takes place over a period of time.

This terrarium habitat contains decomposers, which are organisms that help recycle nutrients from organic material. The organic material, after it dies, is made available for plants to use by the decomposers. Bacteria, in the soil, decompose dead organic matter and convert it to nutrients, which become available as food for plants. Fungi works along with bacteria in breaking down organic matter found throughout the soil. Earthworms help fertilize and encourage other micro-organisms to do the same by decomposing dead organic matter in the soil. The nutrients are taken from the soil by the plants and passed on to herbivores, or plant eaters. The carnivores eat the plant eaters. The organic material from each of these groups, upon dying, is again made available to plants with the help of decomposers. This continuous cycle begins when the plant roots absorb the nutrients broken down by the decomposers. A terrarium habitat provides students with a view and understanding of this cycle.


  • 1 small, clear plastic storage box with lid (2 liter plastic bottle)
  • 1 push pin
  • Soil (enough to fill 1/3 of container when mixed with sand)
  • Sand
  • 1 tsp. of birdseed or grass seed


  • 1 handful of dry leaves
  • 1 small plant (strawberry, violets, or other small garden plant)
  • 1-2 twigs or pieces of bark
  • 2-3 plastic spoons
  • 1 spray bottle
  • 2 water misters
  • 1 piece of black construction paper
  • 1 label or masking tape
  • 1 roll of transparent tape
  • 4 journals or blank booklets for recording
  • 1 piece of cardboard
  • 1 half gallon milk carton
  • 2 clear plastic cups
  • 2 pencils
  • 1 magnifying lens
  • Paper towels
  • 2 earthworms