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Introduction to Marsh Ecology

Grade Level: 6-8

Time Frame: 40-45 minutes

Introduction to Lesson:

This lesson will be used to explain what a marsh is, and the differences between freshwater and brackish / saltwater marshes.  Students will investigate the different types of plants and animals that live in each type of marsh.  The students will then apply the knowledge that they learned about marshes using a manipulative.  They will also examine the differences between marshlands before Phragmites and marshlands after Phragmites.  This lesson is a great way for students to understand community dynamics and how species interconnect with their environment.  When students see the differences in the animals, plants and before and after Phragmites has invaded they will be amazed!

This is a great website for the teacher to read before teaching this unit:

New Jersey Core Curriculum Content Standards

STANDARD 5.10 (Environmental Studies) All students will develop an understanding of the environment as a system of interdependent components affected by human activity and natural phenomena.

A. Natural Systems and Interactions

          Explain how organisms interact with other components of an ecosystem.

          Describe the natural processes that occur over time in places where direct human impact is minimal.

B. Human Interactions and Impact

          Describe the effect of human activities on various ecosystems.

STANDARD 5.5 (Characteristics of Life) All students will gain an understanding of the structure, characteristics, and basic needs of organisms and will investigate the diversity of life.

STANDARD 9.2 (Consumer, Family, and Life Skills) All students will demonstrate critical life skills in order to be functional members of society.

A. Critical Thinking

          Communicate, analyze data, apply technology, and problem solve.

C. Interpersonal Communication

          Demonstrate respect and flexibility in interpersonal and group situations.

          Organize thoughts to reflect logical thinking and speaking.

          Work cooperatively with others to solve a problem.

          Demonstrate appropriate social skills within group activities.

          Practice the skills necessary to avoid physical and verbal confrontation in individual and group settings.

          Participate as a member of a team and contribute to group effort



Students will be able to distinguish between the three different types of marshes (Fresh Water, Brackish, and Salt Water Marshes)


Students will be able to describe some of the typical plants and animals found in each.


Students will be able to describe what the marshes look like before and after being invaded by the non-native strain of Phragmites in terms of the changes in the habitat and the different kinds of organisms presents

Materials and Resources:


1.      Poster representing the transition from fresh to saltwater within a marsh:  Jpg formatpublisher formatpdf format


2.      PowerPoint (pdf)


3.      Flash cards describing organisms that students will place in appropriate places within the marsh salinity continuum (pdf format; publisher format)

Anticipatory Set:  Teacher will begin lesson by showing pictures of different marshes and different life forms that may be in the marsh lands (use the 3-D model and animals that they will be using later as an activity to show what a marsh is).

Ask students if they have ever seen a marsh, or any of the wildlife in the marshes.

Sequence Instruction:

1.  Teacher will introduce students to fresh water and brackish / saltwater marshes via  PowerPoint (pdf). (5 minutes)

2. Teacher will take out the marsh poster (Jpg formatpublisher format pdf format) and work with the students to assess the similarities and differences in the physical and biological components of each community  (fresh, brackish and saltwater) (5 minutes)

3.     The students will be broken up into groups of 3 or 4 and will randomly be allocated flash cards for a group organisms that live in one of marsh types (fresh or brackish / saltwater marsh).

4.     Students will be given time to discuss with their group members what areas of the map they think each of the organisms that they were assigned might be found in and why, based on the information presented on the flash cards.   (5-10 minutes) 

5.     Students will go up to the marsh maps (which should be placed at the front of the classroom) in their groups and place their organisms in the type of marsh in which they think they belong (5 minutes)

6.     Class will discuss if any organisms are in the wrong place and, if necessary, will place those organisms where they are supposed to be

7.  The students will then discuss which plants would still be present if the invasive form of Phragmites enters the ecosystem and which would not.  Ask the students students which animals in the native marsh would also be present in the invaded marsh (essentially if the plant that animal eats or nests in, one lives under is no longer present, then that species will be able to survive).  Have the students move the icons for those "survivor" animals from the native marsh model to the invaded marsh map

8.  Ask the students what will happen to the animals which can't find a home in the invaded marsh when the Phragmites invades (answer: they will not be able to survive and the species will go extinct within that habitat).  Remind them that, if there are other native habitats elsewhere in the area, the species will still be present in those places, even though they are now extinct here. 

9. Have the students discuss what will happen to the diversity of plant and animal species in marshes as more and more of them are invaded by Phragmites.

Accomodations and Modifications: Groups should be picked in advance so that each group contains students with a variety of learning styles, strengths and weaknesses.

Assessment: Teacher will assess students as they place the animals and information into the appropriate areas of the marsh posters.  Did they understand where each should be and why?  Could they justify their decisions appropriately?

Anchor Activity (if lesson goes shorter than planned)

Have students compare and contrast the two different marshlands (native and invaded).  Which shows high diversity (lots of different types of plants and animals)?  Which show lower diversity?  What was the effect of the invasive Phragmites on the diversity of plants in that marsh?  In what marsh type does the invasive Phragmites make the greatest difference to the other types of plants present? What might that mean to the animals in each habitat? 

Closure Each student will write on an exit slip three things they learned in class, and anything they did not understand.

Homework Have students look for marshes on their way home from school and while moving around their neighborhoods and report back on what they see.  Did they see marshes?  If so where and what plants that they've learned about did they see there?  Did the marshes appear to have been invaded by Phragmites?  Did they notice anything else that they'd like to share?


TEACHER FEEDBACK REQUEST:  We are always to working to improve these lesson plans. If you use this lesson plan, we'd love to hear from you with your thoughts, comments and suggestions for future improvements.  Please take the time to fill in our survey at .  Thanks!


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2009.  Jodi Sisk (Author), Louise Wootton and Claire Gallagher (Editors)

 Although the information in this document has been funded wholly or in part by the United States Environmental Protection Agency under assistance agreement NE97262206  to Georgian Court   University, it has not gone through the Agency's publications review process and, therefore, may not necessarily reflect the views of the Agency and no official endorsement should be inferred.

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