Future City Lab: Interconnected III

Lesson Three: Interconnectedness in an Oyster Reef


Grade Level: 6-8
Keywords: habitat, ecosystem, biodiversity, species, keystone species
Source: www.flickr.com/PhotoJeff

This lesson is the third in a three-part series. In the first lesson, students are introduced to the general ideas of biodiversity, interconnectedness, and keystone species and the historical problem of oyster depletion in New York Harbor. The second lesson deepens understanding of oysters’ habitats and offers some potential solutions being pursued right now. The third lesson is a class activity designed to summarize and encapsulate the teaching points of the previous two, but can stand alone if desired. 

Time Estimate: 90 minutes 

Connection to Future City LabLiving with Nature: How can New York City enhance its natural environment and cope with climate change? 

Connection to Port City, 1609-1898: Oysters: Bounty of New York Waters 


Students will:  

  • Understand the importance of keystone species  

  • Identify producers and consumers in an ecosystem  

  • Understand biodiversity  

  • Research species in oyster reefs and discuss the way the species interact 


  • Species research packets (links provided below) 

  • iPads or computers 

  • Markers/colored pencils   

  • Ball of yarn 


  • NYS Science Standards: Unit 3 LE. Key Idea 5: Organisms maintain a dynamic equilibrium that sustains life. 

  • NYS Science Standards: LE. Key Idea 6: Plants and animals depend on each other and their physical environment. 

  • NYS Science Standards: Unit 2 LE. Key Idea 7: Human decisions and activities have had a profound impact on the physical and living environment. 

  • Next Generation Science Standards: Cause and effect relationships may be used to predict phenomena in natural or designed systems. 

  • Next Generation Science Standards: Systems may interact with other systems; they may have sub-systems and be a part of larger complex systems. 

  • RST.6–8.9: Compare and contrast the information gained from experiments, simulations, video, or multimedia sources with that gained from reading a text on the same topic. 

Guiding Questions:   

  1. How do oysters support a viable community?

  2. How can oysters create healthy New York City waterways?   

  3. What is the web of life?  How do species in a habitat help each other survive?  

  4. What is biodiversity and why is it important?  

  5. What can harm, destroy, interrupt, or damage biodiversity?


    Using research, critical thinking skills, simulation, and creativity, students will develop an understanding of biodiversity and the biological processes which allow species to interact with and rely on each other for survival. Students will also be challenged to consider circumstances and factors that might disrupt this interaction and survival.  

  1. Introduction (5 minutes)
  2. Think about “biodiversity” – break the word apart:  “bio,”  and “diversity.”  Using your understanding of these words, what do you think biodiversity means?  [Answer: variety of life in a particular habitat or ecosystem.]

  3. Species Research (45 minutes)
  4. Divide students into partnerships: Give each partnership one of the following species of an oyster reef. They will research their species. Then work together to produce a colorful picture/diagram of the species as well as some background information on the species. The goal is to identify what the species needs to survive and what needs them to survive. They can do an internet search and/or use the following:  


    (Condensed version of above:)



    Oyster Drills 

    Mud Crabs 

    Blue Crabs 



    Blue Mussels 

    Ribbed Mussel 

    Sea Squirts/Tunicates 

    Shore Shrimps 


    Japanese Shore Crab 


    Sea Robin 

    Black Fish 

    Slipper Shells 

    Mud Snails 

    Mud Tube Worm 


    Sand Worm 


  5. Muir Web Activity (30 minutes)
  6. Muir Web (MEER web): a visualization of habitat relationships and ecological associations. John Muir was a famous naturalist and conservationist.

    Teacher instructions:  

    Students will form a circle, holding their species profiles so that everyone can see them. They will represent this species in the ecosystem. Tell them that you are going to try to create a web of life, and that for this game the teacher will be the sun.  

    Hold the ball of yarn in your hands and, holding one end, pass it to phytoplankton. Explain that the sun provides energy that many species need to survive.  

    Have phytoplankton introduce themselves and tell what they need to survive and what needs them to survive.   

    Phytoplankton will pass the ball of yarn to one of the species that relies on them, while continuing to hold their portion of the yarn. 

    From then on, species who receive the yarn may pass it to any other species that they need to survive or that needs them to survive. Remind them to explain why they are passing the yarn to a certain species. Species may receive the yarn more than once; these often represent important species in an ecosystem. The yarn continues around and across the circle. 

    Explain that this Muir Web represents a natural ecosystem. Ask students what species in this ecosystem are particularly important. The oysters are a keystone species – providing a habitat for many of the species. Ask students to predict what would happen if one of these important species were removed from the ecosystem.  

    Ask different species to gently pull their piece of yarn. Ask anyone who felt the tug to raise their hand.  

    Choose one of the important species and remove it from the web. On the count of three, with all the yarn pulled tight, have the important species drop all their bits of yarn. Ask if other species felt one of the pieces of yarn in their hand go slack as a result. Then have those species let go of their yarn. Continue until the web has fallen apart.  

    Debrief: End with a discussion that may include the following questions:  

    What happens when a species is removed from the ecosystem?  

    What species are humans connected to in the web?  

    How would humans be impacted if those species were removed?  

    How might humans impact this ecosystem? For example, global warming, unsustainable use of resources,  pollution, overharvesting, development, etc., may disrupt food chains and cause habitat loss, damaging ecosystems.  

    Define biodiversity. Why is it important to maintain biodiversity in ecosystems?  

    What choices can humans make to maintain biodiversity? 

  7. Journal Reflection (10 minutes)
  8. Have students reflect: How do oysters support a viable (capable of surviving and living successfully) community?  

Additional Resources  

Fieldtrips: This content is inspired by the Port City, 1609-1898 and Future City Lab galleries in the Museum’s flagship exhibition, New York at Its Core. If possible, consider bringing your students on a fieldtrip!

Visit http://mcny.org/education/field-trips to find out more. 


This series of lesson plans for New York at Its Core was developed in conjunction with a focus group of New York City public school teachers: Joy Canning, Max Chomet, Vassili Frantzis, Jessica Lam, Patty Ng, and Patricia Schultz.

This project was made possible in part by the Institute of Museum and Library Services.

The views, findings, conclusions or recommendations expressed in these lessons do not necessarily represent those of the Institute of Museum and Library Services.