Activity Plan for Our Natural World

Alpine Ecosystem
Card Categories

Conifer tree
Oak tree
Downed log





Understanding Outdoor Ethics

This activity will take approximately 45 minutes.

What Your Group Will Learn

This activity plan will help foster understanding of outdoor ethics. After participating in this activity plan, which will set the stage for learning outdoor ethics, group members will be able to

  • Describe simple connections between the plants and animals of an ecosystem.
  • Predict changes to an ecosystem that have been caused by human behavior.
  • Tell how to choose behaviors that help protect natural resources.

Group members will play a game that will help them make connections to the natural world and understand how their behaviors can affect nature. Using a ball of string and cards that represent plants and animals, group members will construct a “web” of connections between all living things.

Materials and Preparation


  • Cards approximately 3″ x 5″ (number of cards to be determined by group size)
  • Hole punch
  • Approximately 4 feet of yarn per person
  • 100 feet of thick string
  • Paper and pencil for each person
  • Symbols, pictures, or words to represent sun, clean water, clean soil, and air
  • A copy of instructions and scenario cards


  • Read this entire activity plan and thoroughly review the Background on the Principles of Leave No Trace.
  • Roll the 100 feet of string into a ball.
  • Prepare the alpine ecosystem cards as instructed.
  • Print the “Scenario Card” at the end of this activity plan, laminate (optional), and cut along dotted lines. Have scenario cards available for use by leader or by individuals.

Grabbing Your Group’s Attention (5 minutes)

Before people can choose to Leave No Trace in the backcountry, they often need to adopt reasons for caring for our natural world. This activity plan will help participants identify some of those reasons. Ask participants to name some of the plants and animals they might find in backcountry or wilderness areas.

Steps for Teaching the Activity (20 minutes)

Equate! Relate!—A Game of Connections

This game demonstrates the connection or links between plants and animals in an alpine setting and will help participants predict the effects human impacts have on those plants and animals of this ecosystem.

Read and explain the “Equate! Relate!” game instructions below to the group, then play the game. The purpose of this game is to

  • Identify connections among plants and animals of an ecosystem.
  • Describe how human behavior can affect ecosystems.

Participants should assume the role of the plant or animal listed on their alpine ecosystem card.

Prepare the Alpine Ecosystem Cards

Write the names of the 19 plants and animals listed in the column to the left on the 3″ x 5″ cards, one name to a card. Punch several holes in each card and attach yarn long enough to loop the card over the participant’s shoulders. Give the ball of string to one group member and explain to group members that they are going to play a game called “Equate! Relate!”

Distribute all of the cards. If your group has fewer than 19 participants, some group members will have two cards. If your group is larger than 19 you will need to add plants and animals to the ecosystem. Some ideas include: berry, bear, coyote, hummingbird, grub worm.

Have each group member, including the leader, loop a card over the shoulders. In the middle of the room place the symbols, pictures, or words that represent the sun, water, soil, and air. Gather the group in a circle around these objects.

Making Connections—A Ball of String

The person holding the ball of string assumes the role of the plant or animal on his or her card and looks around the circle to find one other plant or animal that the holder’s plant or animal needs or that needs it to survive. This person describes the connection out loud, holds a section of the string with one hand, and throws the ball with the other hand to that plant or animal. For example, the woodpecker has the ball of string, holds the end of the string, and throws it to the oak saying, “I need the oak to provide insects to eat.” The oak catches the ball, hangs on to the string, and throws the ball of string to the ant saying, “The ant needs me to find food.” The ant catches the ball of string, hangs on to the string, and throws the ball to the downed log saying, “I need the downed log for a home.”

Play goes around the circle until everyone is holding a section of the string. At no point should anyone let go of the string. In some cases animals and plants will have received the ball of string more than once and therefore will hold more than one section of string.

Familiarity with the Background on the Principles of Leave No Trace will now help the leader guide a discussion. Have group members observe the web of connections they have made. Discuss what the web demonstrates about connections in an ecosystem, including the human connection.

Plants, insects, animals, and humans owe their existence to one another. Insects pollinate plants and provide food for small animals; plants provide food and shelter for both animals and humans. Plants also help filter water that is then stored in mountains, streams, lakes, and aquifers. When one member of the web of life has been altered or is eliminated, other living things are invariably affected. See the Background on the Principles of Leave No Trace for more about the web of life.

Have each group member think about one item from the middle of the room—sun, water, soil, air—and then describe one connection he or she has to this resource. For example, the frog might say, “I need the water in which to lay my eggs.”

Scenario Cards—Human Impacts on Ecosystems

Have the leader, one other person, or four individuals read one “Equate! Relate!” scenario card at a time to the group. Have the group discuss the question at the end of each scenario. As you discuss each scenario, have participants drop their string to show how an impact to one part of the web affects another part. For example, if campers pick all the wildflowers in an area, what else will disappear? Mice? Coyotes? Those holding the mouse or coyote card would drop their sections of string.

Note: This game can be played using plants and animals from specific ecosystems such as a desert, subtropical area, or river corridor. Cards and scenarios should be created accordingly.

Wrapping Up the Activity (15 minutes)

Tell your campers they are great problem solvers. They know how to have fun in the outdoors while respecting the importance of all living things. How well has each person learned to protect natural resources?

  • While still in a circle, have participants summarize what they have learned from “Equate! Relate!”
  • Have participants tell one new behavior they will practice the next time they camp or hike.
  • Have participants explain how their new behavior will support the natural resources (plants, animals, soil, water).

Congratulations on conducting a well-prepared meeting for your group!