Oh Deer! and English Language Learner Writing Extensions

Author(s): SEP Quattro Staff

Lesson Overview

Grade level(s):

Elementary School (K-5), Middle School (6-8), Grade 3, Grade 4, Grade 5, Grade 6, Grade 7, Grade 8


Biology/Life Science, Science Skills


Population Ecology

Big ideas(s):

Scientists use models or simulations to investigate real-life situations in ecosystems. In this particular lesson the ecosystem is a deer population that fluctuates from year to year. Scientsts collect data on the number of deer and available resources in a region to help them understand this phenomenon and predict future trends. By pretending to be deer and the resources that deer need to survive, we can simulate what happens in nature, and try to understand why the deer population increases and decreases from year to year.

Vocabulary words:

resource (the things deer or other animals need to survive): food, water, shelter; fluctuate. ascend, increase, descend, decrease, little, few, scarce, not enough, less, plenty of, sufficient, ample, more

What you need:

Graphed butcher paper or chart paper

1-3 thick colored markers

Per small group (if you have mutiple instructors) or per pair of students if you have one instructor:

  • At least 6 blue (or other color) index cards
  • At least 14 yellow (or other color) index cards
  • 5-7 sentence strips


  • Section 1: whole class
  • Section 2: whole class in 2 teams
  • Secton 3: In groups of 6 or less if there enough instructors to facilitate each of the groups

In pairs if there are not enough instructors to facilitate small groups



  • Section 1: in a classroom
  • Section 2: outside
  • Section 3: in a classroom

(Alternately, Section 1 could occur in a quiet outdoor location and Section 2 could occur in a large open indoor area)

Time needed:

Total Time: 1 hour

  • Section 1: 10 min.
  • Section 2: 20 min.
  • Section 3: 30 min.
Author Name(s): 
SEP Quattro Staff

Teacher(s) will describe an ecosystem scenario and ask students to ponder why the population of deer in a particular area fluctates from year to year. Students will research the question through a simulation of deer in nature. The teacher will record data from the activity in the form of a graph. Before analyzing the graph, students will record words they used in the activity and sort others used in the context of ecology. While analyzing the graph and sharing their experiences, students will use these words to create sentences and eventually a paragraph describing the patterns of the data collected.

Prerequisites for students: 

Students should have some experience reading and creating graphs. Students also should know that animals need food, water, and shelter to survive

Learning goals/objectives for students: 

Students will be able to conduct an investigation and collect data from an ecosystem simulation. They will be able to interpret the data - in the form of a line graph - and describe how this particular population changes over time in a cohesive paragraph. They will be able to use trends as evidence to make future predictions.

They will understand that food, water and shelter are key to wildlife survival, and that availabilty of these resources are what create fluctuation in wildlife populations.

Content background for instructor: 

Adapted from Project Wild:

A variety of factors affect a species' ability to reproduce and maintain their population over time. The most fundamental of which are: food, water, and shelter. These resources represent limiting factors which keep a population from increasing year after year, and contribute to fluctuations in populations. Additonal factors include: disease, predator/prey relationships, varying impacts of weather conditions from season to season (flooding, heavy snows), pollution and habitat destruction.

Getting ready: 

Find an appropriate outdoor space (at least 25 x 25 yards) where students can run freely with few or no obstructions. Alternately, a similar indoor space can be used.

Write the introductory scenario on chart paper or an overhead, so students can read along.

Label a large piece of graphed butcher or chart paper with an x and y axis.

Prepare index cards with labels using the words in bold in vocabulary (ascend, increase, descend, decrease, little, few, scarce, not enough, less, plenty of, sufficient, ample, more

Safety Concerns: Students need to be cautioned to avoid running into or agressively grabbing their classmates.

Lesson Implementation / Outline

  1. Have written and read the following scenario:

Scientists have been tracking the deer population in a meadow in Yellowstone Park and they have noticed something interesting. One year they counted 10 deer in the area, the next year they counted 30, and the year after that they counted 12 and then 25 (mark on prepared graph). So the scientists are wondering: Why does the number of deer increase (go up) or decrease (go down) from year to year?

2. Ask students to share any thoughts or clarifying questions they have on the scenario or the question.

3. Explain that in order to help answer the question, we will think about what a deer needs to survive

Make sure the group comes up with: Food, Water and Shelter and accept additional reasonable responses. As students say them, list them, and explain and write that they are all RESOURCES: things animals need to survive in their habitat.



1. Explain "Oh Deer!" via attached written directions and pictures.

2. Ask for student help to create labels for the x and y axes (they will likely use the scenario as a guide). Teach them the word "population" as a synonym for "number of" or "a group of one kind of animal" and write " deer population" on the y axis. Have them help you set up the scale and interval for each of the axes. Ask them to think of a title that explains the graph (ex: "Change in Deer Population over 10 years etc.)

3. Count off by fours and assign 1/4 of the group (the 1s) to be deer and 3/4 of the group (the 2s, 3s and 4s) to be resources.


4. Go outside or to an open area and play the game according to the directions.

5. Count the number of deer for each "year" or round of the game and mark the number on the graph.

6. After 5 rounds, ask students to begin predicting whether the number of deer in the following "year" will increase (thumbs up), decrease (thumbs down), or stay the same (sideways thumb).

7. Complete 10 or more rounds.


8. Break into small groups with instructors facilitating each of the groups or have students work in pairs

Learn new words:

9. Ask: "What are the words we used in this game?" As students say words record them on the board or overhead and have them record them on blue index cards. They should include: water, food, shelter, resources, deer.

10. Explain that there are additional words that will be useful when we discuss the game and analyze our data. Ask students to sort yellow index cards, with words: ascend, increase, descend, decrease, little, few, scarce, not enough, less, a lot of, sufficient, enough, ample, more

11. Remind student to use their new vocabulary words in front of them and on the chart and brianstorm: What does the graph tell us? (What happened to the number of deer in the activity?) and record student responses. Connect their comments to the graph.

12. Discuss the words as needed and paste ascend, increase, descend and decrease on the graph. Introduce the word "fluctuate" and write it on the graph.

Make sentences using the new words:

13. Ask each student to complete the following sentences on sentence strips, reminding them to use words on index cards, trying to use as many different words as possible (students can turn over yellow index cards as they use them). Ask for a few volunteers to share as teacher writes responses,

The population increases when______________

The population decreases when ______________

Over the course of 10 years, the deer population in our simulation ___________.

(you can ask participants to read the prompt as well as the responses that have already been written Ex: The population increases when there is plenty of food, ample water, and enough shelter --- the "Ad-on"? technique.)

(you might take the opportunity to talk about compound vs. simple sentences. Orally all students begun "The population increased when . . . ."? But you can combine all of those sentences to make one sentence if you separate the answers with commas).

15. Now we are going to make a prediction based on what we know. If we had continued to play this game what do you think would have happened? Share oral responses.

"In year 11, I think the population will ____________."? Have student write response.

"In year 12, I think the population will ________________."? Have a different student write response.

16. Put 5-7 sentences out on table and ask students to order them in a paragraph with topic sentence and supporting details in a logical order. Ask students to justify their decisions for putting sentences in a particular order.

17. What is the main, or big idea of the paragraph? Is this a strong supporting detail? Are there other sentences, like a conclusion, that you would want to include in this paragraph?

Checking for student understanding: 
  • See if students are beginning to understand the patterns by checking their predictions during the game.
  • Watch students sort vocabulary.
  • Listen to student experiences as deer and to their analysis of the graph.
  • Listen and watch as students create their sentences and paragraph.
Wrap-up / Closure: 

18. Have some students share their paragraphs and go back to then go back to the original question:
Why does the number of deer increase (go up) or decrease (go down) from year to year?

Extensions and Reflections

Extensions and connections: 

1. Additional extensions to the game can be found in the Project Wild and GEMS guides. The GEMS suggests adding a predator (i.e. a mountain lion) after several rounds of the game. While the deer and resources are facing away from eachother, tag 1 resource to be a mountian lion. The mountain lion is "camouflaged" as a resource, and does not capture the deer until s/he is tagged by a deer. For every mountain lion that catches a deer, there will be 2 mountain lions hidden in the resource line the next year. However, the teacher will assign new people to be mountain lion each year, while the deer are not looking. Chart the mountain lion and deer population on the same graph to determine new patterns!

2. Discuss other factors mentioned in teacher background that affect population growth.

2. MATH: Use the opportunity to teach or revisit the concepts of scale, interval and range in graphing.

Oh Deer Scenario.doc93.5 KB
Oh Deer! lables.doc27 KB
Directions for playing Oh Deer!.doc55 KB
NGSS Topics
Kindergarten through Grade 5: 
NGSS Disciplinary Core Ideas
NGSS Performance Expectations
NGSS Performance Expectations: 
NGSS Science and Engineering Practices
NGSS Crosscutting Concepts
NGSS Crosscutting Concepts: 

Weblinks and References

Standards - Grade 4

Life Sciences: 
2. All organisms need energy and matter to live and grow. As a basis for understanding this concept:
a. Students know plants are the primary source of matter and energy entering most food chains.
b. Students know producers and consumers (herbivores, carnivores, omnivores, and decomposers) are related in food chains and food webs and may compete with each other for resources in an ecosystem.
c. Students know decomposers, including many fungi, insects, and microorganisms, recycle matter from dead plants and animals.
Life Sciences: 
3. Living organisms depend on one another and on their environment for survival. As a basis for understanding this concept:
a. Students know ecosystems can be characterized by their living and nonliving components.
b. Students know that in any particular environment, some kinds of plants and animals survive well, some survive less well, and some cannot survive at all.
c. Students know many plants depend on animals for pollination and seed dispersal, and animals depend on plants for food and shelter.
Investigation and Experimentation: 
6. Scientific progress is made by asking meaningful questions and conducting careful investigations. As a basis for understanding this concept and addressing the content in the other three strands, students should develop their own questions and perform investigations. Students will:
a.Differentiate observation from inference (interpretation) and know scientists’ explanations come partly from what they observe and partly from how they interpret their observations.
c.Formulate and justify predictions based on cause-and-effect relationships.
e.Construct and interpret graphs from measurements.
f.Follow a set of written instructions for a scientific investigation.