Acorns Count: Lesson Plan

Explore the role that acorns serve in the ecosystem and the organizational interactions that exist within a forest ecosystem. Then view a video about an environmental study that counts acorns that fall from oak trees.

UNC-TV Media

Alignment to NC Essential Standards

  • NCES.8.L.3.1 — Explain how organisms interact with and respond to the biotic and abiotic components of their environment.
  • NCES.8.L.3.2 — Summarize the relationships among producers, consumers and decomposers including the positive and negative consequences of such interactions including: coexistence and cooperation; competition; parasitism and mutualism.

Learning Outcomes

Students will summarize the organizational interaction within a forest ecosystem which includes acorns.

Essential Questions

  1. Why are researchers collecting acorns in the forest?
  2. How do acorns indicate the health of the ecosystem?
  3. How do factors such as food, water, shelter and space affect the populations in an ecosystem?
  4. How are acorns related to other organisms in the ecosystem?

Essential Vocabulary

  • Ecosystem
  • Species
  • Canopy
  • Crown
  • Biomass
  • Simulator
  • Producers
  • Consumers
  • Decomposers


Students will work in pairs for this activity. Give each pair an acorn. Allow them to observe the outside of the acorn. Then, model how to open the acorn safely and allow the students to observe the inside. Ask: What is the purpose of the hard, outer shell? What is inside the acorn? Explain that the acorn is a seed. The inside contains everything needed to make a new plant. This can also provide food and energy for other living things.


Students will complete an interactive activity and activity sheet which will guide the students through the interactions between different parts of a forest ecosystem as the production of acorns increases or decreases. As the students work through the interactive, they will recognize the ramifications acorn production has for the ecosystem at large. After completing, discuss: What biotic or abiotic factors caused changes in the environment? How did the populations respond to the changes in their environment? What relationships did you notice between producers and consumers?


Students will view the NC Science Now video Acorns Count. After viewing the video, students should answer the following questions. They can discuss their answers with a partner or in small groups.

  1. What are the biotic and abiotic factors in the forest?
  2. What question are the researchers investigating? What variables are they measuring? 
  3. How are the results of their study being used? 
  4. Why do you think a single tree produces so many acorns?


Students will investigate a forest ecosystem and create a food web to represent the relationships between the various organisms.


Place the students in small groups with three members in each group, each member taking on one of the roles below. Within their group, students will prepare a town hall meeting to share the results of their findings for the acorn hunt.

  • Researcher: These students will explain the findings from that year’s acorn count.
  • Lumber Executive: This representative will explain what the results reveal about the health of the trees and how it will impact business. 
  • Ecologist: These students will explain the impact of the year’s acorn crop on the other organisms in the ecosystem. 

Following the small group presentations, the students will create a summary sheet which explains the impact that acorn production has on the trees, other organisms and the larger community.