Utah's Biomes

A Social Studies unit created by Sarah Bennett (hal.bennett@juno.com)

Fourth Grade


Background Information
Picture Gallery
Unit Goals
Teacher Resources
Children's Literature
Unit Activities


Background Information

The following background information has been taken from The New Utah's Heritage by George Ellsworth and Wildlife of Utah by Bevan Killpack.

A biome is a category of characteristic plant life, such as tropical rain forest, deciduous forest, grassland, and the animal life associated with these plants. Any such biome might exist on any continent.

Utah is a land rich in natural beauty. Vacationers, photographers, and native residents all enjoy the variety of its land. Utah is filled with contrasts. It has high forested mountains and fertile valleys edged by deserts. Its plateaus are cut by muddy rivers. There are vast wilderness regions and thriving cities.

Utah is a desert land, with extremes of hot and cold. Utahns have made the desert bloom. In this unit we will learn about the biomes that are unique to Utah.


Desert Biome

The hot desert biome is found only in Utah's extreme southwestern corner. Geographers define deserts as places where evaporation exceeds precipitation. The "hot desert" probably approaches what most people think of when they picture a desert. It is usually very dry and quite hot. Precipitation in the hot desert averages 5 to 10 inches per year. Temperatures soar above 100 degrees Fahrenheit in the summer and drop below freezing in the winter.


Utah's cold deserts generally range from 4,000 to 6,000 feet in elevation and can be characterized as broad valley and broke, rolling hills. Annual rainfall is usually less than 11 inches. Utah's cold deserts provide a favorable temperate climate for both wildlife and humans. Most of Utah's human population lives in cold desert areas. These areas provide a large portion of the range for Utah's livestock industry.


Alpine Biome

As we move up in elevation, beyond where trees can exist, we find one of the most severe habitats in Utah - quite similar to arctic habitats of the far north. Alpine areas do not make up a large portion of Utah's biomes. Plants and animals that live in alpine biomes are well adapted to harsh conditions. Birds and small mammals make up the majority of alpine wildlife. Few reptiles and amphibians are found in Utah's alpine biome since temperatures tend to be too extreme for these cold blooded animals.


Forest Biome

This biome is one of the most beautiful in Utah as it is ever changing with the seasons. Temperatures cover the extremes from both hot to subzero cold. The forest biome accounts for over 25% of Utah, and is extremely important to the diverse wildlife it supports. The forest biome consists of several distinct vegetative zones. These zones result from differences in elevation and precipitation.


Aquatic Biome

Utah scientists believe that another relative biome for the state of Utah is aquatic. Utah has an extreme variety of aquatic types ranging from the ponds in Weber County to the Great Salt Lake. Utah also has many rivers and streams found throughout all of Utah's biomes.


Mormon Pioneers Influence on Utah's Geography

In 1847 a group of people called Mormons moved to Utah to settle. They were the first people, except for Native Americans, who wanted Utah as their home. Mormons chose to move to Utah for two reasons. First, it was isolated. They hoped they would be left alone and would not have trouble with their neighbors. Second, they chose Utah because the land was a hard natural environment.

There is a myth about the Salt Lake Valley. It says that the valley was a barren and lifeless desert with only one tree when the first Mormon pioneers arrived. Here is what the valley was really like when the Mormon pioneers first came. Much of it had rich, good soil. Wherever sagebrush grew, the soil was good, and sagebrush grew all over the valley. There were also tall grasses. Trees and bushes grew along all the streams and flowed from the mountains to the Jordan River and into the Great Salt Lake. On the mountains were forests of pine trees.

When Utah's first pioneer settlers came to Utah, by necessity, many environmental changes took place. Land had to be cleared of trees, grass and rocks for farming. Irrigation canals had to be dug. Rivers and streams were dammed and flooded. They planted trees and orchards. Timber was cut to build homes. Game was hunted for meat. They built roads, farms, mills, and trading posts. Mines were dug. The changes to the landscape were endless and necessary to the survival of the people who had nothing but what the environment provided for their survival. The pioneers turned much land that had been considered wasteland into productive farmland.

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Teacher Resources

1. Bagley, Pat & Will. (1996). This Is The Place! A Crossroads of Utah's Past. Buckaroo Books.

Gives fun statistical numbers and facts about Utah. For examples, percent of Utah that is forested. Utah's lowest point and highest point. Average temperature in the Uinta Mountains.

2. Ellsworth, George S. (1992). The New Utah's Heritage (Revised). Gibbs Smith.

Contains maps of Utah's forests, parks, and monuments. Also has information about the regions and geography of Utah. Also has information about Mormon Pioneers and their influence on Utah's environment.

3. Holt, Rinehart & Winston. (2000). World Geography Today. Harcourt Brace & Company.

Pages 152-156, 43, & 38 give specifics about Utah's geography.

4. Killpack, Bevan. Wildlife of Utah. Blackner Card Company.

Great resource of habitats and the wildlife that live in each habitat. Has some wonderful pictures.

5. Luce, Willard & Celia. (1958). Utah Past and Present. Utah Color.

Discusses early physical features of Utah. Great description of the high Uintas.

6. McCormick, John. (1997). The Utah Adventure, History of a Centennial State. Gibbs Smith.

Great resource for the early geography of Utah. Has information about natural Utah, Utah's parks, and Utah's plants.

7. Powell, Allan Kent. (1994). Utah History Encyclopedia. University of Utah Press.

A great teacher reference for many Utah topics and subjects.


Website Resources

1. http://www.surweb.org

2. http://www.uen.org

3. http://www.mbgnet.mobot.org/sets/

4. http://www.media.utah.edu/UHE/UHEindex.html


Possible Field Trips & Guest Speakers

Field Trips:

Tony Grove

Bear Lake

Great Salt Lake

Arches National Park

Antelope Island


Guest Speakers:

Forest ranger

Someone specialized in Utah's geography

Individuals who have visited or lived in another biome in the world

National park service worker

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Children's Literature

1. Cherry, Lunne. The Great Kapok Tree: A Tale of the Amazon Rain Forest. CA: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1990.

If a tree falls in the forest someone or something will always be there to hear it. Many creatures will feel the effects when their source of sustenance and shelter falls to the earth. So when a man is sent into the Amazon rain forest one day, under instructions to chop down a great kapok tree, many eyes watch him nervously. It's not long before he grows tired and the "heat and him" of the rain forest lulls him to sleep. One by one, snakes, bees, monkeys, birds, frogs, and even a jaguar emerge from the jungle to plead with the sleeping man to spare their home.

 2. Hartmant, Gail. As the Crow Flies. Illustrated by Harvey Stevenson. NY: Simon & Schuster, 1991.

Elementary concepts about maps are presented in a clear, simple concept book. Cheerful pictures depict the territories of various animals, followed each time by a basic map of the animal's neighborhood. The book ends with one large map linking all the animal's territories together.

 3. Irbinskas, Heather. How Jackrabbit Got His Very Long Ears. Illustrated by Kenneth J. Spengler. AZ: Northland Publishing, 1994.

When the Great Spirit creates the desert and the creatures who will live there, he designates the jackrabbit to guide the animals to their new homes and explain their special adaptations, which make them well suited to their environment. The flighty rabbit forgets to listen carefully to what the Great Spirit tells him about each animal. When the Tortoise asks when he is so slow, Jackrabbit hems and haws and finally makes up a disconcerting answer, "Because you're not as smart as I am." Finally the Great Spirit realizes what's happening and gives Jackrabbit a new adaptation of his own: big ears to help him listen better to what he's told.

 4. Mazer, Anne. The Salamander Room. Illustrated by Steve Johnson. NY: Alfred A. Knopf, 1991.

Brian finds a salamander and takes him home. He wants to keep the orange salamander in his room and imagines how he can keep the animal happy by planting trees, encouraging insects and bird to enter, and finally removing his bedroom roof to let in the rain. Brain's cozy bedroom is gradually transformed into a dark green forest as his fantasy becomes more elaborate.

 5. Pallotta, Jerry. The Desert Alphabet Book. Illustrated by Mark Astrella. MA: Charlesbridge Publishing, 1994.

The parched, mysterious deserts of the world are the subjects for this alphabet array of plants, animals, and phenomena. Meet the colorful Crimson Chat, the deadly Inland Taipan, and the cartwheeling Golden Wheel Spider. Look beneath and beyond the sand for familiar, unfamiliar, and comical desert dwellers.

 6. Rylant, Cynthia. When I Was Young In The Mountains. Illustrated by Diane Goode. NY: E.P. Dutton, Inc., 1982.

A young girl reminisces of the pleasures of life in country living. She recalls splashing in the swimming hole, taking baths in the kitchen, sharing family times, and pumping pails of water from the well. Beautiful illustrations allow children to fully experience what it would be like to live in the mountains.

 7. Zoehfeld, Kathleen Weidner. How Mountains are Made. Illustrated by James Hraham Hale. NY: Harpercollins, 1995.

Four children and a dog climbing a forest trail provide the framework for the discussion of mountains. The characters explain the earth's structure and tectonic plates as well as the different types of mountains and how they are formed. The illustrations do an excellent job of showing the structures, forces, and processes that mold mountains.

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Unit Goals

1. The students will understand the concept of a biome.

2. Students will know the biomes specific to Utah and some characteristics of each of them.

3. Students will recognize that Utah's biomes have changed over time with the influence of the Mormon pioneers and other various human populations.


Unit Activities

1. Geographical Time Line

The students will create a time line and record the major changes in Utah's geography. They will record the year of the geographical change and write a short description of what happened.

Materials: Paper & pencils.

Time: This activity would be completed throughout the unit.


2. Map Of Utah Biomes

The students will draw an outline of Utah and then add the lines outlining the areas of the different biomes. They will color each biome a different color and then make a key that tells what color each biome is.

Materials: Paper, colored pencils, crayons, markers, and a map of Utah.

Time: 30 minutes.


3. Utah Puzzle

Students will draw an outline of Utah then outline the boundaries of the different biomes. Then they can make a puzzle out of their picture and they can have other students try to put it together.

Materials: Paper, pencils, and scissors.

Time: 15 to 20 minutes.


4. Differences & Similarities

As a class we will make a chart that lists differences and similarities of Utah's biomes. We would make the chart on butcher paper and hang it in the classroom throughout the unit.

Materials: Butcher paper and markers.

Time: 30 minutes.


5. Utah Geography Collage

The students will make a collage that represents characteristics of Utah's geographical features. They will put their pictures on a paper with an outline of Utah and correspond their pictures with the geographical location.

Materials: Magazines with pictures that the students can cut out, glue, and paper with outline of Utah on it.

Time: 45 minutes


6. Comparing Plant Roots

The students will compare the root system of plants from Utah's different biomes. The students will pick a plant and draw it with its root system. Then they will decide what biome that plant would grow the best in and label it on their drawing.

Materials: Plants from all of Utah's biomes, paper, and colored pencils.

Time: 45 minutes.


7. Picture Dictionary

The students will make a page for a picture dictionary of Utah's biomes. Possible pages could include geographical terms, plant names, animal names, and climate terms. The dictionary can be used throughout the unit and become part of the classroom library.

Materials: Paper, pencils, crayons, colored pencils, binding materials.

Time: 30 minutes


8. Utah's Biomes Magazine Article

Students will research examples of plant and animal interactions within a biome and create a magazine article telling about it. Then the students would collect all the magazine articles together and make a magazine for the classroom library.

Materials: Paper, books for students to look for information, colored pencils, book binding materials.

Time: 1 hour


9. Biome Mobile

The students will be divided into groups. Each group will be assigned a Utah biome. The students will create a mobile for their biome and hang it in the classroom. They might include animals, plants, and pictures of the biome on their mobile.

Materials: String, paper, and colored pencils.

Time: 45 minutes to 1 hour.


10. Guest Speakers

Invite guest speakers to come talk with the class about a unique biome they have lived in or visited. They might bring in pictures of the area and tell about the climate, geography, animals, and plants.

Materials: Speakers and visual aids to show the students.

Time: 1 hour


11. Biome Debate

The students will pick the biome they think would be the best biome to live in. Then I will group the students according to their favorite biomes. Each group will debate with the other groups about why their biome would be the best to live in.

Materials: Paper, and pencils.

Time: 1 hour


12. Simulation

Have a simulation of what it would be like to live in the alpine biome. For example, have the students try walking in snowshoes, get water from a stream or river, hunt for their own food, and learn how to start a fire.

Materials: Snowshoes, wood, river to get water from, and an open field to pretend to hunt in.

Time: 2 to 3 hours.


13. Resource Collage

The students will learn how humans use resources from the different biomes. Then the class will make a large collage of the resources that are used by humans in Utah. If possible, the collage could include the resources themselves instead of a picture of it. The collage could be hung out in the hall for other classes to look at.

Materials: Pictures they can cut out, resources the students can bring from home, large sheet of paper bound to something sturdy, and glue.

Time: 1 hour


14. How The Pioneers Impacted Utah's Environment.

Have the student choose a historical site in Utah (city like Salt Lake, tourist area like Promontory Point, mining area like silver mines of Park City.) Have the student brainstorm what the locations of the site looked like before the pioneers came, how the site was changed, and why it was changed. Divide a piece of art paper into two equal sections. Label the left side 'before' and the right side 'after'. Draw pictures illustrating what the site looked like before it was altered by the pioneers and how it looked after they had altered the site. Have the students write two paragraphs, one explaining how the site's landscape had been altered, and the other telling the reasons why the pioneers changed it.

Materials: Drawing paper, writing paper, art materials.

Time: 30 to 45 minutes.


15. Native Americans in Utah History

Students will research the basic cultural information available on the various Native American Cultures of Utah. Possible tribes to research are the Paleo, Anasazi, Fremont, Navajo, Shoshone, Ute, Paiute, and Goshute. Students will want to get information about historical time, shelters, weapons, tools, foods and methods of obtaining foods. They will have a question list they will fill out while they do their research.

Materials: Reference books, question list, and pencils.

Time: 45 minutes to 1 hour.


16. Biome Comic Strip

The students will make a comic strip about how a particular group of people had an impact on Utah's geography. They can make their comic strip about any particular biome or any group of people that helped changed our environment. We could hang up our comic strips in the classroom for students to look at.

Materials: Paper, pencils, and colored pencils.

Time: 30 to 45 minutes.


17. Postcard Sending

Collect post cards that show pictures of the different biomes. Give each student a postcard and have them write about their postcard on the back of it. They might want to write about what kind of biome their postcard picture is from. Then have them mail the postcard to someone they know.

Materials: Postcard for each student, stamp for each student, and pencils.

Time: 20 minutes.


18. Pen Pals

Have students assigned a pen pal at Mexican Hat Elementary (or some other elementary in Utah where the students live in a different geographical area.) Have your students write to the children at Mexican Hat and have them tell about the biome they live in. Then the students at Mexican Hat can write them back and tell about where they live. You could make it an option to have them send pictures of where they live and sites that they like to go see.

Materials: Students at another elementary school who live in a different biome, envelopes, stamps, paper, pencils, and addresses.

Time: 20 minutes. Students write back and forth for a few months.


19. Weather Newscast

The students will create the script for a possible weather forecast for one of Utah's biomes. They will need to do some researching to find out what the weather is typically like in their biome. I will tape record each child doing their forecast and then show the class all the newscasts.

Materials: Books for students to find information about the weather, and video camera.

Time: 1 to 2 hours.


20. Graphing Average Temperatures

Have the students make a bar graph of the average temperatures for each of the Utah biomes. Have a discussion about why some areas have lower temperatures than others and why some areas always have higher temperatures. You could also graph the average snowfall and rainfall for each Utah biome.

Materials: Paper, pencils, resources to find average temperatures, rainfall, and snowfall.

Time: 20 to 30 minutes.


21. Biome Flag

The students will each make a flag that would be used to represent one of Utah's biomes. The flags might have geographical features or plant and animal life that corresponds to their biome. We would hang our flags in the classroom throughout the unit.

Materials: Paper, markers, colored pencils, and crayons.

Time: 30 minutes.


22. Biome Song

Have the class make up a song about Utah's biomes. The tune of the song could be from a song the students already know. Write the words to the song on chart paper and sing it every day.

Materials: Music, chart paper.

Time: 10 to 15 minutes each day throughout the unit.


23. Children's Book Sharing

Divide students into groups and assign them one of Utah's biomes. Have them look in the school library for a children's book that has something to do with their biome. Then have the groups read their books to a first grade class.

Materials: Children's books.

Time: 45 minutes to 1 hour


24. Biome Riddle

Have the students each make up a riddle about a Utah biome. Have them write their riddle down on paper then put them up on a bulletin board. When students have free time they can try to guess the different riddles.

Materials: Paper and pencils.

Time: 15 to 20 minutes.


25. Travel Advertisement

The students will create a travel advertisement for their favorite biome. The students might want to include national parks and favorite geographical features in their advertisement. They will draw pictures and include information about traveling in their biome.

Materials: Paper, colored pencils, and crayons.

Time: 30 to 45 minutes.


26. Costume Show

The students will be assigned a biome and they will bring clothes from home that would be appropriate to wear in their biome. The students will have a fashion show and explain why they chose their particular clothing. They will write a short paragraph about their outfit that I will read while they model their clothes.

Materials: Students will need clothes from home, paper, and pencil.

Time: 1 to 2 hours.


27. Short Story

The students will pick an animal that lives in one of Utah's biomes and write a short story about their animal. They can also draw a picture of their animal. Have the students describe the adaptations that the animal does to live in their particular biome.

Materials: Paper, pencils, colored pencils, books for students to look up animals in.

Time: 30 minutes.


 28. Utah's National Parks

Have the students locate the national parks on a map that are in Utah. Then have a class discussion about what biome each park is located in. Have the students add the national parks to the map they had already created of Utah's biomes. Have students bring in pictures or postcards of national parks they have been to in Utah.

Materials: Map of Utah with national parks located on it, paper, and colored pencils.

Time: 30 minutes.


29. Traveling Travel Log

As students take trips during the school year, have a traveling travel log that the students take with them. They can write about their trip and tell about the environment they saw and geographical sites that might be different than what they live in. Have the traveling travel log be part of the class library and let the students share their writing and illustrations with the class when they return from their trip.

Materials: Notebook that is made into the traveling travel log.

Time: 15 minutes to share what students have written and drawn.


30. Field Trip

The students could take a field trip to different geographical type areas. Possible field trips could be to Tony Grove, Arches National Park, Great Salt Lake, Antelope Island, and the Uinta Mountains.

Materials: Map for traveling, parents to go on trip, and permission slips.

Time: One school day.


 Culminating Activities

1. Working in groups of two, the students will be researching a biome located somewhere in Utah. They will need to find out information on the geography and climate of the area, some of the animals and plants that inhabit the area, and people that have had an influence on the area. Once they have found their materials, they will make a book about their biome. Have a night when parents come to the classroom and have the opportunity to read the different books. Have the parents ask the authors (the students) questions about their book and their biome they studied.


2. Have the students each create a diorama of a Utah biome. Let the students explore with different art medium to create their diorama. The students will want to include animals and plants in their biome as well as the major geographical features. The students will work on their project during class time and have the opportunity to work on their project at home. Invite other classes in the school to look at the children's dioramas when they are completed. Also, have a nigh WIDTH=402 HEIGHT=264 ALIGN=bottom>

Tony Grove Lake


Bryce Canyon


Lake Powell


Grand Canyon

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