Lesson Plan

Biological Levels of Organization


In this lesson, students will observe that biological organization is a hierarchal system of classification in which each successive level is more complex than the lower level, and each successive level has properties that did not exist before. Students will:

  • sequence the levels of biological organization in order from least to most complex.

  • make a foldable that list and describe the levels of biological organization.

  • give examples for each level of organization.

  • describe an example of an emergent property at each level of organization.

Essential Questions


  • Abiotic: Nonliving factors in an ecosystem.

  • Biotic: Living organisms in an ecosystem.

  • Biosphere: All the different ecosystems that make up the planet; the sphere that contains life on Earth.

  • Cell: The smallest unit that is capable of carrying out all the processes of living things.

  • Community: All the different populations that interact and coexist in a specific area.

  • Ecosystem: Contains all the communities that inhabit a specific area, along with the abiotic factors in that environment.

  • Emergent Properties: Components can form complex systems that interact in such a way that new properties appear, which did not exist in lower levels

  • Homeostasis: The process by which organisms maintain a stable internal environment.

  • Organ System: A group of organs that interact to perform a similar function, (e.g., circulatory system, excretory system).

  • Organ: A group of different tissues that form a singular unit and perform a similar function, (e.g., kidney, brain, skin).

  • Organism: An individual, either unicellular or multicellular, that is capable of carrying out all the processes of living things.

  • Population: A group of organisms of the same species in the same area.

  • Species:A group of similar organisms that can mate and produce fertile offspring.

  • Tissue: A group of cells that perform a similar function.


45–90 minutes/1–2 class periods

Prerequisite Skills

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Formative Assessment

  • View
    • Assess student understanding of biological organization by providing feedback through the card sequencing activity.

    • At the close of the discussion, check for understanding and correct misconceptions revealed by student responses, and collect exit tickets for individual assessment.

Suggested Instructional Supports

  • View
    Scaffolding, Active Engagement, Modeling, Explicit Instruction

    Ecology studies complex systems built from smaller, less complex systems. Students must understand that although multicellular organisms function at the macroscopic level, (e.g., eat, excrete waste), the functional units are the cells that make up the larger systems.


    Students will manipulate and sequence cards with visual examples of the different biological levels and create a foldable graphic organizer.


    This lesson gives students more experience in practicing and building vocabulary. The graphic organizer will help students to visualize the hierarchal system of classification.


    Students will reflect on the concepts while they are making their own definitions from pictures and finding examples. While discussing emerging properties, students will revisit the concepts and interactions between levels.


    Formative assessment will occur throughout the lesson. You will check for understanding during the activity. At the close of the lesson, you will ask specific questions that can be used as an exit ticket.


    The visual elements of the lesson will help students make their own definitions based on the relationships between the levels. The extensions provide activities for students that need opportunities for additional learning, and for students who are going beyond the standards.


    This lesson moves from the concrete, visuals of the biological level, to global, biological levels, and finally, to an abstract level with emergent properties.

Instructional Procedures

  • View

    Give groups of students a different set of cards with pictures representing the levels of biological organization (S-B-3-3_Biological Organization Cards.doc). Have them put the cards in order of complexity. Discuss how they knew the order in which to put them. What is the pattern? Most will recognize that they were getting bigger; some will see that a simple system becomes part of the next level, which is part of the next level, etc. Explain that a classification system that is organized from greatest to least forms a hierarchy. For example, the king has the most power, but there is only one. His advisors have less power, but there are a few more of them, and so on.

    Activity: Pyramid Foldable

    Students will make a pyramid foldable to reinforce the hierarchical nature of the biological levels using a Pyramid Foldable (S-B-3-3_Pyramid Foldable.doc). Demonstrate how to cut the foldable to make a pyramid. Have students save the strip of paper that they cut off as their exit ticket. Before students tape the pyramid together, guide them in writing the levels of biological organization on one side, with the smallest at the top. On the next side, have students write the description for the corresponding level. Have students write their own definitions/descriptions for the different levels from looking at the pictures. On the last side, students will list examples of the levels. See the chart below.

    Side 1

    Side 2

    Side 3


    Different atoms bonded together

    DNA, protein, lipids, carbohydrates, water, salt, CO2, glucose


    The smallest unit that is capable of carrying out all the life processes

    Prokaryotes, white blood cells, epithelial cells, bacteria, yeast


    A group of cells, not necessarily of the same kind, that work together to perform a specific task

    epithelial, connective, nervous, muscle


    A group of different tissues that form a singular unit and perform a similar function

    Heart, brain, kidney, skin

    Organ systems

    A group of organs that interact to perform a similar function, i.e., circulatory system, excretory system

    Circulatory system, digestive system, excretory system, nervous system, respiratory system


    An individual living thing, can be unicellular or multicellular

    Humans, bird, earthworm, plant, bacteria, yeast


    Members of the same species that inhabit the same area

    White-tailed deer in PA, Red Maples in Allegheny National Forrest


    All the different populations that inhabit and interact in a

    specific area

    Pond, grassland, deep ocean


    All the biotic and abiotic factors that inhabit and interact in a particular area

    deciduous forest, coniferous forest, grassland, desert, marine, freshwater


    All the different ecosystems that make up the planet; Earth

    Earth, where life exists

    Students may want to tape the table into their notebook and not tape the sides.

    First, explain that not all levels of organization exist among all organisms. Prokaryotes are single-celled organisms. They do not have tissues, organs, or organ systems. There are also single-celled eukaryotes (e.g., euglena, yeast, amoeba, diatoms). Though some organisms lack more complex structures like tissues, organs, and organ systems within themselves, they can make up even larger systems like populations, communities, ecosystems, and the biosphere.

    Explain to students that as we ascend up the pyramid into more complex systems, properties that did not exist before will emerge. These are called emergent properties and the properties can be surprising. For instance, if you look at a DNA molecule or an enzyme, could you tell that it might form a living cell? When different cells grow together to form a tissue, the cells can communicate with each other via chemical messages. Examples of organs interacting with tissues and other organ systems are the heartbeat and breathing rates increasing in response to lower O2 levels in the blood. Another example of an emergent property is humans forming complex societies made up of populations.

    To close this lesson, ask students “Where on the pyramid do the properties of life emerge?” (cells) “Do all organisms have organs?” (No, prokaryotes are unicellular. Protists and plankton are also unicellular). “At which level do we begin to consider abiotic factors?” (the ecosystem level) Have students give examples of each level or give an example and students choose the correct biological level. “A kidney is an example of ____?” (an organ) On the Pyramid Foldable exit ticket, have students write an example of a biological level and which level it represents.


    • Students who may be going beyond the standards can research the emergent properties that occur in an organ system. Have students make a poster that presents a feedback loop that occurs in that system.

    • For extra practice with the standards, students can play a card game with the biological level cards that they used in the introduction. The game should include sequencing or describing the levels of biological organization (e.g., Go Fish or Solitaire). For extra practice with the standards, have students compare and contrast the level of classification of protists, bacteria, and red blood cells.

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