Visit Your Local PBS Station PBS Home PBS Home Programs A-Z TV Schedules Watch Video Donate Shop PBS Search PBS
NATURE Home Current Season Episode Index NATURE Shop Contact Us For Teachers
Video DatabasePuzzles & FunEpisode PreviewsAnimal Guides
For Teachers
Lesson Plans For Teachers
Lesson Plans: Elementary School
The Environments of Big Sur -- Which Do We Protect?
Subject: Science, Language Arts, Geography
Grade Level: 9-12


Computer Resources
  • Modem: 56.6 Kbps or faster

  • Browser: Netscape Navigator 4.0 or above or Internet Explorer 4.0 or above

  • Macintosh computer: System 8.1 or above and at least 32 MB of RAM

  • Personal computer: (Pentium II 350 MHz or Celeron 600 MHz) running Windows 95 or higher and at least 32 MB of RAM

  • Large screen display monitor (optional)

Specific Software Needed

Bookmarked Sites

PBS: The Shape of Life -- Life on the Move
This site gives information about research on the jellyfish that inhabit the Big Sur coastline.

MBARI -- News and Information
The Web site for the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute has an education section and an online discussion group.

Monterey Bay Aquarium -- Habitats Paths
This site gives information on the various aquatic habitats in the Monterey Bay area, from the kelp beds to the open ocean. This site also includes a sea otter fact page.

The Marine Mammal Center -- Marine Mammal Information
The site for this organization gives important information on many of the mammals found along the California coast.

California Diversity Council -- Central Coast Bioregion
This Web page gives general information and links to information on counties in the Big Sur area.

The Official California State Web Page -- Viewing California
From this site, do a query search or click on Environment and Natural Resources, which is a portal that leads to many valuable links relating to California's wildlife and environment. -- California Natural Areas
This site has links to California environmental organizations and natural areas.

Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary
This Web site contains useful information about the coastal environment of Big Sur, including a clickable map.

Storyboard Artist -- Tutorial
This storyboard tutorial offers basic ideas on how to create a storyboard.

Pelican -- Big Sur Coast
This Web site features interactive maps, images and information about the Big Sur region.

World Wildlife Fund -- Ecoregions
This organization has a site that profiles of different ecological regions along the California coast, as well as the rest of the world.

California Wilderness Coalition -- Resource Center
The California Wilderness Coalition site contains a list of wilderness sites and a resource center with links to many organizations.

California's Ocean Ecosystem
This is a chapter from a state publication that is in pdf format and describes the different coastal environments.

Sierra Club -- California
This is a page with links to local California chapters and issues such as forest and coastal protection.


Students will need the following supplies:

  • Computers with Internet access
  • Pens, pencils, and other writing tools
  • Graphic organizers for collecting and organizing research
  • Presentation board

Teachers will need the following:

  • Television and VCR
  • The video of the episode "The Living Edens: Big Sur -- California's Wild Coast" from Thirteen's series NATURE.
  • Photos of California nature


Introductory Activity
(one class period)

1. Show photos of the following:

  • Elephant seals
  • The Sierra Nevadas -- the tallest mountains in the 48 states
  • The Mojave Desert -- the lowest point in the United States
  • California Condor -- one of the largest flying birds
  • Sequoias -- the tallest trees
  • Kelp Beds -- the largest algae, it can grow to 100 feet
  • Abalone Snails -- giant snails that are used both for food and ornament
  • Sea Otters swimming on their backs
Ask the students "Where is this land"? Give the students the opportunity to guess. If they need further help ask them these questions:
  • Are all these found in one area in the United States?
  • How would you describe a region that has all these things?
  • Would you expect this area to be in a far-off hidden wilderness?
  • Why are so many "giant" species found in one area?

2. After it has been determined that all of these can be found in California, ask students what they have heard of California's environment and wildlife. Many students will probably think of the cities and suburban sprawl, the coast, deserts, and redwood forests. Animals mentioned might include seals, condors, sea otters, and whales. Students might also think of other natural phenomena such as earthquakes and mudslides. Discuss with them that California contains a great diversity of ecosystems -- mountain, desert, forests, shore and ocean, each one with its association of plant and animals. The close proximity of these ecosystems gives California a unique biodiversity. Ask students if there are any other places in the world where major biomes come together in a relatively small area. Some places might include Alaska, Hawaii, Peru, Australia and the Canadian maritime provinces.

Learning Activities

Activity 1:
(one class period)

1. Continue the discussion from the previous class by having the students give their impression of the environment of the California coast. Show photos of the different animals, plants and habitats found along the California coast. How does the California coast seem to differ from other parts of the country? What are the different factors that give the California coast its unusual biodiversity? Tell the students that there is an area in California called Big Sur, known for its beauty and dramatic wildlife. On a map of California, point out where Big Sur is located. Different major ecosystems -- ocean, shore, forest, mountain -- come together there in a relatively small area . It is an area greatly influenced by its location on the globe. Being on the West Coast of North America, it receives currents and weather coming from Alaska and the North Pacific. With these come its particular climate and oceanic life. Upwellings of cold water from rugged ocean canyons bring nutrients that support a major food chain. The fact that a region with such biodiversity is also prone to earthquakes is not a coincidence. Its location on the Pacific "rim of fire" and the fault lines running through it caused upheavals of the earth's crust, creating its varied landscape and habitats. For a motivational activity, show images and information from the following Web sites:

2. Have the students break up into small groups again to list all the kinds of animals and plants found on the California coast that they can think of and have been brought up in their work so far. Next to each organism, have them list the particular habitat. In a third column they should mention whether the living thing is confined to its habitat, or can cross into different ones. They should also note which organisms are endangered and require special protection.

To get the discussion started, ask if there is a difference between oceanic habitat and seashore habitat. Which living things would be included in each? For instance, how do elephant seals and sea otters differ in terms of their range and how they use the environment? How does the environment of the forest and mountains affect the seashore and ocean, and vice versa?

Tell the students that great effort has been needed to protect Big Sur, its plants, and animals, such as redwoods, sea otters, and condors. Is any one habitat most important for maintaining the character of Big Sur? When the groups have finished, the whole class should have a discussion, comparing and contrasting findings, and sharing opinions.

3. Next, present the students with the following problem:

There is an economic crisis, and the state of California is drastically cutting the budget for the environmental protection of Big Sur. You are environmental workers specializing in protecting different habitats. With your teammates, make the case that your particular habitat -- oceanic, seashore, forest, mountain - has the greatest impact on the character of Big Sur, and that it should get most of the funds left for environmental protection.
Students will make their case in the form of an outline -- script and images in a storyboard format -- for a short film. They will present this outline to the class.

Activity 2:
(five class periods)

1. Prepare students for a viewing of the program "Living Edens: Big Sur -- California's Wild Coast" from Thirteen's NATURE series. Explain that in the program, they will see the wildlife and habitats found in areas along the Central California coast. Have the students discuss what they've learned from the previous activities, and relate it to what they will see in the program. Impress on the students that, while watching the program, they should note the different habitats they see, the characteristics of each habitat and the living things found in the habitat. The students then view the program, taking notes by filling in the Big Sur Organizer.

2. After viewing the program, have students express their feelings about Big Sur, what most impressed them about the habitats and the living things that are found in them. Students then submit slips of paper indicating which habitat they found most interesting. These can then be used to form teams of 4, which will be the "advocates" for each habitat. The students will return to the table they made up and use it as a starting point to begin further research on the environments and the living things that inhabit them.

In their research, the teams should learn about the ecosystems' major plant and animals, how they interact with each other and their environment, and influences on the ecosystems from natural and man-made sources. Remind students to keep in mind the "problem" posed as they do their research.

To help focus the students' work, help them brainstorm some of the questions they will ask themselves as they research. These questions might include:

  • Why does this environment need more attention that the others?
  • What are the endangered species found in this habitat? Do they need extra attention?
  • How does this habitat and the living things found in it affect other habitats?
  • How is it especially important to humans?
They should use the Species Facts Organizer to assist them. The following sites should be useful in their research:
You may want students to borrow from the library the book THE NATURAL HISTORY OF BIG SUR, and photocopy important information and images from the book to supplement their research.

3. Allow students in each team to pool their research and share what they learned with the rest of the team. Circulate around the room to make sure that all students are contributing to the discussion. Afterward, encourage students to think about what they learned about their particular environment's most important plants and animals, the effort involved in protecting and reintroducing the endangered ones, and the effect of such factors such as geography, climate, and human intrusion on these living things. Use these questions to get them started:
  • What would protecting the animals and plants involve: Limiting use of the habitat by humans, reintroduction of disappearing animals and plants, reducing pollution?
  • Would preserving one habitat involve consideration of the other habitat? Is there overlap between one habitat and another, and the needs of the living things?
  • What about global environmental issues such as global warming, El Niño, the depletion of the ozone layer, the fishing and hunting of ocean life, and their effect on Big Sur?
Students will create a storyboard presentation display telling the story of the habitat they studied and the different living things in it, and why they are in special need of protection. The storyboard takes the form of panels with pictures representing scenes and "shots"(these could be photos, drawings, tracings, or a combination of all three), with script beneath the panels. These are used to give an idea of what a hypothetical short film would be like. Students should refer to for ideas on constructing a storyboard.

Culminating Activities/Assessment:

Activity 1:
(two class periods)

1. Instruct teams to use their research to describe how the different living things and the environment they studied have a special impact on the character of Big Sur. They will do this by presenting their storyboard to class, explaining why they selected the environment they did and walking the class through each frame of the storyboard.

Activity 2:
(one class period)

1. After each team has participated in the presentations, invite students to reconsider their personal position on the issue of protecting the ecosystems of Big Sur. Let students know that it is acceptable if they take a position that is different from their initial position.

2. For homework, instruct students to write a position paper defending his or her point of view. The paper should state a position and be backed up by factual details from the research to support the position. For students who have changed their minds, the paper should also explain why the new position is more persuasive than the original position they held.

Extension Activities
  • Make a film or video using the storyboard created for this lesson. If Big Sur is inaccessible, make the film or video in a talk show format with inserted "shots" of Big Sur and its wildlife.
  • Write the story starter "If I visited Big Sur..." on the chalkboard. Ask students to write a story based on what they learned.
  • Investigate how global warming and the depletion of the ozone layer might have a special impact on Big Sur.
  • Find another part of the country where more than one ecosystem meet. Compare the animals and plants that are found in that area with those in areas with just the single ecosystems. How does the makeup of plants and animals differ among the different areas?
  • Visit a park, forest or wildlife area in a location where two or more ecosystems meet. Speak to a ranger or nature expert there about the special character of the area.
  • Explore the histories, complications, and controversies involved in the reintroduction programs of the following animals: sea otters, California condors, timber wolves and peregrine falcons. Create poster displays that illustrate the issue.
  • Create a color-coded, 3-D map of California based on the ecoregion maps found on some of the bookmarked sites, with labels for important ecoregions, locations and wildlife. Materials that can be used are papier-mache, clay and acrylic or watercolor paints.


back to For Teachers Overview Procedures for Teachers Organizers for Students