Coastal Ecology—Exploring Symbiosis

Summary: In this lesson from the Oregon Institute of Marine Biology, “students participate in a game to understand the meanings of different types of symbiosis. Children discover the mean and importance of symbiosis by matching hosts and symbionts based on their respective needs. Symbiosis is an excellent example of the interconnectivity between different plants and animals and their environments.”

This lesson goes more easily if it follows a lesson on food webs which can be found throughout the OCEP modules. By teaching students about food webs prior to this lesson, students would already have some understanding of the complex interconnected relationships found between organisms.

Concepts to teach: Community interactions, food webs, symbiosis, adaptations, mutualism, parasitism, commensalism

Goals: “Discover which plants and animals have symbiotic relationships and how this impacts each organism. Explore the advantages and disadvantages of different types of symbiosis.”

3.2L.1, 4.2L.1, 5.2L.1

Specific Objectives:

  1. Students will define symbiosis.
  2. Students will be able to identify 3 types of symbiosis (mutualism, parasitism and commensalism) and give examples of each relationship.

Activity Links and Resources:

  • The lesson goes more easily if it follows a lesson on food webs. See the Recipe for an Ocean topic guide for an example.
  • Exploring Symbiosis from the Oregon Institute of Marine Biology (OIMB)
    • Symbiosis Stories Power Point available on the OIMB website


Assessments included in the OIMB curriculum:

Have students divide a sheet of paper into three columns and head each column with a type of symbiosis (mutualism, commensalism, parasitism). They can then put all the pairs of organisms on the board into one of the categories. Discuss the impacts on both organisms for each of the different types of symbiosis. The impacts on both organisms can be denoted with +/+, +/0, and +/- for each symbiosis type. These follow-up exercises help drive home the main points, but even without these, students grasped the concept of symbiosis. This lesson kept them engaged for 45 minutes, aided by the game atmosphere.