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Which one is it - biome, ecosystem, or habitat? The answer, plus a simple STEAM activity

Which one is it - biome, ecosystem, or habitat? The answer, plus a simple STEAM activity

When you read "grassland" - does it mean a habitat, a biome, or an ecosystem? Well, it depends!

And to muddy the waters just a bit more - these terms are often used interchangeably. But after you read this, you'll be able to better answer the question! 

Is it a Habitat, Biome, or Ecosystem?

Let's chat about the definition of each of these in order to figure it out.

What is a habitat?

A habitat is the natural environment of a plant or an animal or the place that is normal for the life and growth of an animal or a plant.

This habitat is the place that the plant or animal calls home.

A habitat could be as small as a backyard tree or as big as the whole forest. Either way, this habitat provides shelter, water, and food.

What is a biome?

A biome describes the world’s major communities of living things.

Biomes are classified according to the predominant plants that are found there. The animals that live in the biome are uniquely adapted to live in that particular environment. This is because temperature, the type of soil, and the amount of light and water all affect the types of plants and animals that live within a biome.

The five major biomes are aquatic, desert, forest, grasslands, and tundra (or polar).

What is an ecosystem?

An ecosystem is an environment where plants and animals interact with each other.

Within the very large, major biomes, there can be several types of the particular environments with different climates. Each of these is known as a different ecosystem. The specific plants and animals may vary, but the general types will be the same.

For example, within the larger forest biome, you have the taiga forest ecosystems, the temperate forest ecosystems, and the tropical forest ecosystems.

So, which one is it?

So, let’s take a look at how this works for a specific animal - the elephant.

This lumbering mammal could make its home, or habitat, in the grassy plains of Botswana, which is part of a larger savannah grassland ecosystem in the Africa, which is part of the larger grassland biome on planet Earth.

Habitat, Biome, or Ecosystem? All three seem similar, but there are subtle distinctions! Come see what those are and get a simple STEAM activity to use with your students.

A Simple STEAM activity for Biomes

My favorite way to study this topic is by making a diorama!

I love it because the student digs deep into one biome (or ecosystem or habitat), learning all about it from various science encyclopedias or from the internet. Then, they create their own version.

Since the process of making a diorama engages both the left and right side of the brain, the likelihood that the student will remember what they have studied is very high.

Here’s a look at two different dioramas we have made in the past:

Habitat Diorama Projects


  • a shoebox or other small shallow box
  • paint
  • markers
  • construction paper
  • pictures of animals, clay, or figurines

What to do:

  1. Have the students choose which habitat, ecosystem, or biome they would like to create.
  2. Then, have them create that environment inside of a shoe-box using construction paper and markers.
  3. Have the students add animals using pictures, clay, or figurines.
  4. (Optional) Have them present their diorama and tell about why they chose what they did and what they learned about the habitat, ecosystem, or biome.

If you do make a diorama, we would love to see it! You can send us an email or tag us on Instagram with @elementalscience.

Learn More

If you want to dig into the specific biomes, we offer the following programs:

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