Create a Terrarium Biosphere

Container gardens can take many different forms, and kids, especially, enjoy a new twist. Here's a classroom activity featuring an indoor container garden that's a bit out of the ordinary: a terrarium.

Terrariums are excellent models for teaching about the processes that take place in the Earth's surface region (biosphere). In this activity, the terrarium illustrates that the biosphere is a closed system where hydrogen, oxygen, nitrogen, and other elements are constantly cycling. Terrariums can be used to teach about producers (algae, mosses, and higher plants), consumers (land snails), and decomposers (bacteria and fungi), and how they are integral members of the Earth's living systems.

Suggested Ages: 4 to 6 with adult help, 7 and up working independently.

Younger children can sharpen observation skills and older kids can carry out experiments that test the effects of simulated environmental changes on a living system.


Small, clear plastic container (Purchase from a local garden or aquarium supply shop OR reuse two 2-liter clear soda bottles.)

Additional Supplies:

If you choose to reuse a soda bottle you will need:

  • A marker or a crayon
  • A utility knife
  • Scissors
  • Clear tape


Caution: Edges of cut 2-liter bottles may be sharp, so caution kids and provide assistance to young children.

  • Create terrarium containers
  • If you use soda bottles, help the children cut them in half. Use a crayon or a marker to draw a line around the middle of each bottle. Use the utility knife to make the first cut for your students, then ask them to use scissors to cut the bottles in half. Recycle the top halves of bottles. Ask the children to choose one "bottom" to be the top of the terrarium, and cut three 3 cm vertical slits into the cut edge so that it will slide into the other half. Poke air holes into the top with scissors.
  • Add growing medium - Ask the children to fill the terrarium base with a layer of sand or gravel for drainage and some gardener's activated charcoal to keep the soil in good condition. Then add the potting soil.
  • Plant the producers - Have a variety of plants available, such as those listed above, for the children to choose from.
  • Add some consumers - Have kids add land snails to mini-biospheres to represent consumers.
  • Seal your mini-biosphere - Ask kids to water the soil well. Then use clear tape to seal the top of the bottle to the bottom half of the bottle.
  • Monitor moisture levels - Have kids monitor moisture levels by observing and noting amount of condensation on the inside surface. If there appears to be a high level of condensation within a biosphere, they can punch more holes into the top to increase ventilation.
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