masthead graphic
ISM System :Mussel Diorama Lesson
Illinois Mussels
Life Cycle
Human Uses
Mussel Database
Photo Gallery
Identification Activity
Harvesting the River

Illinois River and Lake Mussel Habitat Diorama Activity

graphic of musselsObjective: students will be able to identify and describe the living and environmental elements of river and lake mussel habitats at the time before settlement and industrialization.

Grades: 2-7
Time Required:

  • teacher-guided tour through the Harvesting the river online exhibit section on mussels and fish species
  • look at the mussel shell collection online of 81 specimens of Illinois mussels; this is supplemental to classroom instruction and discussion of river and lake habitat. This could also be a post-visit activity with a field trip to the Changes exhibit at the Illinois State Museum in Springfield, where there is a full-scale diorama of a mussel habitat.

Online Resources:

Harvesting the River Online Exhibit
(sections on Harvesting, mussels, fish; photo gallery)
Illinois Mussels Collection Online
(photo gallery, introductory text on mussels, article on mussels)

Computer, Internet connection, printer
Printouts of plant and animal graphics
Coloring media - crayons, pencils, paint
Shoebox or other diorama box or stage
Dirt, sand, gravel
Kraft paper to sculpture landforms
Gluestick and glue

Motivation: When studying river habitats, it is important to understand the interdependence and interconnections among many types of plants and animals that share an ecosystem. Underwater habitats are difficult to visit in person. The Illinois State Museum's new first-floor exhibit, Changes, opening in 2004, offers an opportunity to view such a habitat in the form of a life-size diorama. Students could do this activity as a post-museum-visit lesson to reinforce what they learned. If students are unable to visit the museum, their making this diorama gives them an opportunity to visualize the habitat they are studying. Also see other ISM lessons on mussel anatomy and life cycle. The diorama could be an individual or group project and vary in size accordingly.

Procedure: Students will:
1) become familiar with the materials in the Harvesting the River and ISM Mussel Collection Online introductory text and images
2) discuss the animals and plants found in the mussel habitat and how they interact and interconnect
3) identify and color the plants and animals in the printouts
4) construct the environment of their diorama, contouring the land and riverbed or lakebed and adding soil types
5) place and glue their plants and animals in the diorama according to the descriptions of each animals habitat (i.e. mussels bury themselves halfway into the mud of the riverbed leaning upstream)
6) add any finishing creative touches to their diorama (water effects with plastic wrap, etc)
7) review to themselves the characteristics, life cycles, habitat, and interconnections of the living and non-living components of their diorama habitat.

Assessment: The diorama arrangement should demonstrate an understanding of where (river or lake) each animal and plant lives in relation to others, and what each basically looks like (green leaves, brown shell, etc.). For example, mussels should be partially buried in the lakebed or streambed. The student discussion or description should demonstrate knowledge of the characteristics of the living species and their relationship to their environment.

Illinois State Board of Education Goals Addressed:
Science: Concepts and Principles
Early Elementary:
Identify and describe the component parts of living things (e.g., birds have feathers; people have bones, blood, hair, skin) and their major functions.
12.A.1b: Categorize living organisms using a variety of observable features (e.g., size, color, shape, backbone).
12.B.1a: Describe and compare characteristics of living things in relationship to their environments.
12.B.1b: Describe how living things depend on one another for survival.
Late Elementary:
12.A.2a: Describe simple life cycles of plants and animals and the similarities and differences in their offspring.
12.B.2a: Describe relationships among various organisms in their environments (e.g., predator/prey, parasite/host, food chains and food webs).
12.B.2b: Identify physical features of plants and animals that help them live in different environments (e.g., specialized teeth for eating certain foods, thorns for protection, insulation for cold temperature).

Diagrams of Animals and Plants in Mussel Habitats are in the PDF version of this lesson.
NOTE: these are not drawn to scale. Students can view them to redraw them to scale for their diorama or estimate the size according to facts about the plants' or animals' sizes.

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