Are Vacant Lots Vacant?


Are Vacant Lots Vacant? (Lesson adapted from Project Learning Tree): In this activity, a nearby vacant lot, overgrown strip of land, or a landscaped area will provide you with an outdoor laboratory for you to examine the elements of an ecosystem!


  • Science journal
  • Pencil

Doing the Activity:

  1. Find an outdoor area that you want to explore. It can be in your yard, your driveway, the park, a parking lot – any area that you want to create a study plot, or area you wish to investigate! 
    • The plot can be a large space, where you mark your boundaries with sticks. Or it can be within a smaller area that you can mark off with string, or even a hula hoop!
  2. Create a list of both living (biotic) and nonliving (abiotic) things that you think you will find in your plot. Make sure you note whether those things are biotic or abiotic.
    • For example, a spider is biotic, a rock is abiotic 
  3. Examine your plot for signs of animal life. Look for tracks, scat, burrows, spider webs, etc.  Be sure to write down any signs you find!
  4. Now look for signs of plant life.
  5. Inventory all you see! If you are not sure what you found, you can sketch and label the organisms to identify later. Make a tally of all the things that you find! If you found 3 spiders, be sure to note that there were 3.
  6. As you are observing your plot, keep these questions in mind;
    • Is there evidence that the plot is used by animals?
    • Is there evidence that the animals prey on other organisms?
    • Do certain plants grow better in certain locations?
    • What interactions did you observe among the plants and animals?
    • How do the organisms in your plot get the water they need to survive?
    • How do you think the plants got to where they are?
    • How have people used this site, and what impact do you think they have on this ecosystem?
    • Are there signs of pollution?
  7. After you are finished at your site, head inside and share your findings. Some further questions to consider are;
    • What elements of this site help to support the plants and animals living there?
    • Were there organisms you expected to find but did not? If so, why do you think they were not found?
    • What might be done to this site to make it better for plants? Animals? People?
    • How do the biotic (living) and abiotic (nonliving) elements of this ecosystem interact or depend on each other?

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