What’s Up at the Rim?

“What’s Up at the Rim” is a lesson plan created by 2000
HOST Teacher Deanna Smith-Turnage.  


  • To sharpen observation skills
  • Learn to identify certain plants and animals
  • To hone their abilities to find different elements in nature
  • To keep an observation journal

This lesson is designed to provide students with an opportunity to get outside, take a closer look at nature, and discover the world around them.

Location and Time

  •  Motte Rimrock Reserve
  • Approximately 3 to 4 hours

Teacher Preparation

Before the project, spend some class time talking about different natural areas.  What are the characteristics of a coastal sage area?  A riparian area?  A grasslands area? 


  1. Class is divided into small groups of two or three students.
  2. Each student receives a scavenger list.
  3. Describe for the students the physical outdoor boundaries of this activity.
  4. Students are to find as many of the listed items as possible.
  5. Each student in the group must see the item before it counts.
  6. For each of the following items listed, write down what it was, record where it was found, and draw a picture of it. ITEMS MAY ONLY BE COLLECTED AND/OR MOVED IF PERMISSION IS GRANTED BY THE RESERVE MANAGER.

Scavenger List

  • leaves with hairy surfaces
  • leaves with waxy surfaces
  • leaves that smell
  • evidence of leaf texture differences on the same plant (why
  • the difference)
  • Describe/or draw invertebrate sightings (e.g. butterflies)
  • Describe/or drawing reptile sightings (e.g. snakes, lizards)
  • Describe bird sightings (e.g. ravens, hawks, turkey vultures)
  • Describe mammal sightings (cottontail bunny, jackrabbit, squirrel, mouse).
  • Draw footprints from a wild animal
  • Animal burrow = find a blue hectare post (write post number), count 5 paces, then walk in a circular pattern counting all burrows)
  • Count sightings of bird nest
  • Find an ant colony and count trails leading to it.
  • Find evidence of a sun adapted leaf
  • Find evidence of a shade adapted leaf
  • Draw a plant with thorns
  • Describe three sounds
  • Describe three smells (compare these to something familiar)
  • Find animal droppings – coyote, rabbit, krat (black rice)
  • Find a leaf with evidence of insect bites
  • Make a large scale drawing of an area, include boulders and
  • plant location

Find the following examples of coastal sage scrub:

a. find Brittlebush (Encelia farinosa)
b. find California buckwheat (Eriogorium fasciculatum)
c. find Black Sage (Salvia mellifera) d. find White Sage (Savia apiana)
e. find California Sagebrush (Artemisia californica)

Sketch a coastal sage area
Find a slender sunflower (Helianthus gracilentus)

Find examples of trees growing by underground streams
a. find a willow (Salix laevigata)
b. find an elderberry (Sambucus mexicana)

Sketch a riparian area
Find an example of tree tobacco (Nicotiana glauca)

Find examples of grasses
a. Find Rancher’s Fireweed (Amsinckia menziesii)
b. Find Avena barbata (Slender Wild Oat)
c. Find Giant Wild Rye (Leymus condensatus)

Sketch a grassland area
Find an draw green lichen. Describe its location
Describe three interactions


  1. Students will present their sketches and drawings.
  2. Students will note their observations in their journal.

Teacher Materials

  • pen or pencil
  • magnifying glass
  • journal or notepad
  • 1-large plastic bag
  • Binoculars (optional)
  • 3-small plastic bags