What's Going On?

Nothing lives here... or does it?

Activity overview

15 mins
Ages 5 – 7

Science topics:

Animals, including humans , Living things and their habitats , Plants

Spark a conversation with this video showing an apparently barren landscape with no signs of life, but as children watch, they become aware that there are many living things which make this place their home. This activity is great for describing observations and applying ideas in unfamiliar contexts.

Run the activity

1. You’re going to watch a short video. The aim isn't to find right answers, it's to explore ideas and find out what they know.

  • Before you press play, encourage your children to look closely at the image and describe what they see. Do they think that they would be able to find any living things in this place?

2. After you’ve watched the video, lead a discussion with your class:

  • Were they surprised by what they saw in the video? Why?
  • How many different things did they see in the video?  Do you think that there will be any others that we didn’t see?
  • Would you be able to survive in that place?  Why not?
  • What is it about the animals that we saw that enable them to live here?

3. Ask the class to describe what they saw, using only one word.

Background science

While some environments are obviously full of living things such as plants and animals, others seem so inhospitable that it seems impossible that anything could live there. However, there are plants and animals adapted to many extreme environments, from the hottest deserts near the equator to the coldest parts of the Antarctic. 

It's important that we understand the role that these environments play in the lives of other living creatures so that we learn to respect them. Studying harsh environments such as this on Earth also helps us to realise that anything that lives on Mars would have to be adapted to the Martian habitat and would not look like anything from Earth (we also know that anything found on Mars would almost certainly be too small to see with the naked eye).

The 2022 ExoMars mission is looking for signs of life on Mars. We've got lots of activities to support your own Mars exploration. Read more on our blog!

Take it further

Can children think of some other extreme habitats? Can they find out what plants and animals live in them?  Discover how some animals living in hot countries protect themselves from the sun with this What's Going On? activity. As well as exotic locations such as deserts and the Antarctic, encourage children to think of those closer to home, such as marshes, mudflats and beaches.

Challenge children to look for signs of life in the area surrounding the school. Even in a concrete yard, for example, they are likely to find lichens and mosses and a variety of invertebrates. Can they think what characteristics living things need to survive in the different habitats that they have explored? Signs of life don't just need to be living plants and animals. Encourage the children to think about what animals might have left behind that tell us there was once life in a place. Check out STEM Learning's The Mars Mission: Aliens! activity.