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Living or Non-living?

In this activity, students sort samples into living or non-living things.

What makes something a living thing? To be called a living thing, an item must have once eaten, breathed and reproduced. A dead animal or plant is considered a living thing even though it is not alive.

Our coastal temperate rainforest is full of living and non-living things which interact to create a complete and stable ecosystem. When one tree dies and falls over, it becomes a home and provides nutrients for other living things. We call a fallen log with new plants growing on it a nurse log.

Living components of a forest include:

  • plants (e.g. trees, ferns, mosses)
  • animals (e.g. mammals, birds, insects, reptiles, amphibians)
  • fungi
  • bacteria

Nonliving things in a forest include:

  • rocks
  • water and rain
  • sunlight
  • air


  • Describe the basic needs of living things


  • Pictures or samples of living and non-living forest components

Key Questions

  • What does an animal need to survive?
  • What does a plant need to survive?
  • How are plant and animal needs different? The same?
  • Are plants and animals both living things? Discuss how you could tell.

What To Do

  1. Divide the class into small groups.
  2. Hand out a selection (pictures or samples) of non-living and living things to each group.
  3. Ask each group to sort their samples into two piles: living and non-living. As a group, they should come up with some common characteristics for each group.
  4. As a class, go over the sorting and come up with a class definition for living things and non-living things.

​Teacher Tip: If you have time, take the students outside to see if they can find living and non-living things in their own school yard.


  • Take the class on a forest walk. Have students record the living and non-living things they see, and then discuss the definitions they came up with to help them sort what they observed.