Bioregions of California

Authors: GK-12 2006-2007 folks

Overview: In this lesson, students gain an understanding of the biodiversity of California. Students also learn how California's diverse environment is separated into different areas known as "bioregions."

Lesson Concepts:

  • California has a rich diversity of living things.

  • California has a diversity of environments due to its unique geography and geology.

  • Different organisms live in different places.

  • Topography and precipitation influence the distribution of species within bioregions.

Grade span: K-12


  • A slide show of pictures (Powerpoint presentation) that are representative of CA biodiversity

  • A Bioregions of California handout (pdf)

  • Markers or crayons

  • Pictures of CA biodiversity (in same Powerpoint file as above) that can be used for the trivia game

  • A Bioregions Trivia Quiz handout (pdf)

  • Prizes

Advance preparation:

Construct a simple map of CA with the bioregions outlined on the map (pdf). The map should also have a key so the students know what color represents which bioregion. You can put together a slide show (Powerpoint presentation) using pictures from CA that are representative of its biodiversity and that also fit into one of the four bioregions. You will need some questions and pictures about CA biodiversity and the bioregions for the trivia quiz.

Time: One class period (40-50 minutes)

Grouping: Students work in groups of three or four


  1. Pass out the Bioregions of California handout (pdf).
    Students should write in the goal: to learn about the biodiversity found in California and to understand how this diverse group of organisms can be organized into bioregions.

  2. Introduction to CA biodiversity and the bioregions (10 minutes)
    Introduce the term biodiversity
    • Definition for the teacher: "The number and variety of living organisms; includes genetic diversity, species diversity, and ecological diversity."
    • For the students, the definition "the number and variety of living organisms" is sufficient.

    Different organisms live in different places
    • All organisms don't live in all places — California would be very crowded if that were the case. Instead, some organisms live in the mountains, some in the desert, some in forests, some near the ocean.
    • We separate the different areas where organisms live into bioregions. Each bioregion has a unique group of organisms that are not found in the other bioregions. Some organisms do overlap but many are unique to just one region. In CA, there are five major bioregions: Coastal region, Coastal Mountain region, Central Valley region, Desert region, and Sierra Nevada region.
    • Why might some organisms live in one region, but not in another? (example questions:)
        — Why might some trees live close to the ocean, instead of in the desert?
        — Why might some mammals live in the Central Valley region and not in the high alpine regions of the Sierra Nevada?
        — Why might some birds live only in the Coastal Region?
        — Why do some reptiles live in the desert?

    Show CA map depicting topography and precipitation.
    • Briefly describe how some organisms are better adapted (you may or may not want to use the word "adapted") to certain environments.
    • To facilitate discussion you can ask some questions.

  3. Slide show (10-15 minutes)
    • Give each student a set of markers or crayons for coloring in the bioregions. Tell the students that there will be a trivia game after — it will help them pay attention.
    • As we go through the slide show, students should:
        — color in the appropriate bioregion with the appropriate color.
        — get a sense of both where the bioregions are located and what types of organisms live in each. Students can write down these characteristics on the handout.
    • Briefly stop the slide show at the end of each bioregion to make sure students have completed the appropriate sections of the handout.

  4. Trivia quiz (15 minutes)
    • Write the names of the five bioregions on the board.
    • Separate students into four groups, preferably the same number of students in each group.
    • Groups will be either asked a question or shown a picture that correlates to one of the five bioregions.
    • Develop appropriate questions for several rounds of trivia. One suggested format:

    Round 1
    Groups are shown pictures of some CA landscapes, then asked to identify what bioregions are represented.

    Round 2
    Groups are asked questions about the bioregions. These questions can relate to the topography and precipitation graphics, or to biodiversity and the bioregions in general.

    Round 3 (last round)
    Each group draws the bioregions on a blank map of California, as accurately as possible, and is asked to include two organisms unique to each bioregion.