Many children are visual learners, and still others learn by doing or experiencing something. Making trioramas is a multi-disciplinary approach to learning about a particular subject, such as an ecosystem, that also provides a visual representation and an activity that goes beyond reading about a topic in a textbook. Trioramas show a three-dimensional snapshot of an environment and give sixth-grade students a chance to learn about the various components that make up a specific ecosystem.

Making a Triorama

Give each sixth grader a piece of heavy construction paper or cardstock. You might want to choose a neutral shade that can be painted or colored to match the ecosystem each student will represent.

Make sure the paper lies on the student’s desk such that the shorter ends are on the top and bottom. Instruct each student to take the bottom right hand corner of the paper and fold it to the left edge of the paper. There will be a rectangular excess at the top -- instruct your students to cut off this piece, so they all have a folded triangle.

Fold the triangle again in half. Unfold the paper entirely, and you will see creases making an “X” shape; each student’s paper will be in the shape of a square.

Cut one of the creases from one corner just to the center point of the square. Each student should now have two triangle-shaped flaps.

Overlap one flap with the other such that the edges are flush with each other, and secure them with glue. Each student should now have a pyramid-shaped triorama with the front open and ready for a miniature ecosystem.


Introduce the word “ecosystem” to the sixth-grade students. An ecosystem is made up of living things like plants and animals and even non-living things like sunlight or water found in a given location. An ecosystem could be as small as a puddle or as large as a forest.

Ask students what plants and animals they might find in a forest, the ocean, the desert or in their own backyards. What kinds of temperatures or sunlight exist in those ecosystems? Explain that everything in the ecosystem works together or has its own job to make sure the ecosystem stays healthy.

Assign an ecosystem to each student. Instruct students to look at books or research the Internet for resources that will tell them what sorts of living and non-living things can be found in their ecosystems. Have each student make a list of those components.

Instruct each sixth grader to make three-dimensional representations of the components on their lists to put into their triorama. They can use construction paper, paint or other art supplies, or they can even gather soil or grass from their own backyard.

Let each student show their finished trioramas to the class and give a brief explanation of the ecosystem.

Items you will need

  • Construction paper or cardstock

  • Glue

  • Paint