skip to main content
NSW Syllabuses

STEM Early Stage 1 - Activity 5

I need; I want

Description of activity

Students design and construct a container or an object that caters to a described need of a pet animal.

This activity will take approximately 1 hour.


Students recall what living things need to survive and determine the differences between needs and wants.



STe-4WS explores their immediate surroundings by questioning, observing using their senses and communicating to share their observations and ideas
STe-5WT uses a simple design process to produce solutions with identified purposes
MAe-1WM describes mathematical situations using everyday language, actions, materials and informal recordings
MAe-3WM uses concrete materials and/or pictorial representations to support conclusions

Knowledge and understanding

STe-8NE identifies the basic needs of living things
STe-9ME identifies that objects are made of materials that have observable properties
STe-10ME recognises how familiar products, places and spaces are made to suit their purpose
MAe-11MG describes and compares the capacities of containers and the volumes of objects or substances using everyday language



  • Sticky notes
  • Photos/pictures of a range of animals
  • A range of items used to provide food for different animals, eg bird seed feeder
  • Playdough, plasticine or modelling clay

Work, health and safety

Check relevant Work, health and safety guidelines.

Evidence of work for assessment purposes

  • A list of the needs of a chosen animal
  • A design plan (sketch with notes) and photo of the object or container that could provide (or satisfy) the animal with this need
  • A model of an object or container that could provide (or satisfy) the animal with this need

STEM teaching and learning activities

  • Provide each student or group with a number of sticky notes and ask them to write one thing that living things need to live, eg air, food, water, shelter on each sticky note. They can write a number of different things, but only 1 per note.
  • Students place their sticky notes on a whiteboard or wall.
  • Students discuss the choices and the teacher asks students to group them by moving the notes around. The teacher can suggest an order in a table with headings (needs vs wants) or in circles that may have an overlapping area.
  • Students develop a list of things that living things need. This may be by using pictures and/or words.
  • Teacher poses the problem – 'If you are responsible for a living thing, eg a pet, how can you create something that would help provide one of its needs?'
  • Students observe a range of items that provide living things with an essential need, eg a water bowl for a dog, a seed feeder for a bird.
  • Students compare the items and discuss questions such as:
    • Would the dog be able to get its food from the seed feeder?
    • Would you put the dog's water bowl in the birdcage for the bird?
    • Would the bird use it in the same way as the dog?
  • Students choose an animal and place a picture of this animal in their notebook.
  • Each student writes a single animal need on a piece of paper, they fold the paper and place it in a container. The teacher mixes the pieces of paper and asks each student to pick a paper. When they pick a need, students are instructed to record this in their notebook, next to the picture of the animal.
  • Students are challenged to design an object that can be used to provide the need (which the student collected) for the animal (which the student chose).
  • The teacher guides the students to take into account:
    • the size of the animal to determine the size/capacity of the object
    • the properties of the item to be provided
    • problems that providing this item might create.
  • Students sketch their ideas in their notebook.
  • Students make a model of their object.
  • Students take a photo of their object from the side and from the top, and place the photos into their notebook.
  • The class discusses the materials that one might use to make the object. Students consider the properties of the materials and state why they chose this material.

Vocabulary list

Function – the purpose of a thing, how it works
Material – the matter from which something is made, eg fabric, metal, wood
Property – a quality or characteristic of something [not a possession or house]
Words used to identify properties: flexible; inflexible; elastic; protective; waterproof; shiny

Key inquiry questions

How can you tell if something is a living thing?
Living things have characteristics that define them as being 'living'. All living things:

  • Obtain food and make it a part of their bodies (animals eat, plants photosynthesise – make sugar and oxygen from water and light)
  • Reproduce, grow and die
  • Respire, take in oxygen (generally) and use it to carry out a reaction to release energy (respiration)
  • Respond to their environment
  • Excrete wastes

This list indicates the characteristics of living things.

Children will often ask whether dead things are living or non-living. They were living but they are now non-living. The reason for this is that living things need certain things to stay alive. The consequence of not having one or more of those things is that it does not survive and dies.

Additional information

The following statements outline some common preconceived ideas that many students hold, which are scientifically inaccurate and may impede student understanding.

Plants are not alive
Students may not have thought about plants other than their being the green things that grow in soil. While students do not need to know about photosynthesis, they do need to know that plants use water in the soil and part of the air (carbon dioxide) to make their own food. They need light to do this. So plants kept in a cupboard will die because they run out of food.

All living things move
All living things respond to their environment. Some move around, others may grow towards light or water.

Humans are not animals
We often like to see ourselves as different to other animals, but we have all the characteristics of animals and belong to the same kingdom.

Respiration is breathing
Respiration is a chemical reaction that occurs in every living cell. It combines oxygen with sugars to release energy. Its waste products are carbon dioxide and water. Students, at this stage do not need to know about respiration. If students use the term respiration instead of breathing, guide them to use 'breathing'.

More commonly students will say 'It doesn't breathe, so it's not living'. They mean breathing as we do; thus fish don't breath, trees don't breathe, mushrooms don't breathe and therefore they are not alive, but they all perform respiration. In this case, explain that living things need oxygen (a gas) and different living things get this gas in different ways. We use breathing to get oxygen, but explain that not all living things get their oxygen in this way.

Support material

Needs of Living Things: a unit plan

Adjustments for the diversity of learners

Collect a variety of pictures of living and non-living things.

  • Students group them under those headings.
  • Select six pictures containing only one picture from either the living or the non-living group.

Ask students to pick the odd one out and explain why it does not fit with the other pictures.Observe the range of objects used to provide for the needs of living things. Discuss the materials used to make them. Identify the properties of the materials that would make it a suitable choice for this object and its use.


By completing this STEM activity your students have been introduced to the characteristics of living things and the concept of classification. These concepts will be revisited in Science Stage 4, Chemistry and Biology. Students have also designed and made a model to solve a problem based on properties, structure and function.