Oh, Elk! (PEEC)


Participants will play a game of tag that demonstrates competition for food, water and shelter.

Grade Level:

5 - 8

Recommended Setting:

Outdoor classroom

Outdoor Activity:



Ponca Elk Education Center, Ponca, AR


Education Program Coordinator, 870-861-2432


30 - 40 minutes

Suggested Number of Participants:

15 - 30


  • Identify food, water and shelter as three essential components of a habitat.
  • Describe factors that influence carrying capacity.
  • Define limiting factors and give examples.
  • Recognize that fluctuations in wildlife populations are natural as ecological systems change.

Key Terms*:

Carrying capacity


Limiting factors

*See glossary for definations


Dry erase marker or chart marker

Portable dry erase board or chart tablet


Food, water, shelter and space are components of habitat and must be in a suitable arrangement to support wildlife, including elk.


  1. Tell participants they will be playing a game emphasizing the essential things animals need to survive.
  2. Provide the participants with the following information:
    • Food, water, shelter and space are components of a habitat and must be in a suitable arrangement to support wildlife.
    • Carrying capacity is the balance between habitat components and the number of animals the habitat can support.
    • Limiting factors prevent wildlife from reproducing in numbers greater than their habitat can support.
    • An excess of limiting factors can lead to threatening, endangering and eliminating species.
    • Some limiting factors are disease, predator/prey relationships, accidents, environmental pollution, habitat destruction and degradation and weather such as early freezing, heavy snows, flooding and drought.
  3. Divide the participants into four groups and label them one, two, three and four.
  4. Place group one on the end of a large playing field.
  5. Place the other three groups at the other end. (The field should be about 20 yards long.)
  6. Have the participants face each other across the field.
  7. Tell the participants that group one will be the elk in this game. They need good habitat in order to survive.
  8. Ask the participants to list the essential components of a habitat: food, water, shelter and space in a suitable arrangement.
  9. Explain that they are to assume there is enough space for the elk.
  10. The elk (group one) will need food, water and shelter in order to survive in this activity. Teach them the following hand signals to be used later:
    • If looking for food, clamp your hands over your stomach.
    • If looking for water, clamp your hands over your mouth.
    • If looking for shelter, hold your hands together over your head.
  11. Mention that the elk may try to gain any one of these components at a time but cannot change what he/she is looking for during the round of play.
  12. Tell groups two, three and four they will be the food, water and shelter, and share the following procedures with them:
    • Each participant is to choose at the beginning of each round which component he/she will be during that round.
    • The participants depict which component they are in the same way the elk show what they are looking for (hands on stomach for food, hands on mouth for water, hands over head for shelter).
    • They may not change in the middle of a round.
  13. Explain the following game procedure:
    • Each player will choose what component they will look for or become prior to play.
    • The two sides will turn around so their backs are facing the center of the field.
    • Participants will then place their hands where they should be (over stomach, mouth or head).
    • When they hear the words, “Oh, Elk!” they are to turn around, clearly showing what they are looking for or what they are.
    • When the elk see the habitat component they need, they are to run to it.
    • Each elk must hold the sign until reaching the participant with the same sign.
    • Those who find their habitat component take the “food”, “water” or “shelter” back to the elk side of the line.
    • “Capturing” a component means the elk met its needs and reproduced.
    • Any elk that cannot find food, water, or shelter dies and becomes part of the habitat. They will be a habitat component in the next round and available as food, water or shelter to the elk that are living.
    • If more than one elk reaches a habitat component, the participant who arrives first survives.
    • Habitat components must stay in place until an elk chooses them.
    • If no elk needs a particular component during a round, the component stays where it is in the habitat. They can change which component it is from round to round.
  14. After the participants understand how to play, begin the activity.
  15. Prior to play, record the original number of elk on the dry erase board or chart paper.
  16. After one round, take note of how many elk survived and reproduced and record that number.
  17. Continue play for several rounds, noting what happens to the population as the components change and what happens to the components as the population grows.
  18. During play, the instructor can introduce a limiting factor such as drought, loss of shelter due to construction, loss of food due to an introduced species, etc. To do this, secretly tell component players not to be that component and begin play. The elk will soon see that something is missing. Explain at the end of the round what happened, record the results and continue play.


If time permits, the participants should write about their experience.


  • What did the participants experience as the elk and as the components?
  • At the beginning of play, did they find there was more than enough of the components to support the elk herd?
  • As the elk population expanded over two or three rounds, did the population exceed what the habitat could support? (This is the carrying capacity of the habitat.)
  • What happened to the population over time?
  • What happened to the habitat components over time?
  • What happened when limiting factors were introduced?
  • At some point, some elk starved or died of thirst or lack of shelter and returned as part of the habitat. Does this happen in nature as well? (In real life, large mammal populations might also experience higher infant mortality and lower reproductive rates.)
  • Would it be safe to say that wildlife populations will tend to peak, decline and rebuild as long as there is good habitat and sufficient numbers to reproduce?


Carrying capacity – amount of wildlife or fish an area of land or water can sustain which may be affected by available food, water and space

Habitat – an arrangement of food, water, shelter or cover, and space suitable to animals’ needs

Limiting factors – elements that affect the amount of wildlife a habitat can sustain, including food, water, space, predators, disease and pollution