« Return to AACT homepage

AACT Member-Only Content

You have to be an AACT member to access this content, but good news: anyone can join!

Need Help?

Mini Terrarium Mark as Favorite (4 Favorites)

LAB in Renewable Energy, Phase Changes, Photosynthesis. Last updated January 11, 2023.


In this lab, students will learn that even the smallest spaces can have their own climate. They will create a miniature sized terrarium and will observe how sunlight enters in order to warm the air, and in turn heat the soil and seeds. Water will build up in the container as a result of condensation and the students can observe the water cycle in action, as well as the growth of the seeds over time.

Grade Level

Elementary and Middle School


By the end of this lab, students should be able to

  • Explain how air temperature, moisture, and precipitation make up the weather in a location.
  • Describe how water on earth cycles in a small location through the water cycle.
  • Record observations and develop conclusions about the water cycle.
  • Investigate and explain conditions under which matter changes physical states.

Chemistry Topics

This lab supports students’ understanding of

  • States of Matter
  • Phase Changes
  • Water Cycle
  • Photosynthesis
  • Energy
  • Renewable Energy


Teacher Preparation: 30 minutes

Lesson: Day 1: 60 minutes; Day 2-6: 10 minutes each; Day 7: 30 minutes


(per student or group)

Lab miniterrarium materials
  • Mini plastic container
  • Plastic wrap
  • Scissors
  • 1/8 cup Potting soil
  • Small rocks/gravel (enough to cover the bottom of the container)
  • Small stick or spoon
  • 4 Quick growing seeds (radish or chamomile)
  • Rubber band
  • Spray bottle of water


  • Always wear safety goggles when handling chemicals in the lab.
  • Students should wash their hands thoroughly before leaving the lab.
  • When students complete the lab, instruct them how to clean up their materials and dispose of any chemicals.

Teacher Notes

  • Review the water cycle and vocabulary such as evaporation, condensation, run off, precipitation, and terrarium with the class prior to this lab.
  • Discuss and show various ways that plants grow to the class.
  • Introduce the lab by reading A Drop Around the World by Barbara McKinney.
  • Depending on the age and ability of students, you may want to walk through the procedures with the entire class.
  • Have students answer the questions listed in the Analysis section on day 1.
  • Day 1 will take approximately an hour to complete. Each day following allow for about 10 minutes so students can record their observations. If a day or two of observations is missed, that is okay!
  • On the last day (day 7) review observations with the class and ask students to compare their terrarium with another student. Allow students to share what they have observed. Have a discussion about biotic and abiotic things inside a terrarium. Discussion question: How we compare this to our life on earth? Also have students complete the Conclusion section.
  • Below are some photos of the procedure steps. Left is step 3, center and right are steps 7.
Terrarium steps
  • Below are some photos of the expected lab results. These photos were taken after 1 week. Plant growth can typically be noticed after day 5:

Terrarium results

For the Student


Plants release water vapor into the air as the plant uses nutrients to grow and develop and when the plant is warmed the sun or another source of heat. A terrarium is an enclosed environment for plants to grow. When water vapor is created inside the terrarium, water droplets will condense on the inside of the container, and on the plastic lid, then fall back to the soil. The water is then spread through the soil, used by the growing plants, and again heated by the sun or a light. The water cycle will continue to repeat itself as the plant grows.


Let’s see how a plant can get water when it is enclosed into a small environment.


  • Always wear safety goggles when handling chemicals in the lab.
  • Wash your hands thoroughly before leaving the lab.
  • Follow the teacher’s instructions for cleanup of materials and disposal of chemicals.


  1. Collect a small, dry plastic container.
  2. Place small rocks or gravel in the bottom of the container (just enough to cover the bottom). This will allow the soil room to drain as well as create humidity within the container. It will also leave some room for the roots to grow.
  3. Add potting soil on top of the rock to fill approximately 1/3 of the container.
  4. Use the small stick or your fingers to break up any clumps of soil and to spread it evenly throughout the container.
  5. You will add 4 seeds: Using your fingers or a stick, create 4 small indents in the soil for the seeds. Make sure to space them apart from each other and the sides of the container. Add one seed to each indent and use the stick to cover the seed with a thin layer of soil. If it becomes too crowded the plants won’t thrive.
  6. Using the spray bottle add water to the soil until it is damp, but not soaking wet, to the touch.
  7. Cover the container with plastic wrap and secure with a rubber band.
  8. Complete the data table for “Day 1” observations.
  9. Set your terrarium in the sun (ex: on a window sill).
  10. Record observations each day (as possible) for about 1 week in the data table below.

*Note: Do not remove plastic wrap at any point during the week!


Draw a sketch and make notes about the changes you observe in your Terrarium during each day over the course of a week.


Sketch & Observations








Analysis (complete on day 1)

  1. What are your predictions for your terrarium?
    1. How long will the plant take to sprout? Or will it sprout?
    2. How many of your seeds do you predict will sprout?
  2. What is the function of the rocks/gravel?
  3. What are the parts of a water cycle?
  4. What is the purpose of a terrarium?

Conclusion (complete on day 7)

  1. Was your terrarium successful? Why or why not?
  2. How can a terrarium be beneficial to use in everyday life?