Who lives in a place like this?


Explore which creatures are found in the compost heap and their role in the composting process.

  • Estimated time: 30 minutes
  • Location: Outdoors
  • School term: All year round
  • Level of experience: No experience needed
  • Subject(s): Science, Geography

Learning objectives

  • Learn about eco systems and the importance of decomposers in composting
  • Learn to identify earth dwelling creatures using a spotter guide or key

Essential background information


Print any identification keys or pictures from the internet.

If time is limited, collect compost samples before lesson starts.


  • Trays lined with white paper
  • Spoons/ paintbrush, paper and pencils
  • Invertebrate identification key 
  • Magnifying glasses/ digital microscope/ petri dishes
  • Plastic gloves (optional)
  • Fresh samples of compost taken from the school compost bin (take from a number of places for a good mix of insects)
  • Trowels and buckets/ trugs to transfer compost
  • Spotter guides

Step by step

  1. Empty out the compost bin and ask pupils to collect 4 trowels full of compost and transfer to the buckets. This collection process is an opportunity to turn the heap, which speeds up the decay process.
  2. Closer study may be easier in the classroom. Spread the contents of the buckets into the trays, making sure there is adequate light to see the creatures.
  3. Using an identification key or pictures from the internet identify the creatures seen and make a note of their names.
  4. Ask pupils to draw and describe the compost creatures.
  5. Review the variety of creatures found in the compost heap. Did the pupils see anything which looked ‘mouldy’? Discuss the role of microscopic fungi and bacteria that break down organic matter.
  6. Return creatures to compost area and wash hands thoroughly.

Hints & tips

  • 'Organic Matter’ is a term for anything that was once living or another term for compost ingredients.
  • The characteristic earthy smell of compost is caused by actinomycetes, organisms that resemble fungi but actually are filamentous bacteria.
  • Use this activity as part of the Earth Matters class growing topics

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