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Crash Course


9th, 10th, 11th, 12th, AP® / College


Science, Chemistry, Biology, Earth and Space Sciences

Resource Type

  • Videos, 9 minutes, 22 seconds, CC, Subtitles

Regional Focus


Nitrogen and Phosphorus Cycles: Always Recycle!

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  • This video provides an overview of how living things get the limiting nutrients they need to survive through the nitrogen and phosphorus cycles.
  • Simplifying topics like nitrogen fixation, this video explains why we need nitrogen and phosphorus, why plants and decomposers are so important, and how these nutrients travel through ecosystems. 
Teaching Tips


  • This video is both engaging and fun to watch, as it simplifies complex processes by using colorful and animated graphics.
  • This video also discusses how humans have applied their knowledge about the nitrogen and phosphorus cycles to grow food using synthetic fertilizers and how these fertilizers affect the environment.

Additional Prerequisites

  • Below the video, you can find time stamps for each topic discussed, making it easy to search for specific information.
  • Your students should be familiar with the terms DNA, RNA, assimilation, chemical compounds, and chemical bonds before watching the video.


  • This video can be used in chemistry, general biology, ecology, environmental science, or Advanced Placement classes during lessons about genetics, the chemical basis for life, nutrient cycles, ecosystems, or biotic/abiotic interactions.
  • The nitrogen and phosphorus cycles are complex. Although this video does not go into great detail about each step of the process, it may be beneficial for less advanced students to discuss the water cycle or carbon cycle first so that they are familiar with the concept.
  • After the video, have students get in two groups to diagram either the nitrogen or phosphorus cycle. Have them think about why adding large amounts of these limiting nutrients can cause dead zones and eutrophication in aquatic and marine systems.
  • Nitrous oxide is a major greenhouse gas and is emitted to the atmosphere from numerous human activities. Have students explore the connections between agriculture, lawn maintenance, waste decomposition, and climate change, as they relate to the nitrogen cycle.
  • Other resources that could support this lesson include a video on how humans affect the environment, an interactive data resource about nitrogen emissions, and this computer game about water pollution.
Scientist Notes
The nitrogen and phosphorus cycles are used in this resource to demonstrate how organisms obtain the nutrients they need to survive. This is suggested for use in the classroom because the cycles have been described satisfactorily.
  • Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS)
    • ESS2: Earth's Systems
      • HS-ESS2-5 Plan and conduct an investigation of the properties of water and its effects on Earth materials and surface processes.
    • ESS3: Earth and Human Activity
      • HS-ESS3-6 Use a computational representation to illustrate the relationships among Earth systems and how those relationships are being modified due to human activity.
    • LS2: Ecosystems: Interactions, Energy, and Dynamics
      • HS-LS2-4 Use mathematical representations to support claims for the cycling of matter and flow of energy among organisms in an ecosystem.
  • Common Core English Language Arts Standards (CCSS.ELA)
    • Language (K-12)
      • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.L.11-12.6 Acquire and use accurately general academic and domain-specific words and phrases, sufficient for reading, writing, speaking, and listening at the college and career readiness level; demonstrate independence in gathering vocabulary knowledge when considering a word or phrase important to comprehension or expression.
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