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Food Chains and Webs

Lesson Plans by Oliver Smith

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Food Chains Lesson Plans

Student Activities for Food Chains Include:

Every living thing needs nutrition. Some organisms, like plants, create their own through photosynthesis; others get nutrition by consuming other living things. This nutrition provides living things with the energy they need to carry out their life processes. Every living thing is part of a food chain. Fortunately for humans, we are at the top of most food chains, but even we still have predators.



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Food Chains Lesson Plans, Student Activities and Graphic Organizers

Food Chains

Food Chain Examples
Food Chain Examples

Example

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In this activity students are going to demonstrate their understanding of the transfer of energy between living things by creating different food chains. The arrows in the food chain represent the flow of energy and also the transfer of matter.

As well as putting the animals in the correct trophic levels, students will have to find images of the animals (using Photos for Class or the Animals Character tab) and label the animal as a herbivore, omnivore or carnivore. Remind students that all food chains start with energy from the Sun. In most food chains, this energy is converted to glucose by photosynthesizing green plants.

The following food chains are used in the given example:

  • Sun → Grass → Caterpillar → Sparrow → Hawk
  • Sun → Tree → Squirrel → Fox
  • Sun → Grass → Cow → Human
  • Sun → Red Oat Grass → Termites → Mongoose → Caracal

Other examples of food chains

  • Sun → Grass → Vole → Owl
  • Sun → phytoplankton → Krill → Leopard Seal → Orca (Killer Whale)
  • Sun → Typha (cattail) → Mouse → Opossum → Red Fox → Puma
  • Sun → phytoplankton → zooplankton → Jellyfish → Shark

Have your students be more creative by giving them a habitat and getting them to research food chains in these habitats.

After completing this activity with students, there is a great opportunity for them to evaluate their models. Lead students through the strengths and limitations of the models giving them an opportunity to make suggestions for improvements.


(These instructions are completely customizable. After clicking "Copy Assignment to Account", change the description of the assignment in your Dashboard.)


Student Instructions

Show your understanding of food chains by reordering the following plants and animals into food chains. Remember to use arrows to show the flow of energy.

  1. Click "Use this Template" from the assignment.
  2. In the first row, put these animals into a food chain: Sparrow, Caterpillar, Grass and Hawk.
  3. In the second row, put these animals into a food chain: Squirrel, Tree, and Fox.
  4. In the third row, put these animals into a food chain: Human, Cow, and Grass.
  5. In the last row, put these animals into a food chain: Mongoose, Caracal, Red Oat Grass, and Termites.
  6. For each food chain, label each organism as a herbivore, omnivore or carnivore.
  7. Use Photos for Class to find an example image for each one.
  8. Save and submit your storyboard. Make sure to use the drop-down menu to save it under the assignment title.


Food Chain Template
Food Chain Template

Example

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Vocabulary for Food Chains

Food Chain Vocabulary
Food Chain Vocabulary

Example

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Have your students put key vocabulary into practice. One of the things students can find really difficult is using scientific vocabulary correctly and in the appropriate context. Using a visual representation or visual examples as well as a written one can really help students understand abstract concepts.


Food Chain Vocabulary Examples


Producer

An organism that is the start of the food chain is a producer. Producers are usually green plants that use photosynthesis to make food.


Consumer

A living organism that eats another living organism is a consumer.


Predator

A predator is any animal that kills for food. They are carnivores and secondary or tertiary consumers.


Prey

The animal that gets eaten by the predator is called prey.


Herbivore

A herbivore is a living thing that gets its nutrients from only eating plants.


Carnivore

A living thing that gets its nutrients from only eating other animals is a carnivore.


Omnivore

An omnivore is a living thing that gets its nutrients by consuming both plants and other animals.


Other terms include:

  • Trophic Level
  • Energy
  • Photosynthesis
  • Scavengers
  • Decomposers
  • Autotroph
  • Heterotroph

(These instructions are completely customizable. After clicking "Copy Assignment to Account", change the description of the assignment in your Dashboard.)


Student Instructions

Demonstrate your understanding of key scientific vocabulary by creating visualizations.

  1. Choose five vocabulary words and type them in the title boxes.
  2. Find the definition in a print or online dictionary and write it under the cell.
  3. Illustrate the meaning of the word in the cell using a combination of scenes, characters, and items.
    • Alternatively, use Photos for Class to give examples of the words.
  4. Save and submit your storyboard. Make sure to use the drop-down menu to save it under the assignment title.


5 Word Vocabulary Template
5 Word Vocabulary Template

Example

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Food Chains Discussion Storyboard

Food Chain Discussion
Food Chain Discussion

Example

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Discussion storyboards are a great way to get your students talking about their ideas in Science. They allow students to critique and evaluate different viewpoints without upsetting other students. This activity can be used at the start of the topic to elicit any misconceptions students may have.

At first, show students a discussion storyboard like the one below. Ask them to look at the problem on the discussion storyboard. It shows four students who all have an idea about the problem in front of them. Students should think about whom they think is the most correct and be prepared to explain why that person is correct. Students might support their position by creating visuals, including text and images, on Storyboard That. These visuals can easily be exported as PowerPoint slides. After students have prepared their argument, have your students discuss their ideas. This discussion can be carried out in a range of different formats. Students could discuss in pairs, small groups, or even in a teacher-led, whole class setting. It is important to agree on a list of discussion rules with students before they start so everybody gets a chance to participate. Students will also be able to practice adapting their speech to a formal debating context and can demonstrate their grasp of formal English.

Here are some other ideas to use these discussion storyboards in your lessons.

  1. Students add another cell on the end of the example you’ve given them to explain whom they think is correct and why.
  2. Students create a storyboard to describe why a student is incorrect, and then "teach" the concept.
  3. Students create their own discussion storyboards to share with peers on the current topic.

Note that the template in this assignment is blank. After clicking "Copy Assignment", add your desired problem and solutions to match the needs of your students.

(These instructions are completely customizable. After clicking "Copy Assignment to Account", change the description of the assignment in your Dashboard.)


Student Instructions

Read the discussion storyboard that shows four students who all have an idea about the problem in front of them. You are going to give your opinion on whom you think is correct and explain why. You will use your created storyboard to engage in discussion with your peers.


  1. Click "Use this Template" from the assignment.
  2. Add another cell at the end of the row.
  3. Use text and images to explain whom you think is correct and why.
  4. Save and submit the assignment. Make sure to use the drop-down menu to save it under the assignment title.


Discussion Storyboard - Blank
Discussion Storyboard - Blank

Example

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Food Webs

Food Webs
Food Webs

Example

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Animals rarely exist in single one-dimensional food chains. In order to demonstrate a more realistic representation of how energy passes from living thing to another, students will create a food web. In a similar way to food chains, the arrows represent the flow of energy from one animal to another. The different colors are there to emphasize the different trophic levels, but are not necessary.

In this activity students will create a food web from different food chains. Alternatively, give students the example food web and get students to identify different food chains from it.

As an extension, get students to start to thinking how the population of one type of living thing affects another. For example if the number of Mussels increase, how will this affect the population of whelk?


(These instructions are completely customizable. After clicking "Copy Assignment to Account", change the description of the assignment in your Dashboard.)


Student Instructions

In the real world animals rarely exist in single food chains. Often animals need to eat different plants and animals to get all the nutrients they need. One way of showing more complex energy transfer relationships between living thing is using food webs. Create a food web from different food chains. Remember that all food webs start with energy from the Sun.

  1. Click "Use this Template" from the assignment.
  2. Use these food chains to put together your food web. Use Photos for Class to find images and label them with their names. Make sure to use arrows to show the flow of energy from one living thing to another.

    • Sun → Phytoplankton → Zooplankton → Caridean Shrimp → Cod
    • Sun → Phytoplankton → Zooplankton → Caridean Shrimp → Laughing Gull
    • Sun → Phytoplankton → Mussels → Laughing Gull
    • Sun → Phytoplankton → Mussels → Jonah Crab → Laughing Gull
    • Sun → Phytoplankton → Mussels → Whelk
    • Sun → Phytoplankton → Mussels → American Lobster
    • Sun → Seaweed → Limpet → Jonah Crab
    • Sun → Seaweed → Limpet → Whelk → Laughing Gull

  3. Save and submit the assignment. Make sure to use the drop-down menu to save it under the assignment title.


4 Category Sort Template
4 Category Sort Template

Example

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Pyramid of Numbers and Pyramid of Biomass

Pyramid of Number and Biomass
Pyramid of Number and Biomass

Example

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Pyramids of numbers and biomass are also used to study food chains in more detail. Biomass is the amount of living material at each trophic level. You would expect that to reduce at each stage as energy is lost between each stage. You would expect the bars of a pyramid of biomass to get narrower at each stage. The bars on a pyramid of number may not get narrower at each stage, as the bars are representing the number of organisms at each stage. A tree, for example, is very big and has a large biomass, but it is only a single living organism.

Using charts to describe food chains can have many benefits in understanding the transfers in energy between each trophic level. In this activity, have your students draw a pyramid of numbers and a pyramid of biomass for different food chains.

This activity looks at the general trends in the pyramids shapes and is not designed to get students drawing the graphs accurately. Have students find data online and draw the charts out more accurately using graph paper.

(These instructions are completely customizable. After clicking "Copy Assignment to Account", change the description of the assignment in your Dashboard.)


Student Instructions

Create a storyboard to show how we can represent certain food chains with charts. The two charts we are going to use are called a pyramid of numbers and a pyramid of biomass.

  1. Click "Use this Template" from the assignment.
  2. Look at the food chains in the first column. They are Oak → Aphid → Ladybug → Sparrow and Grass → Caterpillar → Bluebird.
  3. Use this information to create a pyramid of numbers and a pyramid of biomass. You should do this by using rectangles.
  4. You don’t need to make the bands of the pyramid exactly the right size.
  5. To make this easier, turn on "grid lines" by clicking advanced options at the bottom of the page.
  6. Save and submit the assignment. Make sure to use the drop-down menu to save it under the assignment title.


Pyramids Template
Pyramids Template

Example

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Food Chains and Food Webs

Every food chain starts with energy from the Sun. Green plants are autotrophic, meaning they create their own food using a chemical reaction called photosynthesis. During photosynthesis, plants react carbon dioxide from the air with water normally taken in from their roots to produce glucose and oxygen.

The word equation for this reaction is carbon dioxide + water → glucose + oxygen
The symbol equation is 6CO2 + 6H2O → C6H12O6 + 6O2

The glucose that plants make is used for respiration and also can be stored, often as starch. When the plant is consumed by another living thing, some of this stored energy is passed on. Energy is lost at each trophic level, as not all the energy is used for growth and stored in the living being. Some of the energy is used for respiration and other life processes, so this energy is ultimately released into the atmosphere as heat. Some of the energy in the food is lost as waste, such as feces. The shorter the food chain is, the more efficient the energy transfer is and the less energy lost to the environment.

A living thing that photosynthesizes is called a producer. On land, this is normally a green plant. In the oceans, the producer is seaweed or phytoplankton, microscopic organisms that use the Sun’s energy to create food. Food chains end in bacteria called decomposers, who extract the chemical energy out of the remains of living things. They are nature’s way of recycling and without them, the planet would be a lot messier. In every habitat, there is an apex killer, who is a well adapted killing machine.

Take this example food chain; Grass → Caterpillar → Sparrow → Hawk. The grass is the producer; it is a green plant that uses photosynthesis to create glucose. The caterpillar is the primary consumer. It is an herbivore that only eats plants. The next animal on the food chain is the sparrow. The sparrow is an omnivore, meaning it gets its nutrients from both plants and animals, and it is called the secondary consumer. The sparrow is prey for the hawk. The hawk is a predator. It is well adapted for the job having great eyesight allowing it to spot its prey from far away. Its sharp claws allow it to grab its prey midair. The hawk is the apex predator, meaning there is no other animal above it on the food chain. The populations of these animals are all connected. If there is a drought one year and the amount of grass decreases, the number of caterpillars could be affected. If the number of caterpillars reduces, then this could affect the number of sparrows, which could in turn affect the number of hawks. The arrows in the food chain shows the flow of energy from one living thing to another. The arrows point from the organism being eaten to the feeder. As well as energy and matter being passed from one organism to the next, there are nonliving parts of an ecosystem that can provide matter to living things, for example air, water, and minerals.

Ecosystems are vast and animals rarely exist in a single food chain. Few animals rarely eat just one type of food; instead they get their nutrients from different sources. This also varies depending on the time of year and location of the animal. A fox in northern Alaska will eat different food than a fox in Massachusetts. Food webs are a more accurate way to show the flow of energy from one living thing to another. More complicated feeding relationships can be shown as food webs with different trophic levels. Students need to be able to define the boundaries of the ecosystem they are describing. For example, does their model describe the ecosystem of part of a forest or an entire forest?

In Storyboard That you can search for photos using Photos for Class in the search bar of the Storyboard Creator, opening the door to millions of images. You will find a wide selection of photos of many different animals, habitats, and plants.


The Next Generation Science Standards push the importance of getting students to develop and use models to understand phenomena. In the real world, scientists will make models to aid their understanding of a system or part of a system. Models are used in Science to make predictions and communicate ideas or data to other people. There are a range of activities in these lesson plans that focus on that particular skill. Students will easily be able to create their own models to describe how matter is cycled and energy flows among living and nonliving parts of an ecosystem. This gives you a great opportunity to discuss the limitations of using models, giving students the opportunity to evaluate and refine them.

To look in more detail at how carbon is cycled among the biosphere, atmosphere, hydrosphere, and geosphere, see the carbon cycle lesson plans.


Essential Questions for Food Chains and Food Webs

  1. How is energy passed from one animal to another?
  2. Why do food chains rarely go over four trophic levels?
  3. Why do all food chains start with something that photosynthesizes?


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•   (English) Food Chains   •   (Español) Cadenas de Comida   •   (Français) Chaînes Alimentaires   •   (Deutsch) Nahrungskette   •   (Italiana) Catene Alimentari   •   (Nederlands) Voedselketens   •   (Português) Cadeias Alimentares   •   (עברית) רשתות מזון   •   (العَرَبِيَّة) سلاسل الأغذية   •   (हिन्दी) आहार शृखला   •   (ру́сский язы́к) Пищевые Цепи   •   (Dansk) Fødekæder   •   (Svenska) Näringskedjor   •   (Suomi) Ruokaketjut   •   (Norsk) Matkjeder   •   (Türkçe) Yemek Zinciri   •   (Polski) Łańcuchy Pokarmowe   •   (Româna) Lanturile Alimentare   •   (Ceština) Potravinové Řetězce   •   (Slovenský) Potravinové Reťazce   •   (Magyar) Élelmiszerláncok   •   (Hrvatski) Hranidbeni Lanci   •   (български) Хранителни Вериги   •   (Lietuvos) Maisto Grandinės   •   (Slovenščina) Hrana Verige   •   (Latvijas) Pārtikas Ķēdes   •   (eesti) Toiduahelad