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25 Fun Food Web and Food Chain Activities
It’s all about the circle of life.
Any kid who’s ever seen The Lion King certainly already knows a bit about food chains and food webs (“ It’s the CIIIIRRRR-CLE … the circle of LIFE!” ). It’s a topic that can be tricky to cover, but it can be done successfully with a little finesse on the part of teachers. These activities help students understand how important these concepts are, and why healthy food webs and chains are necessary for the whole planet to thrive. So try one of our food web or food chain activities with your class this year.
1. Start with an anchor chart
A food chain follows the direct path of energy between species. Food webs are more complex and involve a give-and-take between many organisms in an environment. This clever anchor chart helps explain the difference between the two.
2. Introduce food webs and food chains during story time
Books are a great way to segue into discussions about food chains and food webs. Here are some of our favorites.
- Trout Are Made of Trees (Sayre/Endle)
- Horseshoe Crabs and Shorebirds (Crenson/Cannon)
- Butternut Hollow Pond (Heinz/Marstall)
- Who Eats What? (Lauber/Keller)
3. Let The Lion King explain the concept
Seriously, Mufasa’s speech in The Lion King is one of the best explanations of food chains and webs around. This video covers the idea in more detail.
4. Put together a food chain puzzle
These free printable puzzles are a fun way for kids to learn a variety of food chains. (For virtual classrooms, try a digital version instead .)
5. Use a paper plate to show the circle of life
Turn kids loose with a stack of magazines, or print pictures from the internet. Then assemble them into food chains around a paper plate.
6. Try some StudyJams
Scholastic’s StudyJams work for both in-person and online classrooms. Watch the entertaining video, then use the self-assessment tool to check kids’ knowledge.
7. Create food chain art
We love that this food web activity is not just a science project but an art project as well! Kids choose a food chain to illustrate, then represent each part of it inside the mouth of the next.
8. Construct food chain pyramids
A pyramid can be a helpful way to look at food chains. Kids will have fun illustrating with their own artwork.
9. Have a digital food fight
Use this interactive game with your whole class online or in person. Teams fight it out to see which animal can create the best food web and ecosystem for survival.
10. Assemble food chain links
This very literal interpretation of a food chain is one that kids can easily do on their own, whether in the classroom or at home. All they need is paper, glue, scissors, and a little creativity.
11. Make food chain nesting dolls
Visit Super Simple for a free printable to make these adorable ocean food chain nesting dolls. Then challenge kids to choose another ecosystem and create their own.
12. Stack food chain cups
Each of these cups represents one part of a food chain. Stack them to show how they all fit together. Challenge kids to see who can stack their cups correctly in the fastest time!
13. Watch a food web video
This food web activity may not be hands-on, but it is a good way to introduce the concept to kids. This video does a terrific job teaching them about food webs and chains and will surely be a hit with kids.
14. Connect the food web with rubber bands
Use a bulletin board, pushpins, and rubber bands to demonstrate how interconnected a food chain can become. Use this in a classroom science station, or complete the activity together as a whole class virtually.
15. Display the food web with model animals
Gather up all those toy animals and put them to good use! Try using different colors of yarn to represent predators, prey, scavengers, and more.
16. Turn the food web into a marble maze
We love how this activity turns a biology lesson into a STEM challenge. Kids will get a kick out of playing with their food web marble mazes, so the learning never stops.
17. Walk a life-sized food web
Head out to the playground for a socially distanced interactive food web game! Lay out cards showing all the organisms in a food web and have kids help place arrows for the flow of energy. Then, kids can walk along the web by following the arrows to really understand how it all interacts.
18. Play a food web PE Game
A science lesson that also doubles as a PE game? Yes, please. This food web activity gets kids moving, which will help reinforce the concept of food chains, especially for kids who have trouble sitting still!
19. Create an edible food web
There are few things kids love more than snacks. Make food webs come alive with snacks that stand in for various plant and animal life. You’re definitely going to want to have extra goodies on hand since kids will be sure to snack while learning!
20. Use toys to create a food chain
This is another food web option that utilizes toy animals. Before doing this activity, you will want to gather all those little animal and food toys you have lying around. Once you’ve gathered your toys, add in some arrows and a sun and have your students show food chains. This food web activity will feel more like playing than learning!
21. Create a huge classroom web
Assign each student a plant or animal and then have one student start holding a ball of yarn or string. Have students connect their string to whoever they eat and so on and so forth until a web is spun!
22. Color and cut out foldable food chains
These puppet-like fold-outs are the perfect way to introduce the concept of food webs while also working on some gross motor skills. Kids will have fun coloring, cutting, and pasting these templates .
23. Fill some pockets
These food chain pockets are so cute and so useful in teaching kids the various categories for food chains.
24. Build a food chain chain
These food chain chains are the perfect project for kids to create during a food chain and web unit. First, have them choose a biome and then create a chain that shows the transfer of energy from producers to consumers and decomposers.
25. Display a food web bulletin board
Bulletin boards are a great resource in a classroom for reinforcing information since they are on display all day. Have your students help create the plant and animal cards so they can feel like they had a hand in the process!
Looking for more biology and ecology ideas? Try these 20 Wild Ways To Explore Animal Habits With Kids .
Plus, the best nature webcams for science learning at a distance ..
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NGSS Life Science
Food web worksheets.
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Energy Pyramid Concepts
- Food Chain - feed from lower trophic level.
- Food Web - multiple food chains.
- Energy Pyramid - energy transfer, 10%, energy efficiency, biomass.
- Trophic Levels - producers, consumers, herbivores, carnivores, omnivores, detritivores, decomposers.
Lessons Organized by NGSS Standard
- LS1 From Molecules to Organisms
- LS2 Ecosystems
- LS3 Heredity
- LS4 Biological Evolution
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Middle School Science Tips, Ideas, and Resources
How to Make Food Webs Interactive and Fun!
Are you looking for more engaging ways to teach the important concepts of food chains and webs? Do you want dynamic activities that you can refer back to over and over again?
Updated October 25, 2021
Here are some super fun activities that involve every student in a memorable, exciting way! They will completely understand the interdependence of food webs and the energy levels of food chains.
LS2-3 Develop a model to describe the cycling of matter and flow of energy among living and nonliving parts of an ecosystem.
LS2-4 Construct an argument supported by empirical evidence that changes to physical or biological components of an ecosystem affect populations.
Food Chains First
It is best to start this unit by introducing the energy that moves through food chains in the different ecosystems. We discuss how energy moves from the plants all the way up to the top predators. The concept that only about 10% of the energy moves from level to level in the food chain, called the “10% rule“, is introduced.
If only 10% goes up to the next level then where does the rest of the energy go? At each level some energy is converted to heat during respiration, (before teaching this unit I introduce the photosynthesis and respiration equations and discuss the relationship between the two). Some energy is excreted as waste and some plants or animals die, without ever being eaten, so their energy is not passed on through the food chain.
This 10% rule also keeps a food chain from getting too long, since the top predator would not be getting enough energy if so much energy is lost at each level.
It is easiest to start learning about the ecosystem where your school is located. In my case, we are in the Northeast United States, so we look at animals from the temperate, deciduous forest. These are most familiar to the students.
Rather than simply showing the food chains to the students, I have them figure the order out using my drag and drop food chain activity . I am often surprised that, even in middle school, students don’t always understand which animals are carnivores and herbivores.
Students also enjoy creating the food chains from the African savanna . (food chain activities for the rainforest, desert and ocean are coming soon to my TpT store). I use these in my environmental science unit and in preparation for Earth Day activities.
Create a Huge Classroom Food Web!
Now the real fun begins! Using their knowledge of food chains, they are now going to make a giant, student interactive food web! Students sit on the floor, in a circle, and I hand them the cards that show what each animal eats and who eats them. In the case of plants, there is a list of who eats them.
Each student reads off what is on their card and I run around the outside of the circle, with a ball of yarn, and cut pieces to connect two students together.
For example, the fox will have a string connected to the rabbit. The rabbit will also have a string connected to the clover. By the time we are done, all of the students are holding multiple strings and they absolutely love it!
As they sit holding the strings with the food web completed, I have different students slowly raise their hand holding the strings to show the effects on the rest of the web. For example, if a disease were to hit the mouse population, there are many strings attached to the mouse and it would affect the food web quite drastically.
We discuss what would happen if the top predators were removed and watch how those strings touch so many others.
After the discussion is over, I enlist a student to carry the card labeled “pollution” to run through the middle of the web! After students get over being surprised, we discuss what just happened to the web.
Reinforce the Food Web Concept Using This Activity
To solidify the concept, students use my digital food web on Google slides (in their digital science notebooks ) to connect the food chain lines. It is a reinforcement of what they did while they were sitting on the floor in the yarn web activity. Depending on the level of the students, I have them try to remember the food chains themselves or I give them the food chain list and they add the connecting lines.
If the excitement level was high enough during the first food web circle on the floor, I may do another food web from a different ecosystem a few days later. My choices are the African safari, Rainforest , Ocean or Desert . Since my students don’t live in those ecosystems, using unusual plants and animals can be a little bit more challenging.
What Would an Invasive Species Do To a Food Web?
As we finish up the food webs, we can start discussing how important biodiversity is and I prefer to start with the important question of “what if a different species came into this food web that didn’t belong there?” Not all students have heard of invasive species and may be surprised at how many of the animals in their area are actually not native!
I assign my brief Invasive Species research project on either a plant or animal that has invaded a specific ecosystem. I give them the list of choices, or they can find their own with my approval. Specific prompt questions in a graphic organizer help students stay on task. Students are usually given about four or five days to research and then they present their findings to the class.
Why is Biodiversity So Important?
Once students have presented their invasive species projects, and they understand how important it is keeping a food web intact, we delve deeper into biodiversity.
We discuss how having a lawn in their yard is very “unnatural”. They always seem so surprised to learn that man has created areas with only one or two species of plants which has changed the local ecosystem. This is also the case in areas growing food crops.
What would happen if we didn’t mow our lawn? What would it look like in a month? In a year? In five years? Students start to realize that the “natural state of their lawn“ would return if we didn’t stop it with our lawnmowers.
I take the students outside to areas of the schoolyard that are mowed and to areas that aren’t. I take a hula hoop out with me and toss it into different areas and then we try to roughly count the different types of plants that we see. We notice that the mowed areas have only one or two species.
We discuss the three main types of biodiversity, genetic diversity, species diversity and ecosystem diversity.
Genetic diversity is how many genetics variations there are in a population in a given area. For example, the different body sizes, fur color and tail thickness of gray squirrels depends on their genes.
Species diversity is how many different species there are in a given area and how many individuals are represented. Referring back to our food web, how do those different species interact with each other?
Here is a great video about how Yellowstone National park was damaged by the removal of the top predator wolves. When the wolves were reintroduced, the entire ecosystem repaired itself in dramatic ways.
Ecosystem diversity is how many different types of ecosystems are in a specific area? Each food web is found in a different area but quite often the food webs overlap , such as a deciduous forest with a stream or pond.
Play the Biodiversity Dice Roll Game!
Time for a game! This game involves students rolling a pair of dice to see what sort of natural or man made events can effect the food web. I bought big foam dice from the Dollar store to make it more visual.
Student groups are given a chart with different events that correspond with the number that they threw with the dice. For example, if they threw a total of five, the chart says “deer hunting season has been extended. Many more hunters than expected. Delete the line from the deer to the bear”. Student erase that line connecting the beer and deer on their food web.
Since each of the student groups are separate, they each get different resulting “damaged” food webs after throwing their dice. I have them roll four times and then each group presents their final web to the class.
This activity leads to a lot of great discussions and I also give them eight reflection questions(included in the product). Students realize that whether the events that changed the web were man-made or natural, there is a very delicate balance in every food web and everything is interconnected.
How About a Biodiversity Board Game?
This is a 2-3 player game where the students read each card that has an event on it from the rainforest ecosystem. Students determine if the statement increases biodiversity (move one space forward) or reduces it(move one space backwards). THESE CARDS MAKE GREAT RESEARCH PROMPTS!
For more depth, students use the playing cards to fill in a chart where they determine high or low biodiversity. I also have a Desert Biodiversity game.
Invasive Species Dice Roll Game
A variation on the game above is using the dice roll format to see what invasive species do to a specific food web. Students fill out the food web with the lines that connect the plants in the animals of the food chains. They then learn about eight different invasive species, from that ecosystem, that are causing problems.
Students roll the dice to see which invasive species is harming which native plants or animals. They use the chart to determine which lines they should ERASE between two organisms in the food web.
For example, the Burros(wild donkeys), in the desert, are aggressive and invading the territory of the Pronghorn Antelope. This will cause the Pronghorns to move out of the area. What will the affect be on the food web? The Mountain Lion will have less food so the students will erase the line between the Pronghorn and the Mountain Lion. What about the plants that the Pronghorns ate? Students will erase a line between the grasses and the Pronghorn. This activity is visually dramatic! Also, no two student groups will get the same results, which leads to awesome discussions.
Challenge Your Students with an Energy Transfer STEM Project!
Food chains are all about energy transferring from one organism to another in literally a “chain reaction”. What else has chain reactions? Rube Goldberg machines! This highly structured project involves each group of students given a four level food chain from different ecosystems. They are assigned a producer, first consumer, second consumer and a top predator. Their task is to create a four level Rube Goldberg machine to represent the food chain! I have several biomes such as a deciduous forest, ocean, rainforest, African savanna, tundra and desert in my Teachers Pay Teachers Store. You can click on the image below.
By the time the students have completed the above activities, they have a good understanding of the interdependence of the plants and animals in the ecosystems of the world. To finish up this unit, I take them outside to observe their local food chains. We begin discussing how the abiotic (nonliving) factors also tie into the ecosystem. Please see my blog post called GO OUTDOORS ON AN EXCITING SCHOOLYARD ECOSYSTEM SCAVENGER HUNT.
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How Stable is Your Food Web?
"Giant Kelp Forest" © 2010 Tom Thai
Could you describe the kelp forest food web as a system? Your students will design and use a simple model to test cause and effect relationships or interactions concerning the functioning of a marine food web, ranking their hypothetical ecosystems according to their stability when faced with a natural or man-made disturbance.
What makes a stable ecosystem?
This lesson follows the 5-E pattern. Day 1 (50 minutes) features Engage, Explore, and Explain. Day 2 (50 minutes) covers Elaborate and Evaluate.
Feel free to take your time with this sequence of activities, turning the lesson into a subunit. The suggested time frames are on the tight side.
After this activity focusing on the kelp forest ecosystem, students will be able to
- Recognize a food web as a system, and describe a food web in terms of its components and its interactions.
- Provide examples of how a healthy ecosystem is one in which multiple species of different types are each able to meet their needs in a relatively stable web of life.
- Design and use a simple model to test cause and effect relationships or interactions concerning the functioning of a marine food web.
- Take a Virtual Dive in the Kelp Forest clip
- Ecosystems and Ecological Networks clip
- Kelp Forest Ecosystem Organism Card printouts (1 per student for Part I, extra copies of each for Part II)
- Yarn, ~3 foot pieces, perhaps 2 per student for Day 1, then entire roll for Day 2
- Butcher paper
- Scissors, markers, tape
- Science notebooks
- Cheat sheets, charts, and scenarios for the teacher
- biodiversity: the variety of life on Earth or some other specified geographic region of the planet
- carnivore: an animal that eats meat (i.e., other animals)
- consumer: an organism, such as a cow or a shark, that must eat other organisms to obtain energy-rich food molecules because they cannot make the molecules themselves; consumers are also called heterotrophs
- decomposer: an organism that breaks down organic material over time
- detritus: dead and decaying matter, including animal waste
- ecosystem: the community of different species in a particular geographic area and all of their interactions with each other and the physical environment; ecosystems are also called ecological networks
- energy: the ability to do work or cause change
- food chain: a series of events in which one organism eats another and obtains energy
- food web: the pattern of overlapping food chains in an ecosystem
- herbivore: an animal that eats plants; also called a primary consumer
- kelp forest: marine ecosystem where large, brown algae called giant kelp grow omnivore: an animal that eats both plants and animals
- organism: a living or formerly living thing
- plankton: microscopic organisms that live in the ocean and other bodies of water; phytoplankton are plant-like and can photosynthesize; zooplankton are animal-like and cannot photosynthesize
- producer: an organism, such as a plant, that can make its own energy-rich food molecules from inorganic materials and an energy source such as sunlight; producers are also called autotrophs
- stable: resistant to change, or able to return to a steady condition when disturbed
- Print out one animal sheet per student. Because your class size may vary, here’s a ranking of organisms to produce functional food chains for this demonstration (for example, if you only have 12 students, print up to the barnacle, and the activity will still work): zooplankton, crab, small fish (anchovy), phytoplankton, big fish (salmon), squid, seal, shark, kelp, shrimp, sea bird, barnacle, sea star, mussel, rock snail, baleen whale, octopus, toothed whale, sea urchin, sea otter, limpet, clam, abalone. This isn’t a true ranking; it merely sets you up for success if you have a small class size.
- Test the video quality on your school’s internet connection. Note that you can click the Settings cog in the footer to adjust the Quality to up to 1080HD, and you can also toggle on Full Screen.
Select a location in the classroom to serve as the sun, from which all food chains will start (e.g., drawing on the board, your desk).
- Pass out organism cards randomly.
- Find a partner who…(makes food from the sun, is smaller than a cell phone, swims with fins or flippers). Talk and share.
- Line up in size order from the smallest creature to the biggest one. Use your best guess!
- Organize in five clumps according to your role: producer vs herbivore vs carnivore vs decomposer vs omnivore.
- -- kelp – sea urchin – sea otter – shark
- -- kelp – abalone – octopus
- -- phytoplankton – krill – baleen whale
- -- phytoplankton – limpet – anchovy – squid
- -- zooplankton– anchovy – salmon – seal
- -- phytoplankton – clam – sea otter
- Freeze and verbally review. In turn, have producers, consumers, etc. raise their hand, and have students notice the pattern. Discuss the size of the creatures, and the size of the population of said creatures. Review the transfer of matter and energy, and highlight how it starts at the suns. ( Teacher tip: this is where the content in the Disciplinary Core Idea LS2.A is made explicit!)
Task for the class: Self-organize to make a full web, connecting yourself to two other organisms. ( Teacher tip: this is the part of the activity where Systems are made explicit.)
- What are the component parts? ( living organisms with different roles in the food web )
- How are they related? ( they interact by eating each other, which translates into sharing matter and energy )
- What does the yarn symbolize as an interaction? What is flowing through the system? ( Sharing matter and energy. )
- The yarn doesn’t show the direction of energy flow. How can we model this? ( students receiving the energy could wiggle or raise their fingers ) Teacher tip: If you’d like to focus on LS2.B Matter and Energy , this would be one food place to do so, while the web is intact. This Causal Patterns in Science Rubric may help you gauge student understanding. Depending on your class level, you can discuss the cycling of matter and how energy is lost.
- Can we find an organism that could be removed from the web, without leaving another species high-and-dry with nothing at all to eat?
- Which animals from our class food web did you notice? How were they described?
- What were the main points from the video?
- What are the main points from the video?
- What makes an ecosystem extra resilient to change/keeps it stable?
- Considering the kelp forest as an example of an ecosystem network, which of the organisms might play a more crucial role than others?
- Post up butcher paper on three walls or the ground.
- Split class into three large groups.
- Something that shows the number and variety of organisms (the components of the system)
Check for understanding: As students are working, remind them to indicate how many of each creature exists. While the numbers don’t matter, the relative numbers do – producers should outnumber consumers. Also, check their understanding of the energy flow up the chain.
As students finish, write the Which Ecosystem is Most Stable? table on the board, along with a rough numeric rubric.
- Teacher tip: this is where the Crosscutting Concepts of Stability and Change & Cause and Effect come into play. Explain that when you read through the scenarios, the class will discuss what domino effects will occur in each sample ecosystem, and rate each one on their stability.
- Using the students’ ideas, walk through the cause and effects. We’ve listed some sample effects, but it’s more important that the students themselves do the thinking. Don’t adjust the physical webs; simply discuss and use as a springboard to tackle key content. The teacher can assign a 1-5 rating for each ecosystem for stability, and add it to the chart on the board.
- Total up the columns. Which of the three ecosystems was highest functioning when changes came along? Why?
- Ecosystems need to be balanced, but involve regular change. What are some examples of changes that might be beneficial for the ecosystem as a whole?
In their science notebooks, have students explain how they would revise the most stable ecosystem model based on what they learned through the scenarios.
Also have them answer the following review questions:
- What are the components of the food web system, and how do they interact with each other?
- Why does a healthy ecosystem need multiple species of different types to remain stable?
- List one example of a natural ecosystem disturbance, and another that is caused by humans.
For elementary and middle school Explore how people can engage in activities that help monitor changes to ecosystems so that we can keep them stable. Examples include:
- Floating Forests
- Tracking Starfish Wasting and Recovery
- National Park Service Kelp Forest Monitoring
For middle school Expand the lesson to categorize and discuss types of interactions such as competitive, predatory, and mutually beneficial. See Ecosystems and Ecological Networks for more background information, discussion questions, and vocabulary.
No organism exists in isolation. Individual organisms live together in an ecosystem and depend on one another. In fact, they have many different types of interactions with each other, and many of these interactions are critical for their survival.
So what do these interactions look like in an ecosystem? One category of interactions describes the different ways organisms obtain their food and energy. Some organisms can make their own food, and other organisms have to get their food by eating other organisms. An organism that must obtain their nutrients by eating (consuming) other organisms is called a consumer, or a heterotroph. While there are a lot of fancy words related to the sciences, one of the great things is that many of them are based on Latin or Greek roots. For example, heterotroph becomes easier to remember when you realize that in Latin, “hetero” means “other” and “troph” means food; in other words, heterotrophs eat other organisms to get their food. They then use the energy and materials in that food to grow, reproduce and carry out all of their life activities. All animals, all fungi, and some kinds of bacteria are heterotrophs and consumers. .
Some consumers are predators; they hunt, catch, kill, and eat other animals, the prey. The prey animal tries to avoid being eaten by hiding, fleeing, or defending itself using various adaptations and strategies. These could be the camouflage of an octopus or a fawn, the fast speed of a jackrabbit or impala, or the sting of a bee or spines of a sea urchin. If the prey is not successful, it becomes a meal and energy source for the predator. If the prey is successful and eludes its predator, the predator must expend precious energy to continue the hunt elsewhere. Predators can also be prey, depending on what part of the food chain you are looking at. For example, a trout acts as a predator when it eats insects, but it is prey when it is eaten by a bear. It all depends on the specific details of the interaction. Ecologists use other specific names that describe what type of food a consumer eats: carnivores and herbivores are meat eaters and plant eaters, respectively. Omnivores eat both animals and plants. Once again, knowing the Latin root helps a lot: "vor" means "to eat or devour," as in "voracious.” Put "-vore" at the end of a scientific term for a kind of food, and you have described what an organism eats. For example, an insectivore is a carnivore that eats insects, and a frugivore is an herbivore that eats fruit. This may seem like a lot of terminology, but it helps scientists communicate and immediately understand a lot about a particular type of organism by using the precise terms.
Not all organisms need to eat others for food and energy. Some organisms have the amazing ability to make (produce) their own energy-rich food molecules from sunlight and simple chemicals. Organisms that make their own food by using sunlight or chemical energy to convert simple inorganic molecules into complex, energy-rich organic molecules like glucose are called producers or autotrophs. And here’s another quick Latin lesson: “auto” means “self” and “troph” still means “food.” So autotrophs are self-feeding; they make their own food. Plants, algae, and microscopic organisms such as phytoplankton and some bacteria, make energy-rich molecules (in other words, their food) from sunlight, water, and carbon dioxide during the process called photosynthesis (“photo” means “light, and “synthesis” means “to make” – photosynthesizers are using sunlight to make food). Some producers are chemosynthesizers (using chemicals to make food) rather than photosynthesizers; instead of using sunlight as the source of energy to make energy-rich molecules, these bacteria and their relatives use simple chemicals as their source of energy. Chemosynthsizers live in places with no sunlight, such as along oceanic vents at great depths on the ocean floor.
No matter how long you or a giraffe stands out in the sun, you will never be able to make food by just soaking up the sunshine; you will never be able to photosynthesize. You’ll just get sunburned and thirsty and will still need to go eat another organism if you are hungry. Producers use the food that they make and the chemical energy it contains to meet their own needs for building-block molecules and energy so that they can do things such as grow, move, and reproduce. When a consumer comes along and eats a producer, the consumer gets the building-block molecules and the chemical energy that is in the producer’s body. All other life depends on the energy-rich food molecules made by producers – either directly by eating producers, or indirectly by eating organisms that have eaten producers. Not surprisingly, ecologists also have terms that describe where in the food chain a particular consumer operates. A primary consumer eats producers (e.g., a caterpillar eating a leaf); a secondary consumer eats primary consumers (e.g., a robin eating the caterpillar). And it can go even further: a tertiary consumer eats secondary consumers (e.g., a hawk eating the robin). A single individual animal can act as a different type of consumer depending on what it is eating. When a bear eats berries, for example, it is being a primary consumer, but when it eats a fish, it might be a secondary or a tertiary consumer, depending on what the fish ate!
All organisms play a part in the web of life and every living thing will die at some point. This is where scavengers, detritivores (which eat detritus or parts of dead things), and decomposers come in. They all play a critical role that often goes unnoticed when observing the workings of an ecosystem. They break down carcasses, body parts and waste products, returning to the ecosystem the nutrients and minerals stored in them. This interaction is critical for our health and health of the entire planet; without them we would be literally buried in dead stuff. Crabs, insects, fungi and bacteria are examples of these important clean-up specialists.
In summary, there are many different kinds of interactions between organisms in an ecosystem and it is not unusual for any particular organism to wear many hats and play multiple roles at different times. For example, we humans are consumers and predators when we hunt, kill, and eat other animals such as a fish or a deer, or when we eat chicken we have purchased at the grocery store or a restaurant. Interactions between organisms, including humans, are the nature of life and have tremendous impact on the functioning and health of ecosystems.
California Coast Ecosystem
The California Coast is home to some of the richest temperate marine ecosystems. This environment is prosperous due to an abundance of algae and phytoplankton that support large populations of organisms. Algae and phytoplankton combine organic compounds with the energy from the sun to form sugar in the process called photosynthesis. This production of their own food is why these photosynthetic organisms are referred to as producers. Phytoplankton are microscopic, plant-like organisms that live in the ocean. They are the most common food source for marine herbivores.
Primary consumers such as zooplankton and limpets feed on algae and phytoplankton to obtain their energy. Zooplankton are tiny animals and animal-like organisms, usually with a calcium carbonate shell, that eat phytoplankton. A few examples are krill and fish larvae. They are a major food source for small fish, baleen whales, gastropods, and birds. In turn, the zooplankton (and other primary consumers) nourish even larger organisms, from anchovies to seabirds to whales. Other organisms such as sea otters and white sharks eat these consumers. Another important group of organisms in the ocean food web are decomposers. Decomposers such as bacteria and crabs break down dead organic matter and keep the marine ecosystems healthy.
There are many scenarios that demonstrate the complex level of interdependence of organisms along the California Coast. To illustrate this, students can make a food web. A food web is used to show the relationships between organisms in an ecosystem, overlapping food chains to demonstrate how these organisms are all connected and rely on each other for food. While this activity focuses on biotic components of an ecosystem, The Concept of the Ecosystem includes abiotic factors, too.
- autotroph: an organism, such as a plant, that can make its own energy-rich food molecules from inorganic materials and an energy source such as sunlight; autotrophs are also called producers
- ecosystem function: the processes that occur within an ecosystem that are related to species interactions, energy flow and the cycling of materials
- ecosystem network: the interactions among organisms in an ecosystem and the diagram that illustrates these relationships and how matter and energy move from one species to another; also called an ecological network
- heterotroph: an organism, such as a sea turtle or a hawk, that must eat other organisms to obtain energy-rich food molecules because they cannot make the molecules themselves; heterotrophs are also called consumers
- predator: an organism that hunts, catches, kills, and eats other animals
- prey: an organism that is caught, killed and eaten by a predator
- primary consumer: an animal or other heterotroph that eats producers or herbivores
- scavenger: an animal that eats dead organisms or parts of dead organisms
- secondary consumer: an animal that eats primary consumers
- species: a distinct type of organism
- species richness: the number of different species in a given geographic area
Disciplinary Core Ideas (5-9)
- The food of almost any kind of animal can be traced back to plants. Organisms are related in food webs in which some animals eat plants for food and other animals eat the animals that eat plants. Some organisms, such as fungi and bacteria, break down dead organisms (both plants or plants parts and animals) and therefore operate as “decomposers.” Decomposition eventually restores (recycles) some materials back to the soil. Organisms can survive only in environments in which their particular needs are met. A healthy ecosystem is one in which multiple species of different types are each able to meet their needs in a relatively stable web of life. Newly introduced species can damage the balance of an ecosystem.
- Food webs are models that demonstrate how matter and energy is transferred between producers, consumers, and decomposers as the three groups interact within an ecosystem. Transfers of matter into and out of the physical environment occur at every level. Decomposers recycle nutrients from dead plant or animal matter back to the soil in terrestrial environments or to the water in aquatic environments.
- Biodiversity describes the variety of species found in Earth’s terrestrial and oceanic ecosystems. The completeness or integrity of an ecosystem’s biodiversity is often used as a measure of its health. Ecosystems are dynamic in nature; their characteristics can vary over time. Disruptions to any physical or biological component of an ecosystem can lead to shifts in all its populations.
- A complex set of interactions within an ecosystem can keep its numbers and types of organisms relatively constant over long periods of time under stable conditions. If a modest biological or physical disturbance to an ecosystem occurs, it may return to its more or less original status (i.e., the ecosystem is resilient), as opposed to becoming a very different ecosystem. Extreme fluctuations in conditions or the size of any population, however, can challenge the functioning of ecosystems in terms of resources and habitat availability.
- Moreover, anthropogenic changes (induced by human activity) in the environment—including habitat destruction, pollution, introduction of invasive species, overexploitation, and climate change—can disrupt an ecosystem and threaten the survival of some species.
Science and Engineering Practices (5-9)
- Developing and Using Models: Develop a model to predict and/or describe phenomena. Use a model to test cause and effect relationships or interactions concerning the functioning of a natural or designed system.
Cross-Cutting Concepts (5-9)
- Systems and System Models: A system can be described in terms of its components and their interactions.
- Stability and Change: Small changes in one part of a system might cause large changes in another part. Some systems appear stable, but over long periods of time they will eventually change.
- Cause and Effect: Cause and effect relationships may be used to predict phenomena in natural or designed systems.
Related Performance Expectations
Remember, performance expectations are not a set of instructional or assessment tasks. They are statements of what students should be able to do after instruction. This activity or unit is just one of many that could help prepare your students to perform the following hypothetical tasks that demonstrate their understanding:
5-LS2-1: Develop a model to describe the movement of matter among plants, animals, decomposers, and the environment.
MS-LS2-3. Develop a model to describe the cycling of matter and flow of energy among living and nonliving parts of an ecosystem.
MS-LS2-4. Construct an argument supported by empirical evidence that changes to physical or biological components of an ecosystem affect populations.
HS-LS2-6.Evaluate the claims, evidence, and reasoning that the complex interactions in ecosystems maintain relatively consistent numbers and types of organisms in stable conditions, but changing conditions may result in a new ecosystem.
- Concept a: Students need to know that natural systems proceed through cycles and processes that are required for their functioning.
- Concept c: Students need to know that the capacity of natural systems to adjust to human-caused alterations depends on the nature of the system as well as the scope, scale, and duration of the activity and the nature of its byproducts.
Animated Species Reference San Francisco Bay Food Web Ecological Model of Paleocommunity Food Webs, G. Diel and K. Flessa, EDS. Conservation Paleobiology: The Paleontological Society Papers , 15: 195-220. Peter Roopnarine, Curator, Invertebrate Zoology & Geology, California Academy of Sciences. Collections of the California Academy of Sciences Moe Flannery, Collection Manager, Ornithology & Mammology Christina Piotrowski, Collection Manager, Invertebrate Zoology & Geology Debra Trock, Senior Collections Manager, Botany
Kelp Forest Surveys The Steinhart Aquarium Staff Bart Shepherd, Director M. Elliot Jessup, Diving Safety Officer Margarita Upton, Aquatic Biologist
Banister, Keith & Campbell, Andrew. The Encyclopedia of Aquatic Life , 1986 Facts on File Publishing.
Evans, Jules G. Natural History of the Point Reyes Peninsula (2nd edition), 2008, University of California Press.
Gotshall, Daniel W., Pacific Coast Inshore Fishes (4th Edition), 2001.
Ricketts, Edward F.; Calvin, Jack; and Hedgpeth, Joel W. (revised by David W. Phillips). Between Pacific Tides (5th edition), 1985, Stanford University Press.
Saltzman, Jennifer. Farallones Marine Sanctuary Association. “Coastal Ecosystem Curriculum: Food Web”: http://www.farallones.org/documents/education/FoodWeb.pdf
Top Image: "Giant Kelp Forest" by Tom Thai, licensed and modified under CC BY 2.0; originally sourced from https://www.flickr.com/photos/eviltomthai/5129350053
© Stephen Horvath
In this role-playing skit your students will describe the various processes of the water cycle in the Amazon.
"Earth's Orbit" © 2015 NASA/JPL-CalTech
This interactive lesson will demonstrate the difference between "rotation" and "orbit."
© Kaz Canning
How does the finite amount of carbon on this planet move around in the environment, from one place to another?
Browse a rich array of educational resources from the award-winning show, Habitat Earth.
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Ecosystems Interactive Activities : Food Webs & Food Chains
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Food Chains and Food Webs Doodle Notes Activity | PowerPoint & Worksheet
Food Webs and Food Chains Activity : Breakout Escape Room Science (Ecosystems)
Food Chains & Food Webs Whodunnit Activity - Printable & Digital Game Options
Flow of Energy in Food Chains and Food Webs Worksheets and Interactive Activity
Food Chains and Food Webs Activity
Build an Interactive STUDENT FOOD WEB ! FOREST Food chain Activity
Food Chains - Food Webs Activities - Ecosystem Task Cards
Food Chains, webs , predator, prey Activities for Google Classroom
Ecosystem Interactions, Food Webs and Food Chains Worksheets and Activities
Ecology Activity : Biology Escape Room ( Food Webs , Symbiosis, Environment, etc.)
Food Web Digital Activity and Worksheets - Ecosystems Reading Passages
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Food Web Lab Station Activity
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Food Chains and Food Webs Escape Room Activity | Flow of Energy in Ecosystems
Food Chains and Food Webs Activities | Flow of Energy in Ecosystems BUNDLE
Food Chain, Food Web , Ecosystem Energy Review POSTER Activity
Food Chains and Food Webs Internet Scavenger Hunt WebQuest Activity
Create a Food Web Activity
Food Web Activity Foldable: Producers and Consumers, Decomposers Etc.
Interactions in Ecosystems Activities Food Webs and Resource Availability
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39 Awesome Ways To Teach Food Webs
October 31, 2023 // by Lori Goldberg
We’ve compiled a list of awesome activities that are perfect if you’re looking to immerse your learners in the wonderful world of animal food webs. These fantastic ideas are sure to provide you with the inspiration you need to teach your kiddos how energy is transferred between species in an ecosystem. From captivating food chain crafts to interactive websites and games – we’ve made it easier than ever to introduce your little animal lovers to their favorite creatures’ complex diets!
1. Step On It! Walking Food Web
Walk your learners through this marine lifecycle! Simply print out the template below before placing images of sea life in a circle and adding on energy arrows. Then, invite your class to follow the arrows as you have them explain how energy is transferred between each animal.
Learn More: The Science Penguin
2. Forest Food Pyramid Project
In this activity, your kids will create handy food chain pyramids that they can always refer to. Start by tasking them to fill each layer of a triangle with animal doodles with the corresponding label on another triangle. Then, guide them in folding and sticking their craft together to complete their food pyramid diagram.
Learn More: Education
3. Have a Digital Food Fight
Treat your littles to some technology time as you engage them in this online game. Invite them to select the best path of energy that two animals will take to ensure their survival. This game can be played several times to encourage your students to come up with different combinations.
Learn More: Brain Pop
4. Food Chain Toy Path
Here’s a perfect activity that’s great for engaging your more visual learners. Have them gather a variety of toy animals and plants and then challenge them to set up their toys to create a food web, using arrows to show the transfer of energy.
Learn More: Science Sparks
5. Assemble Food Chain Paper Links
Introduce your kiddos to a variety of food chains with this paper link activity. Task them with labeling strips of paper with different elements of a food chain, making sure to label each plant or animal as a consumer or producer. Then, allow them to staple their strips together to forge this fantastic teaching tool.
Learn More: Blake’s Class
6. Make Food Chain Nesting Dolls
These adorable nesting dolls are sure to get your young minds keen for lessons on food webs. Simply have them cut out these printable templates and then glue them together to create rings. You’ll then prompt them to simulate transfers of energy between the animals by placing each ring inside the other.
Learn More: Super Simple
7. Watch a Food Chain
This informative video will give your little ones a crash course in food chains when you’re looking to introduce them to the topic. Encourage them to listen carefully as they learn about the science behind food chains and how they interact with different habitats and ecosystems.
Learn More: YouTube
9. DIY Food Web Geoboard Science for Kids
Engage your kids in this interactive activity that will have them developing their fine motor skills while also learning about food webs. Simply print out these free animal picture cards before tasking them to pin them onto a Geoboard. Then, challenge them to connect the animals with different colored rubber bands to show the interaction of energy between producers and consumers.
Learn More: B-Inspired Mama
10. Food Webs Marble Mazes
This captivating craft is perfect for your older students. You’ll challenge them to create a food web maze by sticking paper walls and animal cutouts into a box. Once finished, task them with rolling a marble around their maze to recreate the transfer of energy that happens when animals come into contact with a food source.
Learn More: Student Savvy
11. Food Chain and Food Webs
This interactive website is a wonderful tool that your pupils can use when you’re teaching them about the difference between food chains and food webs. Invite them to scroll and click on different resources to find out more about a variety of biomes and ecosystems.
Learn More: Ducksters
12. Food Web Analysis
Here’s another informative video that focuses on food web analysis. Prompt your young minds to take in this newfound knowledge as it introduces them to the interactivity of a food web, giving them a deeper look into this intricate life cycle.
13. Desert Ecosystem Food Web
If you’re looking to focus on food webs that originate from specific habitats, this activity is perfect for a desert theme! Challenge your learners to use animal cutouts, cardboard, push pins, and more to create this elaborate food web.
14. Food Web Tag
Treat your littles to a lively game of food chain tag! In this twist on the classic game, you’ll assign the roles of plant, herbivore, and omnivore to your players. Then kick off the fun by having them tag each other according to their assigned roles.
15. Diets in Food Webs
These downloadable worksheets are great for introducing your kiddos to animal diets. Simply task them with researching what each animal eats to discover the food sources of various little critters, before having them jot down their answers.
Learn More: Teachers Pay Teachers
16. Introduction to Food Webs
Here’s another fantastic website that your students can use to learn more about food webs. It’s packed full of definitions, examples, and detailed reviews of important concepts – allowing them to discover new knowledge with just a few clicks.
Learn More: Generation Genius
17. Food Web Projects
Get your kids’ creative juices flowing by challenging them to recreate food chain projects. Have them scroll through Pinterest to find the information they need to put together anchor charts, food chain models, and more!
Learn More: Pinterest
18. Ocean Food Chain Printables
These animal cards are versatile enough to fit into any food chain lesson! With this comprehensive collection of ocean animals from the Antarctic and Arctic food chain – you’ll engage your pupils in various activities like matching the name of an animal to the picture card.
Learn More: Living Life and Learning
19. Energy Flow Domino Trail
Teach your kiddos about energy flow with an interactive demonstration. Simply set up some dominoes before prompting a discussion with your class on how energy moves through food webs. Afterward, you’ll knock down the dominoes, causing a cascade that perfectly represents the way energy is able to move through objects.
Learn More: Accelerate Learning
20. Animal Diets Cut and Paste Activity
This cut-and-paste activity is great for honing your littles’ fine motor skills while also introducing them to the concept of animal diets. Task them with sorting animals into their correct categories while encouraging them to engage with the Amazing Fact sheets that this resource provides.
Learn More: Twinkl
21. Interactive Food Web App
Have your learners swipe through ecosystems with this interactive web app. You’ll invite them to hop on this easy-to-use website where you’ll task them with dragging and dropping digital animals into their correct food chain sequence.
Learn More: Sheppard Software
22. Animated Food Web Story
Engage your kids in this food web tale. Encourage them to listen carefully as they observe the stunning visuals and discover how energy moves across ecosystems with this educational story.
23. Edible Food Web
Tantalize your students’ intellects and taste buds with this scrumptious activity! Challenge them to create food webs using sweets, cakes, biscuits, and more. They’ll transform your classroom into a culinary habitat that makes for a delicious take on learning.
Learn More: Beacon Academy
24. Food Web Field Trip
Let the learning adventure begin right in your schoolyard! Invite your littles outside as they explore food chains that exist in their local environment. They’ll observe trees, birds, and insects as you lead them in a discussion of how these tiny critters are all connected.
25. Food Web Poster Contest
For a vivid take on a complex concept, challenge your kiddos to create individual food web posters. Task them with mapping out an interconnected food web on paper by encouraging them to choose an ecosystem and then fill their poster with colors and fun doodles of animals.
Learn More: Science Gal
26. Food Web Role Play
Everyone’s a star in this interactive exercise! Start by assigning animal cards to your class and then prompt them to role-play as that animal. For instance, if they’re a plant you’ll have them stand still until an omnivore comes along to find its food source.
Learn More: Green Teacher
27. Food Web Charades
Engage your pupils in a fun and educational game of Food Web Charades. You’ll invite them to draw random animal cards before prompting them to act out their animals. Then, have the rest of your class give their best guesses of what animal is being presented.
28. Nature Documentary Analysis
Dim the lights and gather your kids for some educational movie time. With loads of nature documentaries to choose from, you’ll engage them in a real-life demonstration of animal diets as you have them analyze food webs and dissect ecological interactions – all while munching on popcorn!
Learn More: Common Sense Media
29. Food Web Board Game
Disguise education as playtime with this wonderful food web board game. Each player will get an assigned role as either a prey or predator. You’ll then task them with rolling dice and collecting food cards to navigate the web of energy and make it to the end.
Learn More: Board Game Geek
30. Food Web Puzzle
In this hands-on exercise, you’ll use puzzles to teach your littles about food chains! Simply have them cut out these animal puzzle pieces before challenging them to assemble their chains by putting each piece in its correct position.
Learn More: A Dab of Glue Will Do
31. Food Web Song
Gather your eager learners around for a jam session that’s all about food webs! Invite them to sing along to these catchy tunes as they learn lyrics that will help them develop their knowledge of complex interactions between species.
32. Food Web Comic Strip
Get those creative juices flowing with this comic strip activity! Challenge your kiddos to put together a food web story by encouraging them to fill panels with a sequence of energy transfers that would occur in a food chain.
Learn More: Deanna Lynn
33. Build a Terrarium
Have your children create their very own terrariums that can be used as a visual reminder when engaging them in lessons on food chains and webs. Simply guide them in filling glass jars with soil, water, and greenery to simulate intriguing micro-environments.
Learn More: PBS Kids
34. Ecosystem Exploration
Take your students on a trip around the world without ever leaving the classroom! By showing them this captivating video, you’ll allow them to explore global ecosystems and discover unique food webs all from the comfort of your classroom.
35. Pop-Up Food Web Cards
In this activity, your little learners will create an interactive tool for learning. Engage them in crafting these pop-up food web cards by having them cut and fold colored paper before adorning their visual with labels and arrows to represent the flow of energy from producers to consumers.
Learn More: Stuff Students Say
36. Food Web Crossword Puzzle
Your pupils will discover new knowledge as you have them complete food web crosswords. Task them with filling in the blocks of this animal-themed puzzle by encouraging them to decipher the correct answers using the displayed clues.
Learn More: Yumpu
37. Life-Sized Food Web
Amp up lessons on food webs by involving your class in a jumbo food web! You’ll invite them to form a circle before providing them with facts and pictures to figure out how to connect their web using yarn or string.
Learn More: Science By Sinai
38. Food Web Journal
Invite your kiddos to make personalized textbooks with this food journal activity. Simply task them to fill their pages with fun facts and adorable doodles by having them complete various activities that can be recorded in their journals.
39. Food Web Quiz Show
Get your young minds excited for a quiz challenge! Engage them in this super fun video by encouraging them to answer the quiz questions that will be displayed. Time is ticking so they’ll need to think quickly to answer each food chain question.
Estimated Class Time for the Engagement: 20-30 minutes
This student-centered station lab is set up so students can begin to explore food webs. Four of the stations are considered input stations where students are learning new information about food webs, and four of the stations are output stations where students will be demonstrating their mastery of the input stations. Each of the stations is differentiated to challenge students using a different learning style. You can read more about how I set up the station labs here .
At this station, students will be watching a 4-minute video describing how wolves change rivers. Students will then answer questions related to the video and record their answers on their lab station sheet. For example, name 2 impacts the wolves had on the deer population at Yellowstone, how did the re-introduction impact tree populations, and how wolves impacted the flow of rivers in Yellowstone.
This station will provide students with a one page reading about food webs. In the reading students will discover what the term ecology means and methods of ecological interdependence. Students will also learn from the reading that the many relationships that occur in an ecosystem that allows organisms to thrive an survive. There are 4 follow-up questions that the students will answer to show reading comprehension of the subject.
Students who can answer open-ended questions about the lab truly understand the concepts that are being taught. At this station, the students will be answering three questions like describing the impact of removing an organism from a food web, describe the flow of energy in a marine food web, and explain the reason why humans are dependent on a healthy ecosystem.
Your visual students will love this station. Students will be creating a sample food web from an ecosystem they would find at a nearby park. Students will include the Sun, at least 7 organisms and arrows depicting the flow of energy.
The organize it station allows your students to place organisms on a food web template. The marine food web contains 9 cards that students will place in the correct order showing the correct flow of energy.
Estimated Class Time for the Exploration: 1-2, 45 minute class periods
The final piece of the 5E model is to evaluate student comprehension. Included in every 5E lesson is a homework assignment, assessment, and modified assessment. Research has shown that homework needs to be meaningful and applicable to real-world activities in order to be effective. When possible, I like to give open-ended assessments to truly gauge the student’s comprehension.
Estimated Class Time for the Elaboration: 1, 45 minute class period
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