Food Web Lesson
This is part 2 of a 3 part hands-on unit study on Ecology. Learn about food webs and food chains using fun hands-on activities such as playing Predator & Prey, making a paper food chain and food chain pyramid, playing the Camouflage Candy game, and more! These lessons are geared toward 3rd-5th grade level children and their siblings. This lesson was created for a homeschool co-op class that meets each week for 2 1/2 hours and has 33 children between the ages of 1-13. Use these fun lessons with your classroom, family, after school program, or co-op!
1. Pray. Read Genesis 1:24-25, 29-31. After God created each kind of animal, what did He give to them as food? [Plants] Have you ever thought about that, a roaring lion and a mighty T-Rex would both be gnawing on tasty bark and kale salad. Yummy! Is that what they eat today? (No) What happened? (Adam & Eve sinned, causing sin & death to enter the world. People and certain animals started killing and eating animals.) Eventually Jesus will return and change all of this. Read Isaiah 11:6-7. Which animals in that passage eat other animals? Do you know what we call animals that eat other animals? (carnivores) What did the passage say a lion, which is a carnivore, will one day eat? (straw) Wow! Until that day comes, though, there will be animals eating other animals. Let's learn more about animals and what they eat!
2. Read The World of Food Chains with Max Axiom, Super Scientist (Graphic Science series) by Liam O'Donnell
YOU WILL NEED: The World of Food Chains with Max Axiom, Super Scientist by Liam O'Donnell
Book to Read for Activity 2
We loved this book as it covers everything you will introduce in this lesson: food chains and webs, producers, consumers, decomposers, carnivores, herbivores, and omnivores. It is written like a comic book, which my children love. If you have a larger class (more than 15), a different read aloud might be needed as the pictures will probably be too small to see.
Carnivores and Herbivores
3. Beef Jerky vs. Lettuce:
• What are the 3 main types of consumers? [Carnivores eat meat. Herbivores eat plants. Omnivores eat both plants and animals. Sometimes we add insectivores, which eat only insects.] How can the tell the difference between them? One way to tell what an animal eats is by looking at its teeth.
• Hand each child a piece of beef jerky and tell them to slowly chew it. Pay close attention to the teeth you used to chew it. Describe to me how it felt to chew it. (Chewy.) Slowly chew one piece of lettuce. Pay close attention to the teeth you used to chew it. Describe how it felt to chew the lettuce compared to the beef jerky. (Easy to chew.)
• What do we call an animal that eats only meat? (Carnivore) What do we call an animal that eats only plants? (Herbivore). What do we call an animal that eats plants and animals? (Omnivores). What do we call animals that eat only insects? (Insectivores.)
• Eat another piece of beef jerky. Pay close attention to the teeth you used to chew it. What part of your teeth did you use to chew it? The sharp teeth in the front. Look at the person sitting next to you's teeth. Look at their sharp teeth. Now show the other person your sharp teeth. What kind of teeth are these called? (Canines.) Generally, what kinds of animals have prominent sharp teeth? (Carnivores)
• Eat another piece of lettuce. Pay close attention to the teeth you used to chew it. What part of your teeth did you use to chew it? The flat teeth in the back. Look at the person sitting next to you's teeth. Look at their flat teeth in the back of their mouths. Now show the other person your flat teeth. What kind of teeth are these called? (Molars) Generally, what kinds of animals have flat teeth? (Herbivores).
• We have both types of teeth and eat meat and plants. What type of animal has both types of teeth like we do? (Omnivores)
YOU WILL NEED: 2 small pieces of beef jerky per child and 2 small pieces of lettuce per child
Talking Skulls: Carnivores and Herbivores
4. Compare skulls of carnivores and herbivores. You can get ideas on what to ask children from activity 4 on this webpage. (Check with your local zoo, nature center, or game and wildlife departments or with some you know who hunts to see if they have these.) If you can't get real ones, simply show pictures of them from a book or your laptop.
YOU WILL NEED: a skull of a carnivore & an herbivore or pictures of them from a book such as "Eyewitness: Mammal" by Steve Parker (which includes some great photos of animal jaws) or use photos from your laptop
Predators, Prey, & Camouflage
5. Another word we use for animals who eat other animals is "predator." Does anyone know what the animal that gets eaten is called? (prey). God created some really amazing traits into certain animals to help keep them from getting eaten. Can anyone think of any? Let's look a little bit more into one of the more common traits: camouflage. Read What Color Is Camouflage? (Let's-Read-and-Find-Out Science, Stage 2) by Carolyn B. Otto.
YOU WILL NEED: What Color Is Camouflage? by Carolyn B. Otto
6. If you are not limited by time: One of the animal traits God created to protect prey (...and also to help predators sneak up on prey) is camouflage. Let's see how well it works. [Ahead of time drop lots of 1-inch pieces of pipe cleaners out in the grass. We estimated about 30 pieces per child. Half of them were white and half were dark green.] Give the children 30 seconds to find as many pipe cleaners as they can. What color are most of them? Now look in the grass really closely. Do you think there are many left? Who can find the most now? Give them 30 seconds to see if they can find any more. What color are they? Were those more difficult to spot? Why?
YOU WILL NEED: lots of 1-inch pieces of pipe cleaners (about 30 pieces per child) - half of them should be white (or other bright color) and half should be green
Book to read for activity 5
Changing Camouflage in the Tundra: Camouflaged Candy
7. What are some types of biomes? Let's focus a moment on the tundra. What are some of the animals that can be found in the Arctic tundra? What color are many of them? (White.) Some of them are always white, and some of them have summer coats and winter coats. God gave them special coats of fur that have color during the summer and then fall out and grow in as white fun when it’s winter. Why might God have done that? This is called camouflage. Many Arctic tundra animals (such as polar bears, foxes, wolves, & hares) and tundra birds (such as terns and snowy owls) grow white outer fur or white feathers to help camouflage them on the snow-covered winter landscape. Divide the children into groups of 4 or 5. Have the children clean/sanitize their hands. Give each group a large bowl, casserole dish, or other container that has something white (powdered sugar, flour, or strips of white paper) covering the bottom of it. Toss in a handful of chocolate chips and white chocolate chips. Tell them to pretend those chocolate chips are their prey and they need find them and eat them up. Give them a few minutes to pick out as many as they can and put them in a pile in front of them. After the time is up, let them eat all their "prey." Ask, "Was it easy to find them all? What color of chocolate chip was easier to find? How does the white camouflage help many of the animals in the polar regions during the winter?"
YOU WILL NEED: baby wipes/hand sanitizer or other method to clean kids’ hands, 4 containers (such as 9x13 casserole dishes), something white (such as powdered sugar, flour, or strips of white paper) that can cover the bottom of the containers, 1 (12 oz bag) of semisweet chocolate chips, & 1 (12 oz bag) of white chocolate chips
Food Chains: Producers and Consumers
8. We've learned about how carnivores catch their prey and how the prey tries to hide, but the carnivores aren't the only ones doing the eating in this world. Everything that is living must get some type of energy. I’ll need 4 volunteers.
• How do plants get their energy? (From the sun through photosynthesis.) Hand Child# 1 a paper ring that has a picture of a sun on it and tell them to show it to the class and then put it on the table. Have the child lay in a straight line 4 disposable cups that each have a picture of the sun. These represent the sun. What gets its energy from the sun?
• Yes, plants! Hand Child #2 a paper strip that has a picture of a plant on it, and have him/her staple it in a ring to the circle that has a sun on it (like you would with a Christmas paper chain). Have him/her carefully stack 3 disposable cups that each has a picture of a plant on them on top of the cups that have sun pictures on them. When we talk about food chains, we call plants producers because they simply produce food for themselves and for animals and people. (Yes, carnivorous plants like the Venus Fly Trap are an exception to this. Isn’t God just amazing in His creativity?) What do we call plants? (Producers)
• What only eats those plants? Yes, herbivores. Hand Child #3 a paper strip that has a picture of a rabbit on it, and have him/her staple it in a ring to the circle that has a plant on it. Have him/her carefully stack 2 disposable cups that each has a picture of a rabbit on them on top of the cups that have plant pictures on them.
• What animal might eat that rabbit? All those animals you named are what type of consumer? Yes, they are all carnivores or omnivores. I first thought of an owl, which is a carnivore. Hand Child #4 a paper strip that has a picture of an owl on it, and have him/her staple it in a ring to the circle that has a rabbit on it. Have him/her carefully stack 1 disposable cup that has a picture of an owl on it on top of the cups that have rabbit pictures on them. When we talk about food chains, we call animals and people consumers because they consume, or eat, other parts of the food chain. What do we call animals and people? (Consumers)
• Have Child #4 hold up the paper chain. What do we call this? (The food chain.) A food chain shows the flow of energy from the sun to a plant to an herbivore or omnivore to an animal that eats that animal. It could continue down the line. You might have a hungry bobcat eat that owl. You’d then add it right here to our paper model of the food chain. The Primary Consumer would be the rabbit. The Secondary Consumer would be the owl. The top of the food chain would be the bobcat. It would be known as the Tertiary Consumer.
• Let’s look at these cups. What shape did we make? (a pyramid) Let’s say that our community decides to build a housing development in a large field where all those rabbits lived. The field is plowed over and concrete is poured. All those yummy plants for the rabbits are now gone. How will that affect our food chain pyramid? Child #2, I know you’ve been waiting to do this! Take one of your plant cups out from the pyramid. What just happened? (Part of the pyramid collapsed.)
• What do you think would have happened if Child #4 had simply removed his cup? Would the pyramid have collapsed? (No) Would it still be a pyramid, though? (No) Why do you think carnivores are important to our food chains? (Carnivores are important to a food chain because they keep omnivores from overpopulating an area. It’s a way of keeping everything in balance.)
(The Food Chain Pyramid idea came from http://www.coreknowledge.org/mimik/mimik_uploads/lesson_plans/453/Animal%20Classifications%20and%20Food%20Chains%20So%20Whats%20Eating%20You.pdf .)
YOU WILL NEED: 4 strips of paper (one with a picture of the sun, one with a picture of a plant, one with a picture of a rabbit, and one with a picture of an owl), a stapler, 4 disposable cups with pictures of the sun taped to them or drawn on them, 3 disposable cups with pictures of plants taped to them or drawn on them, 2 disposable cups with pictures of rabbits taped to them or drawn on them, & 1 disposable cup with a picture of an owl taped to it or drawn on it
Printable Food Chains
9. If you are not limited by time and would like a craft activity, you can make a food chain mobile www.windows2universe.org/ like the one we made in the photo to the right. This would be best for young children. For each child you will need a white Styrofoam plate, a sheet of blue construction paper or a few pieces of blue ribbon or crepe paper, 8 pieces of pre-cut yarn or string pieces, crayons, tape, a glue stick, & hole punches. Younger children needed help punching holes in the plates, so you might want to do that ahead of time. You can find free printable food chain worksheets for younger children (Pre-K - 2nd grade) at www.learningresources.com/ . Older children (2nd grade and older) might enjoy making food chains using the picture pieces from www.adfg.alaska.gov/ .
Food Chain: Decomposers
10. We left out one important part of the food chain: decomposers!
• God created lots of trash cans for the world to clean up all the dead plants, animals, and people. They eat all the dead stuff and turn it into helpful chemicals in the air and nutritious soil to feed our producer plants, which feed our consumer animals and people. Who can think of a decomposer? (worms, fungi like mushrooms, & bacteria) Are you ready to do a really gross experiment to watch decomposers at work? What's even better is that you get to take this home! Your parents will love this!
• Ahead of time prepare a plate for each child. Each plate should have 2 Ziploc sandwich bags (one with a Y written on it in sharpie marker and the other with the child’s name on it), a 1-inch slice of banana, about 1/4 tsp. of baking yeast, and a strip of tape (such as masking tape) the length of the mouth of the baggie.
• Have them wash or sanitize their hands so they will not contaminate the experiment. While they are washing their hands, pass plates out to children.
• Have them place a 1-inch banana slice (NOT the one on their plate) in the Ziplock bag that has their name written on it. Seal the bag.
• Have them place the 1-inch banana slice from their plate in the Ziplock bag that has a Y written on it. Seal the bag. Use masking tape to add an extra seal to the top of the bag.
• Explain that yeast is a type of fungi, which is a decomposer. Over the next 5 days at home you’ll get to watch a decomposer at work. After 5 days, make sure to observe what you see. Then throw the baggies away. DO NOT open them! You will not want have to clean up the smelly mess in your house if you open your baggie!
(This decomposer activity idea came from http://www.coreknowledge.org/mimik/mimik_uploads/lesson_plans/1294/3_EcologyHabitatsandFoodChains.pdf .)
YOU WILL NEED PER CHILD: a disposable plate, 2 Ziploc sandwich bags (one with a Y written on it in sharpie marker and the other with the child’s name on it), two 1-inch slices of banana, about 1/4 tsp. of baking yeast, and a strip of tape (such as masking tape) the length of the mouth of the baggie
11. (Optional - This works well with ages 7+ but can be a bit more challenging if you have lots of younger children.) Food chains are simple, straight lines, but that’s not the way God created the food chain world. Food chains intersect with each other. It can get pretty messy. We call this overlapping of food chains a food web.
• What are some types of biomes? Let's focus a moment on the deciduous (temperate) forest biome like what we have around here.
• (Make sure to do this activity quickly and with a fun attitude or else the children might lose interest!) Everyone needs to make a large circle. Who remembers what starts out all food chains, even before producers? (The sun) I have a ball of yellow yarn. It represents the sun. I’m going to toss it to Child #1. Child #1, you’re lots of plants growing in our deciduous forest. Hold on to one piece of the yellow yarn and toss the yarn ball to Child #2.
Child #2, you’re going to be lots of grasshoppers. You all ate those plants. Hold on to one piece of the yellow yarn and toss the yarn ball to Child #3.
Child #3, you’re a spider that ate a grasshopper. Hold on to one piece of the yellow yarn and toss the yarn ball to Child #4.
Child #4, you’re a frog that ate the spider. Hold on to one piece of the yellow yarn and toss the yarn ball to Child #5.
Child #5, you’re a snake that ate the frog. Hold on to one piece of the yellow yarn and toss the yarn ball to Child #6.
Child #6, you’re a hawk that ate the snake. This isn’t the only way this could work out, though. Let’s see what else could have happened. Child #6, hold on to one piece of the yellow yarn and toss the ball of yarn back to Child #1.
Child #1, you’re still a plant. Hold on to one piece of yarn and toss the ball of yarn to another child.
*(Repeat children if you have a small class or pass to new children if you have a larger class.)
Child A, what might eat a plant? Hold on to one piece of the yellow yarn and toss the yarn ball to another child.
Child B, what might eat that type of animal? Hold on to one piece of the yellow yarn and toss the yarn ball to another child.
Child C, what might eat that type of animal? Hold on to one piece of the yellow yarn and toss the yarn ball to another child.
*Continue until all the children are holding a piece of the yarn.
• Now what happens to our web if some farmers decide to spray lots of pesticides on their plants in order to kill off the grasshoppers that have been eating their crops? Child #3, drop your piece of string. Look at how many animals are now affected. So many animals are interdependent upon one another in the food web!
YOU WILL NEED: a ball of yellow or orange yarn
What Animal Am I?
12. If you are not limited by time, play What Animal Am I?:
• Tape a picture of an animal to the back of each child. Tell them to not peek! Divide the children into groups of 4-5. Each child will try to guess what animal is on his/her back by using the clues their group members provides.
• The first clue will be in which biome the animal lives. (Ex. Your animal lives in the desert.) The child will guess. If the guess is incorrect, the group will give the second clue.
• The second clue will be what type of consumer the animal is: carnivore, herbivore, omnivore, or insectivore. (Ex. You are a carnivore.) The child will guess. If the guess is incorrect, the group will give the third clue.
• The third clue will be related to the food chain: what might eat that animal (or if it one that is the top of a food chain). (Ex. A roadrunner might eat you.) The child will guess. If the guess is incorrect, the group will give the fourth clue.
• The fourth and following clues can be related to the food chain (ex. You might eat mice or rats.) or animal traits (Ex. You do not have legs.) The child will keep guessing after each clue.*If the guessing child is still stumped, teachers or parents can help with a few guiding questions.
YOU WILL NEED: a picture of an animal (printed from the Internet) for each child, tape, and a list of the order of clues and example questions (either written on a board or passed out on sheets of paper to each group)
Review & Predator and Prey Game
13. 5 minute review of what we learned.
14. Play Predator and Prey Game, which is really Hide and Seek. The person seeking is the predator. The children hiding are the prey.
Looking for our favorite children's books and YouTube videos?
Our Favorite Children's Books on Carnivores, Herbivores, Omnivores, Predator, and Prey
Tooth by Tooth: Comparing Fangs, Tusks, and Chompers by Sara C. Levine goes through the teeth of various animals and how that helps you determine their diet, and it shows what they might look like on people. National Geographic Readers: Predators Collection: Readers That Grow With You Library by National Geographic is a nice set of 4 easy reader books together in one book. They cover how wolves, sharks, spiders, and tigers catch their prey. They have photographs rather than illustrations, but my children still really enjoyed them. When Hunger Calls by Bert Kitchen goes through various predators and how they catch their prey (killer whales twisting onto a beach to catch a seal, a woodpecker finch using a cactus spine to extract an insect, etc.)
Our Favorite Children's Books on Camouflage and Animal Self Defense
High? Low? Where Did It Go?: All About Animal Camouflage (Cat in the Hat's Learning Library) by Tish Rabe was our favorite book on camouflage and would also make a great read aloud option. It is written in the fun rhyming Cat in the Hat manner and is filled with educational information. What Do You Do When Something Wants To Eat You? by Steve Jenkins is a shorter picture book that goes through various traits animal have in order to avoid getting eaten (octopus squirting ink, glass snake losing its tail, etc.). It has nice illustrations! How to Hide a Butterfly and Other Insects(Reading Railroad Books) by Ruth Heller uses rhyming text to show how various insects use camouflage to hide from predators. This is part of a nice series of books Ruth Heller wrote on camouflage including How to Hide a Meadow Frog and Other Amphibians, How to Hide a Crocodile and Other Reptiles, and others. They are perfect for even younger listeners because of the beautiful illustrations.
Our Favorite Children's Books on Food Chains
Who Eats What?: Food Chains and Food Webs (Let's-Read-and-Find-Out Science 2) by Patricia Lauber is a great, simple introduction to food chains and food webs. It would be a great class read aloud book! Pass the Energy, Please! by Barbara Shaw McKinney using rhyming text and covers the food chain including decomposers. It has beautiful illustrations! Horseshoe Crabs and Shorebirds: The Story of a Foodweb by Victoria Crenson is a longer picture book that goes through all the animals that horseshoe crab eggs feed (particularly migrating birds). Do be forewarned that it includes a brief description of illustration of horseshoe crabs mating and also says they are millions of years old (which we just changed to "when they were created.") Food Chain Frenzy (The Magic School Bus Chapter Book, No. 17) by Anne Capeci is a great short, chapter book about the Food Chain. It includes plenty of information and vocabulary and would make a nice assigned chapter book or family read aloud book. My children loved this one as they love all Magic School Bus books. If you would prefer to instead read a Magic School Bus picture book, The Magic School Bus Gets Eaten: A Book About Food Chains by Pat Relf does a wonderful job of explaining the food chain related to salmon. Secrets of the Garden: Food Chains and the Food Web in Our Backyard by Kathleen Weidner Zoehfeld follows a family over a few seasons as they plant a garden and shows the animals that feast on the garden. Chickens provide additional background information. Dory Story by Jerry Pallotta tells the fictional story about a boy out on a boat and all the activity going on in the ocean under his boat as the ocean food chain and food web are in full action.
Our Favorite Videos for Elementary Aged Children: Home Sweet Habitat: Crash Course Kids
Popular Mechanics for Kids - "Killer Creatures"
Video Clip Not on YouTube
This (4:34) view clip briefly discusses how the reintroduction of wolves to Yellowstone National Park impacted so many areas in the park's food chain. http://www.bemoreorca.com/
Looking for all of my unit studies and lessons?
- Biomes Lesson - This is part 1 of a 3 part hands-on unit study on Ecology. Make leaf rubbings, assemble rain forest terrariums, make pine needle tea, experiment with forms of animal insulation, and more!
- Fun, FREE Hands-on Unit Studies - Over the years I have posted over 40 science and social-studies based unit studies, compromised of more than 170 lessons. The unit studies include the Human Body, Simple Machines, Earth Science, Medieval Period, American Revolution, Pioneer Life, Countries of the World, and many more! For each lesson I have included activities (with photos), our favorite books and YouTube video clips, lapbook links, and other resources.