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20 Engaging Ways to Teach Food Webs to Kids

teach food webs

April 11, 2022 //  by  Lori Goldberg

Learning about food webs helps young children learn about the dependent relationships within their world.  Food webs help explain how energy is transferred between species in an ecosystem.

1.  Step On It! Walking Food Web


There are a few ways to use this web, one way would be for each child to be a unit of energy and walk their way through the food web, writing about how the energy is transferred.

Learn more: The Science Penguin

2.  Forest Food Pyramid Project


After studying plants and animals, have students write about the connection forest animals have in the food chain.  Print out the pyramid template and label the food chain up the pyramid.  Labels include producer, primary consumer, secondary consumer, and ultimate consumer with a corresponding picture.  Students will then cut out the template and form it into a pyramid.

Learn more: Education

3. Have a Digital Food Fight


In this online game, students or groups of students decide the best path of energy two animals take for survival.  This game can be played several times with many different combinations of animals to compete against.

Learn more: Brain Pop

4. Food Chain Toy Path


Start with gathering a variety of toy animals and plants.  Create a few arrows and have students set up the toy models to show the path using the arrows to show the transfer of energy.  This is great for visual students.

Learn more: Science Sparks

5. Assemble Food Chain Paper Links


This complete activity is perfect for elementary students to learn about a variety of food chains.  See teaching tips before starting this activity to ensure students are ready for this teaching tool.

Learn more: Stewart 5 Shining Stars

6.  Make Food Chain Nesting Dolls


This is a fun activity for young students to learn about marine food chains.  Inspired by Russian Dolls,  simply print out the template, cut out each part of the food web template and make it into rings.  Each ring fits inside the other to create a food chain of nesting dolls.

Learn more: Super Simple

7.  Stack Food Chain Cups

This video gives a quick overview for students of food chains.  This science video is a great way to introduce learning about food webs.

Learn more: Crash Course Kids

9.  DIY Food Web Geoboard Science for Kids

Screenshot 2022-04-11 114258

Print the free animal picture cards.  Gather a large corkboard, a few rubber bands, and push pins.  Have students sort the animal cards before beginning.  Once sorted, have students attach animal cards using push pins and show the path of energy flow using rubber bands.  You may also want to have a few blank cards for students to add their own pictures of plants or animals.

Learn more: Inspired Mama

10.  Food Webs Marble Mazes

Screenshot 2022-04-11 114538

This activity is more appropriate for ages 5th grade and up and should be done either in a group or at-home project with the help of an adult.  To start, students choose a biome or type of ecosystem they wish to use in making their maze.  The food webs must include a producer, a primary consumer, a secondary consumer, and a tertiary consumer which must be labeled in the maze.

Learn more: Student Savvy

11.  Food Chain and Food Webs

This is a great website to begin discussions about food chains and food webs.  It would also serve as a great reference page for older students to use since it covers a variety of biomes and ecosystems.

Learn more: Ducksters

12.  Food Web Analysis

This YouTube video provides a great way for students to look at different food webs and take a deeper look at their parts.

Learn more: Ramy Melhem

13.  Desert Ecosystem Food Web


After students research their desert animals and determine how the energy moves through their ecosystem, they will use the following materials to create a desert food web:  8½” x 11” square piece of white cardstock paper, colored pencils, pen, ruler, scissors, transparent tape, books about the plants and animals of a desert, string, masking tape, push pins and corrugated cardboard.

14. Food Web Tag

Screenshot 2022-04-11 125603

Students are divided into groups:  producers, consumers, and decomposers.  This food web game should be played outdoors or in a large area where students can run around.

Learn more: Science World

15.  Diets in Food Webs


Download this template and have students research what each of the animals eats.  This activity can be extended by having students create the food web.

Learn more: Teachers Pay Teachers

16.  Introduction to Food Webs

Screenshot 2022-04-11 130131

This website provides food web definitions as well as food web examples. This is a great way to either provide food web instruction or review.

Learn more: Generation Genius

17.  Food Web Projects


If you are looking for variety in helping 5th grade learn about food web lessons, this Pinterest site has several pins.  There are also many great pins to anchor charts that can be printed or created.

Learn more: Pinterest

18.  Ocean Food Chain Printables


This website had a comprehensive collection of ocean animals including animals from the Antarctic food chain as well as the arctic food chain.   These cards can be used in several ways besides creating food chains such as matching the name of the animals to the picture card.

Learn more: Living Life and Learning

19.  Energy Flow Domino Trail

Screenshot 2022-04-11 130847

Set up dominos to show how energy through living systems is completed.  Discuss how energy moves through food webs.  There are many examples provided.  Have students use the pyramid template or create their own to show the energy flow in the food chain.

Learn more: Accelerate Learning

20.  Animal Diets Cut and Paste Activity


This cut and paste activity is a good start to learning about food webs.  Students will learn what kind of diets many animals have and therefore will understand their play on a food web.

Learn more: Twinkl

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Ideas, Inspiration, and Giveaways for Teachers

We Are Teachers

17 Cool Ways to Teach Food Webs and Food Chains, In Person and Online

It’s all about the circle of life.

Jill Staake

Any kid who’s ever seen  The Lion King 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 a bit tricky to cover, and requires 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.

1. Start with an anchor chart

Food Webs Pinterest

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.

Learn more: Shannon McCoy/Pinterest

2. Introduce food webs and food chains during storytime

food web activity elementary

Books are a great way to segue into discussions about food chains and food webs. Here are some of our favorites.

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

Food Webs A Dab of Glue Will Do

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 .)

Learn more: A Dab of Glue Will Do

5. Use a paper plate to show the circle of life

food web activity elementary

Turn kids loose with a stack of magazines, or print pictures from the internet. Then assemble them into food chains around a paper plate.

Learn more: Ofamily Learning Together

6. Try some StudyJams

Food Webs Scholastic

Scholastic’s StudyJams work for both in person and online classrooms. Watch the entertaining video, then use the self-assessment tool to check your knowledge.

Learn more: Food Webs StudyJam and Food Chains StudyJam

7. Create food chain art

Food Webs A Faithful Attempt

This cross-curriculum art project is so fun! Kids choose a food chain to illustrate, then represent each part of it inside the mouth of the next.

Learn more: A Faithful Attempt

8. Construct food chain pyramids

food web activity elementary

A pyramid can be a helpful way to look at food chains. Kids will have fun illustrating with their own artwork.

Learn more: Education.com

9. Have a digital Food Fight

Food Webs Brain Pop

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!

Learn more: BrainPOP

10. Assemble food chain links

Food Webs Science Sparks

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!

Learn more: Science Sparks

11. Make food chain nesting dolls

Food Webs Super Simple

Visit the link for a free printable to make these adorable ocean food chain nesting dolls. Then challenge kids to choose another ecosystem and create their own.

Learn more: Super Simple

12. Stack food chain cups

food web activity elementary

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!

Learn more: Earth Mama’s World

13. Watch a food web video

Videos are always a favorite with kids in every kind of classroom. This one does a terrific job teaching them about food webs and chains.

14. Connect the food web with rubber bands

food web activity elementary

Use a bulletin board, push pins, 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.

Learn more: B-Inspired Mama

15. Display the food web with model animals

Food Web Susan Evans

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.

Learn more: Susan Evans

16. Turn the food web into a marble maze

food web activity elementary

We love how this activity turns a biology lesson into a STEM challenge! Kids will get a kick out of playing with their food webs marble mazes, so the learning never stops.

Learn more: Student Savvy

17. Walk a life-sized food web

food web activity elementary

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 (at a safe distance from each other, of course) to really understand how it all interacts.

Learn more: The Science Penguin

Looking for more biology and ecology ideas? Try these 20 Wild Ways to Explore Animal Habitats With Kids .

Plus, The Best Nature Webcams For Science Learning at a Distance .

17 Cool Ways to Teach Food Webs and Food Chains, In Person and Online

Jill Staake is a Contributing Editor with WeAreTeachers. She has a degree in Secondary English Education and has taught in middle and high school classrooms. She's also done training and curriculum design for a financial institution and been a science museum educator. She currently lives in Tampa, Florida where she often works on her back porch while taking frequent breaks for bird-watching and gardening.

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food web activity elementary

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Food Web Activities: Energy Flow and Changes to the Ecosystem

Food Web Activities: Energy Flow and Changes to the Ecosystem

Two Teaching Taylors

Also included in:  Food Chains and Food Webs Activities | Flow of Energy in Ecosystems BUNDLE

Food Chains and Food Webs Activity

Food Chains and Food Webs Activity

Amy Brown Science

Also included in:  Biology Curriculum Full Year Bundle

Create a Food Web Activity

Create a Food Web Activity

Science Time with Mrs Harris

Also included in:  Interdependence Bundle (Food Chain/Food Web) Worksheets, PowerPoint

Build an Interactive STUDENT FOOD WEB!  FOREST Food chain Activity

Build an Interactive STUDENT FOOD WEB! FOREST Food chain Activity

Science by Sinai

Also included in:  BUILDING A FOOD WEB! 2 Interactive Activities BUNDLE LS2-3, 5-LS2-1

Food Webs and Food Chains Activity: Breakout Escape Room Science (Ecosystems)

Food Webs and Food Chains Activity: Breakout Escape Room Science (Ecosystems)

Escape Room EDU

Also included in:  Life Science Escape Room Activities: Animal Adaptations, World Biomes, etc.

Food Web Lab Station Activity

Food Web Lab Station Activity

It's Not Rocket Science

Food Web Activity - Printable and Digital

Teach Like a Pangolin

Also included in:  Science Curriculum Digital Mega Bundle - Upper Elementary

Food Chains & Food Webs Whodunnit Activity - Printable & Digital Game Options

Food Chains & Food Webs Whodunnit Activity - Printable & Digital Game Options

Clark Creative Science

Also included in:  Biology Whodunnit Activity Bundle - Printable & Digital Game Options

Food Chains and Food Webs Activities | Flow of Energy in Ecosystems BUNDLE

Food Chains and Food Webs Activities | Flow of Energy in Ecosystems BUNDLE

Food Chains and Food Webs Worksheets Reading Passages and Activities

Food Chains and Food Webs Worksheets Reading Passages and Activities

Think Grow Giggle

Also included in:  Reading Comprehension Passages Nonfiction 3rd 4th 5th ELA Test Prep Science

Constructing a Food Web Activity for Review or Assessment

Constructing a Food Web Activity for Review or Assessment

Science from the South

Also included in:  Biology Curriculum Bundle Full Year of Activities & Assessments Print & Digital

Ecosystems STEM Activities - Food Web STEM Challenge Earth Science

Ecosystems STEM Activities - Food Web STEM Challenge Earth Science


Also included in:  Earth Science STEM Activities - Science Projects Space STEAM Challenges Kits

Food Chain and Food Webs Activities & Reading Passages for Google Classroom

Food Chain and Food Webs Activities & Reading Passages for Google Classroom

Glitter in Third

Also included in:  Food Chains, webs, predator, prey Activities for Google Classroom

Ecosystems Interactive Activities: Food Webs & Food Chains

Ecosystems Interactive Activities: Food Webs & Food Chains

ideas by jivey

Food Web Activity Pack

Katie Sue Meyer

Food Chains, webs, predator, prey Activities for Google Classroom

Food Web Food Chain Digital Project

Food Web Food Chain Digital Project


Food Web Manipulative Digital and Printable Activity | Elementary

Think Big Learning

Food Webs Building Activity {Editable}

Tangstar Science

BUILDING A FOOD WEB! 2 Interactive Activities BUNDLE LS2-3, 5-LS2-1

Create A Creature Ecology Project: Adaptations, Symbiosis, Food Webs

Create A Creature Ecology Project: Adaptations, Symbiosis, Food Webs

The Biology Blend

5-LS2-1 & MS-LS2-3 Food Chains and Webs Lab Activity | Printable & Digital

Stephanie Elkowitz

Also included in:  Life Science Biology Lab Bundle | Printable, Digital & Editable Components

Food Chains and Food Webs Cloze Reading Activity

Food Chains and Food Webs Cloze Reading Activity

Bow Tie Guy and Wife

Also included in:  Science Cloze Reads Bundle

Animal Cracker Ecology: Use Cookies to Model Food Chains and Food Webs - NGSS

Animal Cracker Ecology: Use Cookies to Model Food Chains and Food Webs - NGSS

Next Gen Sci Guy

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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?

food web activity elementary

Karen Sinai

food web activity elementary

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.

NGSS Standards

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.

African Safari Savanna food chain activity

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.

Classroom food web

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.

Student interactive food web

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.

Digital food web on iPad

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.

Mega bundle of food web and chains activities

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!

food web activity elementary

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.

food web activity elementary

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.

Food web biodiversity dice roll game with changes in population

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.

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.

Invasive species desert food web dice roll game science by Sinai

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.

food web activity elementary

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Food chain/web.

food web activity elementary

From plants and single cell organisms to humans, every organism on this planet needs a fuel source or energy to live. Plants use the sun and nutrients from the soil. Insects eat plants. Rodents eat insects. Reptiles eat rodents. You get the picture. The bigger animals eat the smaller animals. This is the essence of the food chain.

The food chain is an important concept for a young child to learn. It helps them see the world as a much larger and more unified place. Everything is linked and dependent on each other to survive. There are actually six levels or positions in the food chain. They include primary producers, primary consumers, secondary consumers, tertiary consumers, and quaternary consumers. The food chain ends with the animals that have little or no natural enemies.

Teaching Your Young Students About the Food Chain

Teacher Planet offers lesson plans for teaching about the food chain and the food web. Resources include hands on activity plans, worksheets, clip art, printables and additional teaching resources to help you plan and organize your food chain unit.

Helping children understand their role in the food chain may make them more responsible citizens and increase their understanding of the environment and ecology.

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How Stable is Your Food Web?

kelp forest, giant kelp forest, fish in kelp

"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

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).

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.)  

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.

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:

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:

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.

Ecological Interactions

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.

Disciplinary Core Ideas (5-9)

Science and Engineering Practices (5-9)

Cross-Cutting Concepts (5-9)

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.


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

amazon river

© Stephen Horvath

In this role-playing skit your students will describe the various processes of the water cycle in the Amazon.


© Kaz Canning

How does the finite amount of carbon on this planet move around in the environment, from one place to another?

Earth's orbit around the sun

"Earth's Orbit" © 2015 NASA/JPL-CalTech

This interactive lesson will demonstrate the difference between "rotation" and "orbit."

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food web activity elementary

food web activity elementary


At the end of this comprehensive food webs lesson plan, students will be able to diagram the flow of energy through living systems, including food chains and food webs. Students will also be able to describe food webs within marine, freshwater, and terrestrial ecosystems. Each lesson is designed using the 5E method of instruction to ensure maximum comprehension by the students.

The following post will walk you through each of the steps and activities from the food webs lesson plan.

Objective Introduction

At the beginning of the lesson, the class will do a Think-Pair-Share to discuss the objective.

Class Activity

The teacher will pass out organism signs to students and select a producer, primary secondary, tertiary, and sun card to come to the front of the room. The teacher will ask the class to place students in order, diagramming a whom eats whom situation. The teacher will then connect the chain by using different color yarn. The different colors represent the energy transferring from one level to the next. Continue this and create a second food chain.

Student Activity

Food Webs 5E Lesson


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 .


food webs 5E Lesson Plan - Kesler Science

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.


Food Webs 5E Lesson

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.

Food Webs 5E Lesson

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.


Food Webs 5E Lesson


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.


Food Webs 5E Lesson


Food Webs 5E Lesson

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


The full lesson is available for download from my TpT store .  Save yourself a ton of time and grab it now.

food web activity elementary

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    use pictures and arrows to create a food web that includes the sun, green plants, herbivores, omnivores, and carnivores. Materials. 1. Ball of yarn. 2. Activity

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    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


    Student Activity. Students will combine the food chains to create a food web. Students will scatter around the classroom. The person holding the sun card