Food Chains & Food Webs: Follow-up

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Students will be able to compare and contrast food chains, food webs and food pyramids.

Big Idea

It's lonely at the top of a food pyramid.

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Purpose of Lesson:

The purpose of this lesson is to introduce food pyramids and solidify student learning about food chains and food webs.

Major Strategies to Watch for:

Literacy- All students will collaboratively reading the first page of a larger reading.  Each student will have a role to play as well as practice being a vocabulary expert.


3 minutes

Learning Goal: Understand and be able to read a food pyramid

Opening Question: Closely look at the picture.  How are the organisms organized in this energy diagram?

Students record their opening question on their learning goal sheet and are ready to start class 3 min after the bell has rung.  I reward students who get started early with ROCK STAR SCIENTIST tickets.  

Today, I'm interested in finding out how much experience the students have at being able to read a food diagram.  I have the kids students use a THINK- PAIR- SHARE activity to discuss the diagram and then I ask questions  about the pyramid using the vocabulary words to encourage students to start using these vocabulary words rather than "meat eater" and "plant eater"

This type of question is also excellent practice for high stakes testing where students will be expected to read and interpret unfamiliar diagrams and graphs.

Follow the links to learn more about the beginning of class strategies and ROCK STAR scientist tickets.   


5 minutes

For the hook today, I've brought in an amusing picture.

I ask the students to do a write-to-think describing what the photo is about. I also ask the students to answer the question, "Is there a bottom of the food chain?  If there is what does it mean?"  

I also like this picture because it is a great chance to weave in some of the growth mindset concepts that we are trying help instill in our students.  


5 minutes

The purpose of this section is to open up my thinking about food webs to the students in a structured focus lesson.  The first thing I do is display the food pyramid on the projector and ask the students to think about how this is different from the energy diagrams they have seen before. 

I go through some of the things that I noticed in the diagram:

  • It doesn't have arrows.
  • It doesn't connect one organism with another.
  • It shows many animals like a food web.
  • It has different levels.
  • The levels at the top have fewer animals and the levels at the bottom have move more animals.
  • The levels are organized by food type.

Then I have students make their own noticings with a partner and share them out.  Here is a video of a focus lesson

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My expectation for the students during at focus lesson is that their eyes are on the text and that they are focused on learning.  I will check for understanding in other parts of the lesson. 


15 minutes

I constructed this part of the lesson to (1) give my on-target students a chance to practice with the new information and (2) provide me with time to work with students who need support. First, I read out the names of a group of 5-6 students that I need to work with and ask them to go to the table in the back of my room.  

Then, I display a list of animals and plants that we have been organizing into energy diagrams and ask the students to work independently to make a food pyramid.  I've been using organisms from the mountain ecosystem because that is close to our home and familiar to kids:

Grass, flowers, raspberry busy, pine tree, squirrel, marmot, pica, deer, moose, bear, hawk, spider, snake, mountain lion, fish, bugs.

The students work to create their own food pyramid in their notebooks. It is easy for me to keep track of the whole class from the back of the room as I work with my small group.  

With my small group, I go to the back table and get out the food web and food chain that we have been working with. I ask the students a set of scaffolded questions to help determine what their misconceptions are and how I can help them. Some questions might be;

  • Tell me what this picture is showing.
  • How do you know?
  • What is the arrow showing in this picture?
  • What part does the sun play in this picture?
  • Where does the mountain lion gets its energy?
  • Where does the deer get its energy?
  • Where does the grass get its energy?

When I have been able to locate some of the misconceptions and hopefully fix them. I hold up the picture of the food web and ask the students to explain it to me.

  • How is this the same as the food chain?
  • How is it different?  

Then I display a picture of the food pyramid and go through its organization, showing students where the herbivores are, where the carnivores are, and where the producers are. I tell my small group that they are going to be in charge of checking the work of the other students. This is a great way to give students that need scaffolding a respectful task. They needed some support to understand it, but now they are ready to make sure other kids got it right.  

I assign each student from my small group  to a table in the room. Then I tell all the class that the new student at the table has  the key. This becomes very exciting in class. Instead of kids pretending to listen to me as I talk about how they should have done it, they are gathering anxiously around the grader trying to find out if they did it correctly.

I watch carefully while the small group checks the work of the larger group. If they run into trouble I am ready to intervene.

When the checking is done, I ask the students to think and speak about the work. How was making the pyramid different from making the food chain and the food web? What were some of the problems? What are some things the food pyramid shows better than the other energy diagrams? Which do you think tells us the most information and why?  

Collaborative Reading

20 minutes

I hand out the Food Chain and Food Web Reading and tell students that we are going to do a reciprocal teaching assignment (reciprocal teaching is a collaborative reading strategy.) I am choosing a collaborative reading strategy here because it requires students to apply vocabulary strategies to determine the meaning of unknown words.  This is a skill that students manage better in a group with peer support. I describe the use of this strategy in my reflection. Also, a literacy framework is attached to this section, which explains what types of readings I use and when.  

For this reading, students have the following roles.

1) Visualizer-  Draw a picture in their mind (or on paper) and describes it to the others.

2) Big Idea-  Comes up with what the big idea is.

3) Connections- Makes connections with the real world

4) Facilitator and time keeper- Reads the section out loud, makes sure everyone gets to speak and watchers the time.

I pass out role cards to the students that contain the jobs they will do in groups.  In addition each student gets a vocabulary card because we are all concentrating on vocabulary.

Vocabulary strategies

- Look for root words.

- Break the word apart and look for familiar words.

- Read the sentence without the word.

- Read the sentences around the word.

The procedure that the students follow for this structured collaborative reading is that the facilitator, who is a comfortable out loud reader, reads the first paragraph. The other students circle words that are unfamiliar to them. When the paragraph is over the students go through each word using the strategies to figure out what the are. Then the facilitator reads the paragraph a second time. Now the students go around the table and share their Visualization, Big Idea, or Connections. Students take notes on what they want to remember and then go on to the next paragraph or section. I can check the notes to make sure that students were completing this task with quality and fidelity. 

One word of warning, while I have included a note catcher as a viable way to check students' work, this is meant to be a DISCUSSION strategy not a note taking strategy. I would prefer that my students have a high level discussion where they deconstruct a challenging text than that they turn in perfect notes.

For today, students are only reading the first page of the reading.  We will be using the rest of the reading on the extension day.   Also, I would group a few of the smaller paragraphs into lightly larger ones to have fewer steps.  


2 minutes

Closing Statement: Today we looked at a new type of energy diagram and worked together to understand a reading about food pyramids.

Closing Question : What do you the advantages to making a food pyramid are?  Why would you choose to make one of these instead of a food chain or food web? 

Closure depends greatly on timing and is not as easy to plan in advance as opening.  You can find more information about how I manage closure here