Food Chains & Food Webs: Problem Solving

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Students will be able to create their own food chains, food webs, and food pyramids for an ecosystem of their choice.

Big Idea

Spin your own food webs and other energy diagrams.

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Purpose of Lesson:

The purpose of this lesson is for students to create a food chain, web, and pyramid of the ecosystem of their choice.  This is a 2-3 day lesson depending on if you take a full day to celebrate and assess the projects.  


Major Strategies to Watch for:

Checklist - In this lesson I use a checklist to help guide student work and allow them to self-assess.

Exemplars - I use exemplars of the different types of technology available to students to let them visualize what they want to accomplish.  

Ready. Set. Engage!

5 minutes

Learning Goal:  Create your own food chain, food web, and food pyramid of an ecosystem of your choice.

Opening Question:  Think of an ecosystem you are interested in.  Try to list 5-10 plants and animals that live there.

The purpose of today's opening question is to give students a bank of animals and plants for their food chains and food webs.  After the students are done with the question, I ask them to work with their partner and see if their partner has any other additional ideas for them.

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


5 minutes

I'll be showing the students different exemplars later in the lesson. From the start I want students to start thinking about great work. I tell them that we are going to make food chains, webs, and pyramids at a professional level. I ask them to share with me their ideas on what would be important to do if you were going to create this work at a professional level. The student ideas go on an anchor chart and are used throughout the process to push students to better products. While students are giving me their answers, I make sure that my ideas get on the chart as well.

- Make the work neat and understandable.

- Explain the work using labels.

- Follow the assignment.

This is a great way to make collaborative norms.  You ask the students for input but make sure that your expectations are there as well.  It is a little like giving a toddler choices in getting dressed. She can choose a red, blue, yellow, or purple shirt...but she has to have a shirt. 

Understand and Describe the Problem

10 minutes

The purpose of this section is to make sure that students understand the problem we are working on and what we are trying to create.  

I let students know that this is a day where they get to make a lot of choices. They are going to get to decide what kind of product to make, a poster, powerpoint, or Prezi AND they get to decide what ecosystem to study. What everyone will have to do is meet certain standards.  

For a variety of reasons, I prefer a checklists to rubrics. First, they are a lot easier for students to understand. They also take less time to write and can even be made collaboratively with students. This doesn't mean that there isn't a place for rubrics. Rubrics are invaluable for pushing students during in-depth projects and with writing. For my purposes today, a check list will be fine. I'm attaching a checklist document below that has more success criteria.

____ I made a food chain, a food web, and a food pyramid.

____ I used research from a real ecosystem and showed 10-20 organisms.

____ My arrows show the flow of energy and matter.

____ My work is easy to read and understand.  

I make sure that students understand the checklist and then I let them talk to their partner for 2 min to decide what they are going to do. They do not need to make the same choice! This is just a time to process.  

Once the students have processed, they record their choices on the Energy Diagram Assignment Checklist.  Now it is time to make a status check. I ask the kids if they really know 10- 20 organisms in their ecosystem. They list the ones they know on their assignment checklist.

Obtain a Plan

10 minutes

Now that students know what they are studying, they need to decide what they are producing.  I show them an exemplar of each type. I made all of my exemplars to show the ecosystem we have been working in (mountain ecosystem) and ask the students NOT to use that ecosystem unless they demonstrate to me that they have a compelling reason to choose it.  





Carry out Plan

60 minutes

The purpose of this section is to give students work time. Since this is a two-day lesson, I generally give students 30 min each day. Depending on your time requirements you might consider taking an additional day to celebrate and present the work.  

While students are working I let them use their cell phones to listen to music. I know a lot of teachers are against this, but the truth is I see more student concentration and a more focused classroom when I let them do this.  

Here is some completed work.  


Evaluate / Revise the Answer

12 minutes

There are a lot of different options here depending on time. If you are taking a full day to view the presentations and celebrate you can have students fill out peer evaluations and even pick some winners and have a prize. I like to give a prize for teacher's choice and students' choice.  

If you don't have this much time, you can still have the students do a quick self-evaluation. I simply have the kids use the checklist on their assignment sheet to record what they accomplished and the write me a note about their project. This is a short and simple way to build ownership and collaboration on grading. I find that students are more interested in my feedback if they have already given me their feedback.  

Below is a shot of a before and after food web that students made. The before was at the beginning of the unit and the after was done following instruction. This student still has quite a lot of perfecting to do before this is a finished product. However, she has made a lot of growth and that would be recognized in a discussion that they points her in the next direction.  



This is a video of me using the checklist to evaluate some work.

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3 minutes

Closing Statement: Great work on these examples!  In the next couple of days we will be looking at ways to use them.

Closing Question:  What were some of the issues you had to solve to have a successful project?

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