Why do Animals Need Energy?

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SWBAT explain why animals need energy to survive.

Big Idea

In this lesson, students learn about the four basic ways animals use energy to survive. Students will then apply this understanding by researching how specific animals use energy.

Lesson Overview

Inquiry Based Instructional Model

To intertwine scientific knowledge and practices and to empower students to learn through exploration, it is essential for scientific inquiry to be embedded in science education. While there are many types of inquiry-based models, one model that I've grown to appreciate and use is called the FERA Learning Cycle, developed by the National Science Resources Center (NSRC):

1. Focus

2. Explore

3. Reflect

4. Apply

A framework for implementation can be found here

I absolutely love how the Center for Inquiry Science at the Institute for Systems Biology explains that this is "not a locked-step method" but "rather a cyclical process," meaning that some lessons may start off at the focus phase while others may begin at the explore phase. 

Finally, an amazing article found at Edudemic.com, How Inquiry-Based Learning Works with STEMvery clearly outlines how inquiry based learning "paves the way for effective learning in science" and supports College and Career Readiness, particularly in the area of STEM career choices. 

Unit Explanation

In this unit, students will first develop an understanding of the biotic and abiotic factors within ecosystems, the characteristics and classification of living organisms, and how plants and animals obtain and use energy to fulfill their needs. 

Then, students will delve deeper into the NGSS standards by examining the interdependent relationships within an ecosystem by studying movement of matter between producers, consumers, and decomposers by creating models of food chains and food webs.  

At the end of this unit, students will study ways that individual communities can use science ideas to protect the Earth's resources and environment.  

Summary of Lesson

Today, I will open the lesson by discussing how animals use energy to survive. Students will then explore how specific animals, such as a snow leopard or seahorse, use energy to survive by researching an online text and completing an idea web. 

Next Generation Science Standards  

This lesson will support the following NGSS Standard(s):

5-PS3-1.    Use models to describe that energy in animals’ food (used for body repair, growth, motion, and to maintain body warmth) was once energy from the sun.  

5-LS2-1.    Develop a model to describe the movement of matter among plants, animals, decomposers, and the environment.  

Scientific & Engineering Practices

For this lesson, students are engaged in the following Science & Engineering Practice:

Science & Engineering Practice 7: Engaging in Argument from Evidence

Students construct arguments that animals need energy to move, grow, stay warm, and heal using text evidence. 

Crosscutting Concepts 

To relate ideas across disciplinary content, during this lesson I focus on the following Crosscutting Concept

Crosscutting Concept 2: Cause and Effect 

Student examine how animals are able to survive due to the fact that the energy in their food was once energy from the sun. Students also discuss what would happen if animals did not have energy and what animals can do because of energy. 

Disciplinary Core Ideas

In addition, this lesson also aligns with the following Disciplinary Core Ideas

PS3.D:  Energy in Chemical Processes and Everyday Life

The energy released [from] food was once energy from the sun that was captured by plants in the chemical process that forms plant matter (from air and water). (5-PS3-1)

LS1.C:  Organization for Matter and Energy Flow in Organisms

Food provides animals with the materials they need for body repair and growth and the energy they need to maintain body warmth and for motion. (secondary to 5-PS3-1)

Plants acquire their material for growth chiefly from air and water. (5-LS1-1)

LS2.A:  Interdependent Relationships in Ecosystems

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. (5-LS2-1)

LS2.B:  Cycles of Matter and Energy Transfer in Ecosystems

Matter cycles between the air and soil and among plants, animals, and microbes as these organisms live and die. Organisms obtain gases, and water, from the environment, and release waste matter (gas, liquid, or solid) back into the environment. (5-LS2-1)

ELA Integration

To add depth to student understanding, when I can, I'll often integrate ELA standards with science lessons. Today, students will work on meeting CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RI.5.2: Determine two or more main ideas of a text and explain how they are supported by key details; summarize the text. In this lesson, students will be using multiple resources (both print and digital) to locate key details that support the main idea, "animals need energy to survive."

Choosing Science Teams

With science, it is often difficult to find a balance between providing students with as many hands-on experiences as possible, having plenty of science materials, and offering students a collaborative setting to solve problems. Any time groups have four or more students, the opportunities for individual students to speak and take part in the exploration process decreases. With groups of two, I often struggle to find enough science materials to go around. So this year, I chose to place students in teams of three! Picking science teams is always easy as I already have students placed in desk groups based upon behavior, abilities, and communication skills. Each desk group has about six kids, so I simply divide this larger group in half. 

Gathering Supplies & Assigning Roles

To encourage a smooth running classroom, I ask students to decide who is a 1, 2, or 3 in their groups of three students (without talking). In no time, each student has a number in the air. I'll then ask the "threes" to get certain supplies, "ones" to grab their computers, and "twos" to hand out papers (or whatever is needed for the lesson). This management strategy has proven to be effective when cleaning up and returning supplies as well!  


20 minutes

To begin, I invite students to gather on the front carpet with their clipboards and pencils. 

Lesson Introduction & Goal 

I introduce today's learning goal: I can explain why animals need energy to survive. I explain: Yesterday, you learned how the energy in animals' food was once energy from the sun. Today, we are going to take this one step further by researching why animals even need energy. 

Teacher Note: This lesson is inspired by the NGSS Standard 5-PS3-1: Use models to describe that energy in animals’ food (used for body repair, growth, motion, and to maintain body warmth) was once energy from the sun. The lesson is inspired by the four basic ways animals use energy to survive (mentioned in the standard): body repairgrowth, motion, and to maintain body warmth. 


I want to use every opportunity I can to model how to use supporting details to support a main idea (CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RI.5.3), so I pass out a Student Notes Template to each student and I construct the following poster Animals Need Energy to Surive Poster with student input. 

I begin by stating the main idea: Animals need energy to survive. I then ask students to turn and talk: What is an animal? During this time, I listen in on conversations. During this conference, I realize the importance of constantly reviewing scientific vocabulary for retention: What is an Animal?.

Then, through discussion, the students offer the following bulleted notes on animals: 

  • living organism
  • are always consumers
  • all are vertebrates or invertebrates
  • all are cold-blooded or warm-blooded 
  • need oxygen
  • can't make their own food
  • multicellular


I ask students, What is energy? Students remember, "Energy is the ability to do work." 

We then move on to discussing how animals need energy to survive. I ask students to turn and talk again: Why do animals need energy? Here, I listen in as students explain how animals need energy to breathe and eat: Why do Animals Need Energy?

I ask students to continue with their conversations by discussing: What "work" do animals need to do in order to survive? What do animals use energy for? After some time, we discuss this question as a class. With guidance, students come up with the following supporting details. For example one student says, "Animals need energy to catch their food," I then guide the student by saying: So animals need energy to move?  

  • Animals need energy to move.
  • Animals need energy to grow.
  • Animals need energy to repair their bodies.
  • Animals need energy to maintain body warmth.


Below each of the supporting details, I have students elaborate by taking further notes on how animals move and how animals grow, etc.

Here are some examples of student notes during this time: 


This notes template turns out to be an effective way for students to organize their thoughts, which is an important part of categorizing information in their minds. 

Explore, Reflect, & Apply

50 minutes

To make this lesson even more meaningful for students, I want to provide them with the opportunity to explore, reflect, and apply. Instead of students memorizing that animals need energy to move, grow, stay warm, and heal, I want students to explore how specific animals use energy in these ways to survive.  

Animal Resource

I share the following resource, Animal Resource Link, and a document in Google Drawing with students: Animal Research Web in Google Drawing. Students copy the Google Drawing to have their own editable copy. Here's a PDF version of this document that could be used alternatively: Animal Research Web.

Getting Ready

I invite all students to get their computers. After partnering students up in pairs, I ask one student to pull up the Animal Resource Link and the other student to pull up the Animal Research Web in Google Drawing. This way, the two students will work together to research and complete the web without having to toggle back and forth between the two on one computer screen. 

Once students are ready, I ask each pair to scroll through the animals featured on the Animal Resource Link to choose an animal that they are both interested in and that has plenty of information. Some animals only have a paragraph or two of information. Favorite animal choices include seahorsessea turtles, jaguars, and spirit bears

Monitoring Student Understanding

Once students begin working, I conference with every group. My goal is to support students by asking guiding questions (listed below). I also want to encourage students to engage in Science & Engineering Practice 7: Engaging in Argument from Evidence.

  1. Do you agree that _?
  2. What do you think about _?
  3. What is most important?
  4. What would happen if_?
  5. What does this remind you of?
  6. Are you surprised by anything?
  7. How has this text changed your thinking? 
  8. What conclusion can you draw about ____?

 Student Conferences

During this conference, it is clear that Extracting Details from the Text is easier said than done! These students realize that bobcats use energy to move by finding food, shelter, and place to raise their young. Since the text doesn't specifically state, "Bobcats need energy to..." or "Bobcats move by..." this lesson truly requires students to use higher level thinking processes to make inferences about the text details. 

Here, Providing Text-Based Facts, a group shares their findings on snow leopards. Similar to other texts, the snow leopard text doesn't specifically address how this animal heals itself. Instead, this group uses the text to explain how the snow leopard could hurt itself (by climbing rocks). They explain "Snow leopards could fall and get injured." This is a perfect example of making fact-based inferences to further understand scientific concepts! 

Student Work

Here are a couple examples of work during this time: 


I definitely would have liked to see student attend to capital letters and punctuation better, however, I was proud of their perseverance with the assignment!