Day 1-Food Chains...Moving Matter in an Ecosystem

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SWBAT define food chain and describe how energy in animals food was once energy from the sun.

Big Idea

Students will create a food chain model and use it to describe the movement of matter among plants, animals, decomposers, and the environment.

Lesson Overview

5e Lesson Plan Model

Many of my science lessons are based upon and taught using the 5E lesson plan model: Engage, Explore, Explain, Elaborate, and Evaluate. This lesson plan model allows me to incorporate a variety of learning opportunities and strategies for students.  With multiple learning experiences, students can gain new ideas, demonstrate thinking, draw conclusions, develop critical thinking skills, and interact with peers through discussions and hands-on activities.  With each stage in this lesson model, I select strategies that will serve students best for the concepts and content being delivered to them.  These strategies were selected for this lesson to facilitate peer discussions, participation in a group activity, reflective learning practices, and accountability for learning.

Unit Focus  

The Ecosystems and Interactions unit focuses on students recognizing the interrelationship between organisms and their ecosystems.  It engages students in understanding that organisms have observable characteristics that are fully inherited and can be affected by the climate and/or environment. Students distinguish structures that define classes of animals and plants, and develop an understanding that all organisms go through predictable life cycles. They learn that organisms depend upon one another for growth and development and discover that plants use the sun's energy to produce food for themselves. They observe how the sun's energy is transferred within a food chain from producers to consumers to decomposers. 

Lesson Synopsis    

In this lesson, Day 1-Food Chain...Moving Matter in an Ecosystem, students begin by sharing what they had for dinner and enter into a discussion about how we obtained energy from other organisms. Then they took part in several computer simulations and learned how food chains can be simple to complex. Once they practice several models on the computer, students create their own models and diagrams illustrating the flow of energy from one organism to another.

Next Generation Science Standards  

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

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

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.  

Why Do I Teach this Lesson and Address This Standard?

I teach the Day 1-Food Chain...Moving Matter in an Ecosystem  lesson because many of my students have very limited background in science since the elementary school's within my district do not formally teach science prior to my students entering the 5th grade (the middle school); therefore, they have not been exposed to earlier grade level NGSS standards or other previous state standards pertaining to animals, plants, and ecosystems.  I find it important to expose my students to parts of these earlier standards in order for them to truly develop a thorough understanding of how matter moves among organisms and developing models to describe how animals' food was once energy from the sun in future lessons. based investigations and apply their evidence to explain outcomes and phenomenons. Furthermore, providing my students the opportunity to practice this type of discourse will help to facilitate their scientific thinking for future investigations in any lesson.

Scientific & Engineering Practices

Students are engaged in the following scientific and engineering Practices

2.) Developing and Using Models: Students create models and diagrams of different food chains from simple to complex by using computer simulations. They also create a diagram with organisms of their choice and explain how energy from the sun is used by plants and then moves through other organisms in that ecosystem.

8.) Obtaining, Evaluating, and Communicating Information: Students take part in a computer simulation to develop an understanding of food chains and the transfer of energy from one organism to another. They write and diagram this information using a graphic organizer.

Crosscutting Concepts

The Day 1-Food Chain...Moving Matter in an Ecosystem lesson will correlate to other interdisciplinary areas.  These Crosscutting Concepts include:

5.) Energy and Matter: Student develop a diagram to illustrate the movement of energy from one organism to another using the sun as the primary source of energy.

Disciplinary Core Ideas

Disciplinary Core Ideas within this lesson include:

LS1.C Organization for matter and energy flow in organisms.

LS2.A Interdependent Relationships in Ecosystems


Importance of Modeling to Develop Student

Responsibility, Accountability, and Independence 

Depending upon the time of year, this lesson is taught, teachers should consider modeling how groups should work together; establish group norms for activities, class discussions, and partner talks.  In addition, it is important to model think aloud strategies.  This sets up students to be more expressive and develop thinking skills during an activity.  The first half of the year, I model what group work and/or talks “look like and sound like.”  I intervene the moment students are off task with reminders and redirecting.  By the second and last half of the year, I am able to ask students, “Who can give of three reminders for group activities to be successful?” Who can tell us two reminders for partner talks?”  Students take responsibility for becoming successful learners.  Again before teaching this lesson, consider the time of year, it may be necessary to do a lot of front loading to get students to eventually become more independent and transition through the lessons in a timely manner.


15 minutes

Using Real World Examples to Activate Prior Knowledge

I start the lesson by stating: All living organisms need energy to live. But how do we get our energy?

Then I ask, How do you get your energy to live? (This is a review from yesterday's lesson.) Students acknowledge that we get energy by eating other organisms.  So I ask, “What did you eat for dinner last night?"  I have volunteers share aloud and I write them on board,a salad, pizza, tacos.  I explain that some food items that are created by multiple ingredients, meaning a variety of organisms contributed to making their meal. For example a taco is made up of beef and a shell (made of grains). We identify the beef came from a cow and a shell is made of grains from a plant. 

Now, I start modeling and illustrating the components I am discussing with them so they have a visual.  I draw a person on the board, then a cow.  I move on and ask, "What do you think a cow eats to get energy?" Students share grass, so I draw grass. Finally I ask, "How does the grass get its energy?"  A student shares photosynthesis. This indicates they understand plants make their own energy so I ask, "What source of energy helps with the process of photosynthesis?"  I hear sun and then draw that on the board.

With a row of images/models of organisms and the sun on the board. I ask them, How can I show that energy moving from one source to another.  I explain that arrows help us show movement of material from one place to another. I draw an arrow from the sun going into the grass, the arrow leaving the grass and going into the cow, an arrow leaving the cow and into the person.  Finally we add decomposers. I place an arrow leaving a person over to a decomposer to represent it becoming broken down matter and recycled material.




15 minutes

I pose the question, "What exactly is a food chain?"  I play this clip from the Lion King, to get them to start thinking about defining it. 

I selected this clip because of its familiarity with students and the connection it makes with the circle of life in relation to the food chain. This portion of the song indicates the relationship of organisms, including eating them to survive. As the lion explains that when organisms like the antelope die, they become part of the grass and since other organism eat the grass we become part of the process of life again. Implying that the circle of life is directly and indirectly impacted by the relationships of organisms with one another and how they survive. We have a brief discussion about this and its connection to the food chain. Organisms rely on one another for food to grow and survive. We think back and recall the components of our energy pyramid in the last lesson.

Then I say, "let's read about at the parts that create a food chain and then try to define it." 

 Defining a Food Chain  

To help students further develop their understanding of a food chain, I hand out the chromebooks and bring students to the Kids Corner website. I selected this website because it clearly defines the components of a food chain. It simplifies the complexity of this concept. I handout a "My Understanding of Food Chains" graphic organizer and tell them we are using it to keep track of details

First, read the information on the first tab.  On the graphic organizer, I direct students to box 1 on their graphic organizer. Here they use the information they read about and write a response to the question: Why do organisms need energy?  On this page, students discover that all living organisms need energy to grow and survive. Then, they move onto box 2, How do organisms get energy?  students identify that organisms obtain energy from eating food which is implied as eating other organisms. Next, in box 3, students write a definition for food chain.  Details should be about a model that shows how energy is obtained and passed on from one organism to another.

After reading, The Food Chain and completing boxes 1-3 on the graphic organizer, I instruct them to click on the tab Bigger Food Chains. We read the information and then answer the box 4 questions, How are arrows used in a food chain?  This is an inference based question as the information is implied in paragraph one.  It is important to point out to students the significance of arrows as they are key to illustrating the flow of energy.

While on this page, I have students identify the roles within the sample food chain models. I want them to recognize that food chains consist of producers, consumers, and decomposers.



10 minutes

Computer Simulated Food Chain Models

After we read, define, and develop an understanding about a food chain, I point to the remaining two boxes of the graphic organizer and tell them they are using these boxes to draw or write sample food chains.

Food Chain Model

I have students click on the food chain game and practice creating food chain models. This is an interactive game that gives students opportunity to start off small with a simple food chain and then work their way up to building more complex food chain models as these include more consumers and other organisms like decomposers. Once students complete a food chain, the organisms become animated and simulate the flow of energy from one organism to another.  For some students who need more of a challenge, I direct them to the interactive game called chain reaction where students build food chain models based on animals in certain biomes. In addition, once students complete a food chain model, it asks them to think about what happens when an organism is removed from the chain. I liked this component because in our next lesson, food webs, students are introduced to this concept. The pre-exposure prepares them to better understand the idea of balance in an ecosystem.

I tell students to draw at least two of the models they created from the game on their "My Understanding of Food Chains" graphic organizer.  I tell them to make sure they identify it by the title they read on game page they are on.

I am looking for students to draw a simple diagram to illustrate a food chain. I also look to see they have included arrows in their diagrams. It is important that students understand the significance of the arrows within a food chain as it shows the flow of energy moving from one organism to another. 

 Food Chain Model from computer



15 minutes

Constructing A Diagram of a Food Chain.

I hand out a reference sheet of organisms' and their role in a food chain, to each student. This list identifies producers, herbivores, carnivores, omnivores, and decomposers.  I give them this list so they have a resource to help them construct their own food chain models. Next, I hand out a bag that contains images of organisms listed on their reference sheet handout. I tell them to begin examining the images so they become familiar with the name of the organism and what it looks like. 

Next, I let them practice setting up different food chain models. I reiterate to them that they need to refer to the reference sheet to make certain the organism receiving energy from another organism is would eat that organism in real life. This helps them identify the food sources of different types of consumers.  

Once they try out a few different food chains, I ask them to create one they would like to share with the class.  Before they create a model of a food chain, I remind them to use arrows to show the flow of energy leaving one organism and and going into another.

While they are working, I circulate the room, monitoring diagrams and checking in with students making sure diagrams are accurate.

Evaluate/ Exit

10 minutes

Sharing Our Food Chain Diagrams

Once students have created a diagram of a food chain, I ask them to explain how the flow of energy is moving from one organism to another.  I ask for a few volunteers to start us off by explaining their diagram. I do this so other students can recognize that a variety of food chains can be created with the organisms given to them.