Roles In An Ecosystem

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SWBAT distinguish between producer, carnivore, herbivore, and omnivore.

Big Idea

Students will identify roles in an ecosystem by classifying organisms as producers, consumers, or decomposers.

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 participate in distinguishing 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, discover that plants use the sun' energy to produce food for themselves, and that it gets transferred within a food chain from producers to consumers to decomposers. 

Lesson Synopsis   

In this lesson, Roles In An Ecosystemsstudents identify and define different types of consumers and how they obtain energy to grow, develop, and survive.  I activate student's prior knowledge by asking them to think and write about how organisms get energy in order to grow. Then I identify and explain the roles of producers, consumers, and decomposers through a powerpoint. Once we identify and define roles, we create an energy pyramid displaying types of consumers with each part of it and discuss the transfer of energy from one organism to another. I end the lesson with an open repsonse question that is used as a formative assessment.

Next Generation Science Standards  

This lesson will indirectly address and support future lessons on 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-PS2-1. Use models to describe that energy in animals food was once energy from the sun. 

Why Do I Teach this Lesson and Address This Standard?

I teach the Roles 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, other living organisms, and ecosystems. In addition, the movement of matter among plants, animals, and decomposers is a topic students are tested on during state standardized testing; therefore,  I find it important to expose my students to key terms prior to a complex concept, like the food chain and food web in order for them to truly develop a thorough understanding of how matter moves among organisms and how animals' food was once energy from the sun in future lessons. Students take part in inquiry based investigations and apply their evidence to explain justify their thinking. Providing my students the opportunity to practice this type of learning 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 an energy pyramid to display how energy is transferred from one organism to another. It illustrates how the amount of energy passed on gets smaller as it gets passed on from one organism to the next. When a living organism gets their food source, that energy is used to help them grow and develop, leaving very little of the energy they consumed for the next consumer.

4.) Analyzing and Interpreting Data-  Students analyze a prairie ecosystem and identify specific roles in it-producers, consumers, decomposers. Then they use these roles to explain how energy moves through the ecosystem

Crosscutting Concepts   

The Roles In An Ecosystem will correlate to other interdisciplinary areas.  These Crosscutting Concepts include:

5.) Energy and Matter- Students distinguish roles in an ecosystem to explain how energy can be transferred from one organism to another in an ecosystem.


Disciplinary Core Ideas

Disciplinary Core Ideas within this lesson include:

LS1.A Structure and Function:


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

Determining the Best Answer Strategy

I begin the lesson by directing the students attention to the board with the question: How do living organisms get energy to grow, develop, and live?  I hand out a piece of paper to each student and tell them they are writing their answer to the question on it. After a few minutes, I explain that they are sharing their written response, one at a time with their group members. I tell them it is important to listen carefully to each response being shared and encourage them to ask their group members questions too. I continue explaining: "Once everyone in your group has shared, together you must think about all the information members shared and work together on creating one response to be called the best answer."  I go on saying it is not picking one answer from the groups responses, rather it is combining answers to construct the best answer possible.

As students are working, I circulate the room and listen to conversations. I notice good collaboration among group members. Students are justifying details to use in their new answers and eliminating duplicate information.  

Once students finish constructing the best answer. I hand out construction paper and ask them to display each member's original answer in the corner and place their best answer in the center. I ask each group to share out their best answers. 

Once all groups share their best answers, we discuss some of the common pieces of information shared. Some of these include eating foods like plants and animals, water, getting sleep, and the sun. The fact the many mention the sun as an energy provider suggests they understood the importance of the sun's role in our photosynthesis lesson.


The Best Answer-Student Sample



20 minutes

After listening to students share their best answer, I ask a student to read our standards board aloud. "Today we will identify organisms that obtain energy from other organisms so they may grow, develop and survive and discuss that this energy was once energy from the sun."  

Identifying Energy Sources for Certain Organisms  

I direct student's attention to the front board where a powerpoint  is projected. I explain that I am going over the vocabulary words- producer, consumer, and decomposer, and as I present information about each one, they are recording on a vocabulary graphic organizer.  I hand it out to them and point out each section saying, "With each one, I am sharing examples of organisms. Please write these organisms on your graphic organizer. This graphic organizer is going to be an important reference sheet for our next two lessons on food chains and food webs."

The powerpoint begins by reviewing the six characteristics of living organisms. I review these characteristics because they are indirect reasons for why organisms need to obtain energy for growth and development.  I talk about the importance of sun's role for organisms as it is a key ingredient for a plant to complete the process of photosynthesis. I explain it is the primary source of energy for organisms since producers use it to make food and consumers and decomposers rely on producers.

After identifying the sun as the primary source, I proceed with the remaining slides defining the roles of other organisms. At the same time, students are continuing to write down key details to develop their understanding of these types of organisms.


15 minutes

Guided Inquiry- What is an Energy Pyramid?

After identifying roles of organisms, I display an energy pyramid to further explain how each organism obtains energy, I hand out a blank energy pyramid to the students.  I do this so as we explore and discuss the different levels, students are active participants and writing details in each section.

 Energy pyramid

I point out that the levels of the pyramids show how energy flows through one organism to another based on who eats who within a particular ecosystem. I continue explaining, "Notice how the bottom of the pyramid is the largest one source of energy and after that each level gets smaller as energy is passed on from one organism to the next. This is because only a small amount of energy makes it onto the next organism. When a living organism gets their food source, that energy is used to help them grow and develop, leaving very little of the energy they consumed for the next consumer.  By the time the original energy makes it to the top of the pyramid, most of it is gone or there's very little remaining."  I add on, " This pyramid model was created by scientists to show and explain how energy decreases from one level to the next as organisms obtain energy from other organisms."

Identifying the Roles in the Energy Pyramid

I explain that the kinds of living organisms we discussed earlier in the lesson fall into each portion of this pyramid.  I move their attention to the bottom of the pyramid.  Here we identify this section as producers and students label their organizers.  I explain that producers are the largest source of energy because they are able to use the sun's energy to produce its own food through photosynthesis; therefore, they are known for being largest energy provider for food chains and webs. They provide energy for everyone else.

Next I identify the next level as primary consumers and have students label it.  I share with them that primary consumers are the herbivores, which are first level consumers to obtain energy because they rely on plants as their energy sources.  After the primary consumers (herbivores), I identify the next level as the secondary consumers as students label it. I explain that secondary consumers obtain their energy from from the primary consumers. They are made up carnivores and omnivores.

At the top of the energy pyramid are tertiary consumers, they are carnivores because they eat secondary consumers. They are typically at the top of the food chain because they are not eaten by any other animal.

Finally, I talk about decomposers. I show students there does not appear to be another level in the energy pyramid. I direct them to the bottom of the pyramid and have them label this as decomposers. I reiterate that a decomposer gets energy from decaying matter - dead plants and animals and as they eat, they release nutrients and minerals back into the soil, which will be used by plants as they grow and develop, which is why we are placing them under the producers.

Student sample-Energy Pyramid




10 minutes

Applying What You Learned

I instruct students to keep their vocabulary and energy pyramid on their desk so they can refer to it as a reference/resources for their next task.

I display a prairie ecosystem on the board and ask students to analyze it.

Prairie Ecosystem

Then, I give them the image on the handout that also has three questions on it.  I say to students, "In this prairie ecosystem there are many biotic and abiotic features. Lets share out some observations of these features before we answer these questions." Student notice there are nonliving (abiotic) things such as air, soil, and mountains and point out the living (biotic) things, wolf, mouse, tree, grass, snake, and mushrooms.

Once we identify these features, I direct them to the questions below.

  1. Identify the primary source of energy in the prairie ecosystem.
  2. Identify one producer, one consumer, and one decomposer shown in the picture of the prairie ecosystem.
  3. Explain how the energy from the primary source you identified in part (a) moves through the prairie ecosystem. Be sure to include producers, consumers, and decomposers in your answer.


Using your graphic organizer from earlier in the lesson, you are writing a response to each question.  I have them work independently on this assignment. If time permits, I have students share their answers to the questions. In this case, I had a student who wanted to explain the process on the board with a diagram.

I collect all responses at the end of class for a formative assessment.