Investigating Food Webs in the Biomes

9 teachers like this lesson
Print Lesson


SWBAT to identify the basic characteristics of the major biomes: aquatic (marine and freshwater) and terrestrial (grassland, tropical rainforest, temperate, and tundra)

Big Idea

Help students connect and compare the biomes through this engaging research and visual art activity!

Notes for the Teacher

This simple activity allows students to connect their interest in nature to our key words:  biomes, ecosystems, abiotic and biotic factors, energy, food chains and food webs.  My goal here is to ensure that students are connecting some of our earlier work into a cohesive, integrated whole.  One of the key things I am looking for in this project is the accurate portrayal of the flow of energy within whatever ecosystem students have chosen to investigate and research.  For background into some of the early work students did in the beginning of the school year to connect micro- and macro- biology terms such as cell and ecosystem, check out this Unit One lesson.  

This is a great time of the year to start connecting back to early investigations in biology.  Students have a much broader and deeper understanding of biological systems and processes such as cellular respiration, photosynthesis, cell division, and ecology that they can draw from with confidence to connect the dots of our multifaceted biosphere.  Students enjoy looking at the macro- view of living systems now after an intense study of microscopic systems.  You will find that the conversations they have are detailed and complex, and the use of art in this lesson allows students a chance to decompress at the end of the semester as they prepare for standardized and final exams while they slow down long enough to fully concentrate on the connections between scientific terminology, concepts, processes, and systems.  As a bonus, these colorful and detailed diagrams with written descriptions are documents you can post throughout the room and that students can and will refer to throughout the rest of the semester for addition insight and review.  Many thanks to my colleague J. Conley for her work with this project idea as well!

The Classroom Flow: Introducing the Biomes

10 minutes

1. Ask students to think back to the start of our year and the word BIOME and discuss the following prompts:

What is a biome?

What are the major biomes called?  How would you describe each of them?

2. Use the spokesperson protocol to answer the prompts and create a classroom list of the major biomes (add in any biome that students neglect to mention).  Students tend to focus primarily on the rainforest, desert, and arctic regions but miss the differences between forest types and grasslands.  They will also be interested in new information that goes along with what they already know, such as terminology taiga and tundra.  

The final list of biomes (forest, grassland, tundra, and water) should include: Tropical Rainforest, Temperate and Boreal Forests (also called the Taiga), Savanna Grasslands and Temperate Grasslands, Artic Tundra and Alpine Tundra, and marine and freshwater biomes.

3.  Show one or both of these two short videos about the biomes.  Each of them is under five minutes long and I have used them both with my students, depending upon their particular interests as well as my own. 

4.  Show slides #1-6 on the ecology basics slide presentation for additional support on the biomes.  

  • Note:  I have included our unit slide presentation in its entirety for your background information regarding our general emphases and focus throughout this unit in our classroom.  There are a few particularly useful slides in relation to this specific lesson and they are listed by slide number both here and in the section below.

5.  Remind students of the work they have done about food chains and webs. You will find that students are readily able to respond to basic questions on this topic such as:

  • What are autotrophs?  How are they different from heterotrophs? Give examples of each.
  • How do these terms relate to terminology such as producers and consumers?
  • What are decomposers?  Give an example.
  • Where does all energy come from?  
  • How is the energy above (from the sun) transferred to autotrophs? (photosynthesis) How is that energy transferred to heterotrophs? (digestion-->respiration)

6.  Tell students that today each of them will be picking one biome and investigating the food chains and food webs that exist within their chosen environmental conditions.  You may also choose to have them work in pairs on this activity.

  • Note:  Students have already spent time discussing food webs and chains and you will see from the questions they can answer readily above, they are familiar and comfortable with the basic terminology.  This activity is really about adding the depth and detail to their understanding by linking those isolated examples they have in their minds about the interactions of living things into the broader idea of biomes across the globe.

The Classroom Flow: Researching and Representing Energy Flow in the Biomes

30 minutes

1.  After going through the review questions in the section above, show slides #18-20 on the ecology basics slide presentation to review food webs and chains with students.  Although many students could answer the review questions, this is a nice way to reaffirm understanding with visual representations and a summary statements that are written rather than just verbal.  The slides also provide students with an opportunity to ask clarifying questions while referencing something every person in the room can see/refer to in a way that doing this work only using verbal prompts cannot do as easily.

2.  Pass out the Food Webs and Energy Flow Through the Biomes document and review the major expectations for their work which include:

  • Each student (or student pair, your discretion) will choose one biome from the sign up document.  Biomes are assigned first come, first served so that each biome is represented equitably in the class.
  • Each student is expected to research their biome and create an accurate food web that is found within their environmental setting.
  • Each student will draw their food web and include each member's name with their role/definition written out along with their diagram.  Their must be a way for the viewer to easily link each picture to its appropriate explanation (numbering, color coding, etc.).
  • Each diagram must show time and care.  Each written document must be in the student's own words in accordance with our district Academic Honesty policy (no plagiarism).

3.  Tell students that the rest of the class period will be spent doing research on their biome so that they can draw and describe it for their final activity product.  

4.  Remind them of the class session studio time expectations:

  • Students will be focused on the task during the class period.
  • Students should use our slide presentation, notes, textbook, and may use their personal devices for internet sources for additional support.
  • Students should approach their teacher and collaborate with each other to deepen their understanding and clarify any additional questions that come up during the session.

5.  Tell students to sign up with you to approve their individual biome selection.

6.  Allow students to access materials, get settled, and get to work!


  • I typically break up the biomes onto a sign up sheet so that each will be equally represented within the students in each class and I don't wind up with 25 ocean biomes and no tundra representations. 
  • I have this structured as a solo activity however, you may choose to make it a paired assignment.  I don't tend to do this because I have found the way the work load breaks down is uneven both in terms of student effort and overall progress toward my learning goals.  
  • At this point in the school year, students will feel very comfortable getting into the flow of their assignment with confidence.  You may get some questions to clarify terms or specific members of their unique biome, but overall, the session will run smoothly.

The Classroom Flow: Sharing Out

10 minutes

1.  On the due date, ask students to arrange themselves according to the type of biome: forest, tundra, marine, or grassland.  Use signs in each corner of the room to indicate where each group will be meeting.

2.  Ask students to discuss the following prompts:

What similarities/differences do you see in each all of your biome representations?

What questions do you have after looking at each other's work?

3.  Use the spokesperson protocol to share out answers from each biome team.  Students will typically share out how interested they are in the level of diversity within the work they see throughout the classroom.  This project share out gives them a broader sense of just how many organisms there are on the planet outside of the most common ones they know already and an appreciation for the interconnectedness between each member of a food web.  At least one student will share that it makes more sense to them now when a scientist warns about the extinction of a small organism they've never heard of because now they can see the many different organisms that will be impacted by that specific food web member's absence.

  • Note:  Students will be interested in the large variety of organisms that live in each of their biomes.  Students may bring up questions about specific terms (secondary vs. tertiary consumer) or be curious about endangered species in each of their assigned areas of study.  Here is a great resource to share with students about endangered species.  The architect/artist of the Vietnam Memorial, Maya Lin, put together this virtual exhibit called What is Missing? It consists of an interactive world map showing different species, their status on the endangered species list and things we can do to help keep those populations in existence.  


4.  Ask students to post their work and allow time for students to walk around the class room to view the displays.

  • Note:  I graded this assignment holistically according to the original project document.  I looked for evidence of time and care in the drawing as well as correctly labeled energy flow arrows.  In their writing, I looked for definitions in their own words and specific examples of each term appropriate for their chosen system.  

Here are student work samples for this activity:




kelp forest

ocean with boat and shark