Food Chains & Food Webs: Direct Instruction

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Objective

Students will be able to read and understand food chains and food webs.

Big Idea

Eating out in the natural world.

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Purpose of Lesson:  The purpose of this lesson is to give students the opportunity to understand and be able to read food chains and food webs.  

Major Strategies to Watch for:

Hook-  I use a discussion strategy in the hook to create better discussions and improve student ownership of learning.

Guided- I use a questioning strategy in the Guided practice to help students ask richer questions about a resource.

Ready. Set. Engage

5 minutes

Learning Goal:  Understand and be able to read food chains and food webs.

Opening Question:  What do you already know about food webs and food chains? 

My purpose in asking this question is to find out where the whole class is, activate prior knowledge, and get a base starting place for our work.  As the students share out answers I put them on the board.  Once wee have many ideas up front, I summarize the main ideas and make a statement about where we are right now in our learning.

Today I said, "Based on what you all have told me, you know that food chains and food webs show connections between what animals eat and what eats them.  It sounds like we are not sure how to draw the arrows or what happens to the energy and matter."

This opening question is a pre-assessment type.  I'm trying to find out from the students what their current knowledge is and where the majority of the class is.  Today I discovered that while the students had some knowledge about food chains, they did not understand food webs at all. 

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

Hook

5 minutes

The purpose of this section is to give students a taste of the learning of the day and get students in a discussion mode.

This is a great video for a couple of reasons.  First, the information is very good even if it is not professionally presented.  Second, this is a wonderful example of student work.  During this unit students will have a chance to make a presentation, poster, or animated video.  Showing high quality student work is motivating to students.

Before the video, I ask students to keep an eye out for big ideas and use of vocabulary.  I tell the students that at the end of the video they will be having a discussion with their partner on the video.

At the end of the video, I ask the students to get out the student trackers and use the anchor chart to have an academic discussions.  The prompt for the discussion is "What was important in the video?"  At the end of the discussion I use the checklist below to have students evaluate and record their discussion.

____ We stayed on topic.

____We used the sentence starters.

____ We built off of other people's statements.

____ We made real world connections.  

Once students have recorded their grade on the discussion, I ask them to make a plan with their partner for the next graded discussion.

Focus

7 minutes

The purpose of this section is to open up my thinking on food chains and food webs to students.

I start this section by reminding students that we have seen food chains the day before.  Then I put the same Food Chain and Food Web Examples on the board or project it.  I walk through the food chain point out the most important things I want the students to know, what the arrow indicates, where the energy is coming from, and that energy and matter travel from organism to organism in the food chain.  

Then I draw or project a food web.  I point out the similarities and the focus on the differences.  Typically, this is a very easy concept for students to grasp and serves more as an opportunity to review the important learnings rather than teach new material.  

Here is a screencast of what my focus lesson might sound like.

Unable to display content. Adobe Flash is required.  

Guided Practice

10 minutes

The purpose of this section is for students to practice using the food chain and food web to ask and answer questions with each other and the class.

I begin by telling the students that we are going to create a food chain and a food web to learn more about a mountain ecosystem.  I deliberately choose animals familiar to most of my students here in Colorado.  Later on in the unit students will have an opportunity to research and design their own food chains and food webs.  The students record the food chains and food webs in their lab notebooks so that they can use them later in the discussion.

Now that the energy diagrams are made, I have the students create some questions about the energy diagrams.  Writing questions is a great way to get students to push past the lop layer of learning into more complex thought.   I use resources from the book, Higher Level Thinking by Kagan, because it has a wonderful question matrix that pushes students towards asking interesting and rich questions instead of boring shallow ones.  (I've included an adaptation of the matrix in my lesson resources.)  I print out and glue questions onto tag board and then laminate them because we use them so often in class.  This makes a really easy resource you can get out at anytime to encourage questioning! 

I model for the students how I would use the question matrix to develop a couple of questions about the energy diagram.

Some examples --

  • How might the energy get into the grass?
  • Why might the lion eat the moose instead of the deer?

Now the students spend several minutes writing their own questions next to the energy diagrams in their notebooks.   The students use the matrix as the sentence starters for their own questions.  In this way they are able to create upper level questions very easily.

  I ask students to share their questions and I write them on the board.  The students will be using these questions in the next session.  Before we continue I give feedback on the questions they created, showing the students how the question matrix allowed them to ask better questions.  Invariably, the students create better questions than I did! However, I make sure to add some of my own questions that can lead to probing how changing the ecosystem would effect the organisms in the ecosystem.  Some of the questions I add are:

What might happen if a disease kills off some of the primary consumers?

What might happen to the ecosystem if hunters killed off all the mountain lions?

How might toxins in the water travel up the food chain?

How are the organisms in the ecosystem dependent on each other?

Below is a photo of a student question page.

Collaborative Practice

10 minutes

The purpose of this section is to give students a chance to collaboratively answer questions and have discussions using the food chains and food webs.

 

 

 

Now that we have a group of questions, I make sure the students are in groups of 4-5 and let them know that it is time for a collaborative discussion.  If the students questions were really good I will mark the ones for the groups to work on.  Otherwise, I will mark the questions I wrote.

What might happen if a disease kills off some of the primary consumers?

What might happen to the ecosystem if hunters killed off all the mountain lions?

How might toxins in the water travel up the food chain?

How are the organisms in the ecosystem dependent on each other?

 I pull up our collaborative anchor chart just to remind students of our norms for working together.  

I let students know that we are going to have a collaborative discussion and that we should continue to use the sentence stems from our discussion anchor chart.  This really helps kids go deeper and stay focused on learning.  I also let the students know that they can discuss the questions on the board of their choosing and in the order that they like.  

 The expectation for the students is that the will answer the questions in their lab notebooks in a CSIQ format (Complete sentences including questions)  Students have access to their notes and each other to come up with the answers.

 

While students are discussing and writing, I walk around the room using my tablet to record learning behaviors using Class Dojo.

  Class Dojo is a free app that you can use to monitor student behavior.  It allows you to choose or create behaviors that you are interested in monitoring and to point those out to kids.  By have the app open on my computer and tablet, all the points students score are immediately shown on the screen.  This creates motivation and pushes the students to stay on target.  I tend to stand in the middle of the room so that I can tune into different discussions at will. The students can modify their avatars to personalize the experience even more.  

If the students finish answering their questions early I ask them to share their answers with another group to check for understanding.

Independent Practice

7 minutes

The purpose of this section is to give the students some thinking time comparing and contrasting food chains and food webs.

The students have now had a chance to see my thinking about food chains and food webs, develop their own high level questions, and answer the questions in group conversation and writing.  They are now ready for some independent work, which is going to be to create a compare and contrast chart.

There are many types of charts to use for compare and contrast thinking, such as; Venn diagrams and Double Bubble thinking maps.  This chart though is very straight forward and easy for the students to navigate.

I have the students get out their notebooks and make a new page heading that they add to the Table of Contents.  This page is called Food Chains and Food Webs Compare and Contrast.  The students create the table of three columns adding the labels, Food webs, Both, and Food chains.  Then they use their knowledge to fill in the columns with facts that apply to the title of the column.

You can see an example here.  

Closure

3 minutes

Closing statement: Today we looked at how food chains and food webs both show energy and matter moving, but food webs have more pathways available.  Tomorrow, we will look at food pyramids.

Closing Question:  Today we looked at how food chains and food webs both show energy and matter moving, but food webs have more pathways available.  If you were asked to make an energy diagram, how would you decide what to make?

 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