What do your food chains and food webs lesson plans look like? During my food chain unit last year, I tried to introduce interdependence by asking what would happen to the other organisms in a food web if one animal in the food web decreased suddenly due to disease. “The other animals would catch the disease,” was a common misunderstanding. Another common answer was that the animals that depended on the missing animal would switch their diet to eat the other things. Students struggled with understanding that populations were balanced in healthy ecosystems and depended on each other in intricate ways. The diversity of energy relationships in food webs is complex and often misunderstood.
Teaching food chains and food webs helps students understand the complex interactions between different organisms in an ecosystem. By learning about how energy and nutrients are transferred from one organism to another, students can better comprehend the delicate balance of nature and the consequences of disruptions to that balance. Moreover, understanding food chains and food webs provides a foundation for learning about important ecological concepts such as population dynamics, energy flow, and the effects of human activities on the environment. Through hands-on activities, students can also develop critical thinking and problem-solving skills as they explore the interconnectedness of different organisms and their roles within an ecosystem. Hopefully, these food chains and food webs lesson plans will help you in your middle school classroom!
The Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) that are addressed by the topic of food webs in middle school are:
- MS-LS2-3: Develop a model to describe the cycling of matter and flow of energy among living and nonliving parts of an ecosystem.
- MS-LS2-4: Construct an argument supported by empirical evidence that changes to physical or biological components of an ecosystem affect populations.
- MS-LS2-5: Evaluate competing design solutions for maintaining biodiversity and ecosystem services.
By studying food webs, middle school students can learn about the interconnected relationships between living organisms and their environment. They can develop an understanding of how energy flows through ecosystems and how matter cycles within them. They can also explore the impact of human activities on ecosystems and the importance of maintaining biodiversity and ecosystem services.
Food Web Lesson Plans
Day 1: Introduction to Food Webs
- Introduce the concept of food webs and explain their importance in understanding ecosystems using visual representation. I use a slideshow or an independent workbook depending on the mechanics of the class. (Either way, the workbook becomes a great review tool.)
- Introduce the concept of food webs and explain their importance in understanding ecosystems.
- Use pictures or videos to illustrate examples of different organisms in a food web. The more examples you can give, the better. Students need to see various organisms participating in food webs in many niches.
- Explain the different roles within a food web (producer, consumer, predator, prey) and provide examples for each.
Day 2: Building a Food Web
- Review the concept of food webs and the different organisms that make them up.
- Explain the different parts of a food web (producers, primary consumers, secondary consumers, etc.) and how they are connected.
- Use pictures or diagrams to illustrate how the different parts of a food web are connected.
- There’s always the string lab – you pick a food web and assign each student an organism. Then, use string to connect organisms that either are eaten or eat another organism. This becomes a three dimensional food web. There’s a great example of this in our Shark unit plans.
- An extension of the string lab is to remove one organism from the ecosystem after you’ve created the web. Imagine an illness killing off one species or a drought killing the plants. Even better, tell a story of an invasive species competing with one of the organisms in the ecosystem. All affected organisms drop their strings and it’s easy to see how the entire food web collapses with that kind of disruption.
- Have students work in pairs or small groups to create a simple food web for a chosen ecosystem, including at least three different organisms in each of the producer, consumer, and decomposer categories. Encourage students to be creative in their choices and to think about the specific environment they are working with. I like to use either printable task cards or digital task cards.
Day 3: Energy Flow in Food Webs
- Explain how energy flows through a food web, starting with the sun as the source of energy.
- Show examples of energy pyramids and explain how they illustrate the flow of energy in a food web.
- Have students work in pairs or small groups to create their own energy pyramid for a chosen food web.
Day 4: Practice
- Vocabulary study is not easy for students. They need a tremendous amount of review and reinforcement. A great way to do this is have students travel to stations around the room and complete different activities at each station. Here are some to consider:
- Have students complete a digital escape room or a physical escape room.
- Have students complete a self checking worksheet such as a pixel art worksheet (here’s one for Thanksgiving) or a digital maze activity.
- Have a station for color-by-number.
- Pair students up to play a two player digital game for review.
Day 5: Assess
- I use a self grading Google form to assess food webs.
These food web and food chain lesson plans can be modified based on the specific needs of the class and the resources available. Additional activities could include research projects on specific organisms in a food web, role-playing activities to simulate the interactions between different parts of a food web, or field trips to observe real-life food webs in local ecosystems.