Teaching the food chain/food webs in a biology classroom

23rd March, 2010 - Posted by Teacher - 1 Comment

Teaching food chain/ food webs

Submitted by Robin Dahman (Biology teacher in Lorain, Ohio)


yarn, toy plastic animals, scissors, large styrofoam ball, yellow spray paint, eager students

Students struggle to make the connections between memorized vocabulary and application of that vocabulary.  I have come up with a fun and interactive way to teach the application of necessary concepts in ecology. 

First, I have bought multiple tubs of plastic toy animals from the local dollar store. I have reptiles, ocean animals, farm animals, etc….. These tubs come with trees and other plants usually.  I place the students in groups of 3 and randomly pick out a handful of animals for them. 

Next, one member of the group obtains a piece of yarn from me. I have a reference page on the board with vocabulary they need to use such as producer, primary consumer, secondary consumer, tertiary consumer, and decomposer.  The students are then asked to make a food chain that demonstrates the appropriate transfer of energy from organism to organism.  The students are given permission to trade organisms with another group but when doing so must ask for which trophic level they need (i.e. “I will trade a producer for a primary consumer”). 

Once they think they have a correct food chain, they raise their hand and you check it.  If correct, the group stands in one area of the room.  Once everyone has a proper food chain, they must then correctly connect them all into a food web (This is a long process that can be frustrating but resist the urge to contribute). There cannot be any loose yarn, it must be interconnected to something.  

Finally, Place a large styrofoam ball that has been painted yellow on the ceiling in the middle of the room and then hang your web around it.  The web should cover most of your ceiling.  The concept is now embedded in your students minds!!! Especially the concept that the ultimate source of energy is the sun.

1 Comment

Sammie Lotz

March 23rd, 2010 at 9:16 pm    

I am so glad that you shared this lesson. I found it amazing that you shared this wonderful idea while you were at NSTA sitting in a MOOTB demonstration that focused on sorting by attributes. It just shows that skills that are taught in elementary grades build throughout a students educational experience into expanded ideas. What is introduced as comparing and sorting progresses in a math classroom broadens into the science high school classroom as classification and identification. Everything is TRULY connected!

In the Math Out Of The Box series, we have the greatest manipulatives that come in the kits but can be sold seperately that would go great with this idea. Let me know if there is something that you are looking for specifically.

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