8 Hands-On Activities to Master Food Chains and Food Webs

Isn’t it great to be at the top of the food chain? As human beings, we can rest easy, far from the realm of prey animals. After all, other organisms aren’t so lucky!

Even though we have no natural predators, it’s still important to explore and understand food chains and food webs. It’s vital knowledge, and not just to prevent your upper elementary students from falling prey to science tests!

Bad jokes aside, engaging students in the exploration of the relationships and interactions between organisms in an ecosystem is super important to better grasp life science as a whole. Without energy moving through various organisms to reach us, we wouldn’t be able to go about our daily lives!

Thankfully, the knowledge students need is summed up in NGSS 5-LS2. With these guidelines, all that’s left is to make the concept of food chains and food webs tangible and relatable. How? With engaging, hands-on activities, of course! 

You know I won’t leave you hanging—I’ve done the hard part of coming up with those activities for you. That’s right: your life science lesson plans are practically being written for you!

Let’s not waste any time. Here are eight dynamic food chain activities!

Food Chains & Food Webs Activities

Food Chain Mobile

To start off, let’s explore a classic favorite: creating a hanging mobile. Start by assigning each student a biome (or letting them choose one from a list), being sure that your classroom has a healthy amount of diversity. If you’d like, you can also allow students to work in pairs. Hooray for cooperative learning!

Each student (or pair of students) must then come up with a producer, a primary consumer, a secondary consumer, a tertiary consumer, and a decomposer that fit into their assigned biome. Then, they should draw and color their biome-appropriate organisms to the best of their ability. The more color, the better, right?

Since these images will be the hanging pieces of the mobile, I recommend folding a sheet of paper into quarters and trying to keep each organism’s picture within one quarter of the paper in order to have consistently-sized mobiles. Once their drawings are finished, students should then flip the paper over. On the back, they should record their organism’s role in the food chain; whether it is an herbivore, carnivore, or omnivore; and which biome they belong to.

Next, students can cut out their organisms, being careful to avoid cutting through their writing on the back. I recommend simply cutting along the folds of the paper rather than trying to cut along the outline of the drawings. Afterward, it’s assembly time! Use a hole puncher and yarn to carefully connect the organisms, making sure the mobile follows the order of the food chain.

From there, simply attach the top of the homemade food chain to a hanger or hook, and voila! One hanging mobile ready for display wherever you’d like. If you have a drop ceiling, you can even hang the mobiles from there!

Food Web Collage

Full disclosure: this one will require materials that you may have to collect from outside the classroom. To save on these materials, you’ll want to divide students up into groups. Provide these groups with magazines, newspapers, and other materials that they can use to create collages of food chains! Of course, these materials should be ones that you’re okay with losing, since students will need to cut out images of organisms.

As they find organisms, the group should work together to arrange them into a food chain on a piece of construction paper. Some organisms, like beetles or fungi, may be hard to find if you aren’t using nature magazines or the like. If students absolutely cannot find a creature to fit a role in their food chains, then consider allowing them to use technology to print out an image or simply drawing the organism directly on the paper.

Once the food chain is finished, students should decide which biome best fits their menagerie of organisms. They can also add more organisms that they come across to shift their food chains into food webs.

These collages can be displayed, too—they’d make a great hallway display!

Causation Cards Role-Play

That’s right: more engagement coming your way! Whether you’re looking to introduce the concept of food chains and food webs or you want to reinforce prior learning, causation cards are an excellent choice.

If you’re new to the causation card scene, allow me to give you a brief overview. Every card in the set has an action to perform and an informative phrase to speak aloud, as well as instructions on when to speak to ensure students are paying attention to other performers. These actions are color-coded, too, for accessibility. Sometimes an action will have an associated prop, but they’re always common classroom items!

The phrases and actions on the causation cards are often definitions of terms or an explanation of a process. With integration of both speaking and listening skills, it’s an excellent opportunity to build fluency, prosody, and reading accuracy while still exploring your science topic. After all, we love an integrated curriculum!

Besides building those necessary skills, causation cards are a great way to interact with food chains. Allowing students the opportunity to move and speak is a surefire way to captivate their attention and ensure engagement. Those tricky vocabulary terms just became a lot more memorable!

You can find my food chains and food webs causation cards here!

Create a Yarn Food Web

In this whole-class activity, start off by assigning each student an organism or letting them choose from a premade list. It’s a good idea to use creatures from the same biome to ensure all organisms are related, or else you’ll end up with one wacky food web!

Once they have their organism, students should write it down in large letters on a horizontal sheet of paper and either tape it to their shirt or hold onto it to set on the floor in front of their feet. This is so other students can see what organism everyone is at a glance.

Then, students will form a big circle around the room. The activity will kick off by giving one student a ball of yarn. This student will then pass it to someone else in the circle that has an organism that is somehow connected to their own organism in the food chain. The important part is this: when passing the ball of yarn, the original student should keep some of the string for themselves so everyone can see where the connections have led.

In addition, the student passing the yarn ball should also explain how their organisms are connected using vocabulary terms. For example, the interaction could look like this: “As an earthworm, I am a decomposer who returns nutrients to the soil for you, the grass, to get energy as a producer.”

The yarn passing should continue in this way until there are no more available connections that make sense. When this happens, toss a new yarn ball of a different color to continue. By using different colors, students can more easily visualize the different food chains that make up a food web.

It’s important to note that the yarn ball can be passed either up or down the food chain so long as there is a direct connection. A producer cannot pass the yarn to another producer, but they may pass it to either a primary consumer or a decomposer.

Also, to ensure everyone is able to participate, try to assign an equal number of each type of organism. For instance, if you have 25 students, aim for five producers, five of each type of consumer, and five decomposers.

Food Chains Fishing

Fishing for food chains is another partner activity! For this one, you’ll want to do some prep ahead of time. Create a set of construction paper organisms (I recommend 15 or 20 cards with an equal number of each type of organism found in food chains) and attach paper clips to each “card.” You can either make the “fishing rods” yourself or have students do it; regardless, the fishing rods are made by tying a string to a dowel or stick and attaching a magnet to the end of the string.

Have students partner up and provide each partner unit with a set of cards and a fishing rod. To get started, kiddos should spread the cards out face-down and take turns “fishing” for organisms with the magnet. When they “hook” a card, the student should turn the card over to reveal which organism they fished up. Then, they determine where the organism is found within food chains, such as being a producer, decomposer, or one of the three consumers.

In addition, the student should come up with an example of another organism that is connected to it either above or below on the food chain and explain how they are related. If the other student agrees with all of their answers, then they get to keep the card. Continue in this manner until all the cards are fished up. Whoever has the most cards at the end wins!

War of the Food Chains

Similar to the fishing for food chains activity, create a set of construction paper organisms and provide each student with one set. Students will then find a partner to start the fun! Before beginning, everyone should shuffle their deck of cards and then stack them face-down on the table.

Like a traditional game of War, both students will flip over the top card of their deck at the same time. Then, they will compare the two organisms. Whoever has the organism that is higher on the food chain wins that round, and they get to take both cards.

It’s important to note that, in order for the game to work properly, you’ll want to decide ahead of time if you want decomposers to be the lowest or highest tier on the food chain. Personally, I recommend the following order: decomposers > tertiary consumers > secondary consumers > primary consumers > producers. Of course, it’s up to you!

Students should continue flipping cards and comparing them until there are no cards left. Whoever has the most cards collected at the end of the game wins!

Food Chains Relay Race

This is another class-wide activity, though your class will be divided into two teams. Each team should form a line facing the whiteboard. Provide each time with a dry erase marker to share.

For every round of this activity, you must come up with an organism for each team. The students at the front of the line for their teams should then hurry to the whiteboard and write an organism that is connected to your organism on the food chain as well as a brief explanation of how they’re connected.

For instance, if you choose “grass” for a team, that team’s student could write “grasshopper: primary consumer” or “earthworm: decomposer” as both of these options are either directly above or below grass on the food chain.

Once a student has answered with a correct response, they hurry back to their team and pass the marker. Then, the process repeats! Continue until one team has made it through all their students. The first team to do so is the winner!

Since this means the other team may have members who didn’t get to participate, you can go through several games to ensure everyone gets a turn.

Food Chains Memory Match

Once again, it’s time to break out the organism cards! Create a set of construction paper cards that have an organism on each card. The caveat is that there should be an even number of cards in the set, since this activity is a matching game. In addition, there should be an even number of each type of organism found in food chains as well. For instance, you could have four producers, four decomposers, and four of each type of consumer.

Have students partner up and provide each set of students with a deck of cards. Then, they should spread the cards face-down and take turns flipping over two cards at a time. If the two flipped cards are the same type of organism, like an earthworm and a fungus, then it’s a match! The student then gets to keep both cards.

If the cards are not the same type of organism, however, the cards should be flipped back over and the student’s turn is over.

For clarity, it may help to label each card with the organism’s role within food chains, as some animals can fluctuate between secondary and tertiary consumers depending on the ecosystem. There’s no need to make it tricky!

The students should take turns flipping cards until all the cards are collected. Whoever has the most cards at the end wins the game! This activity can be quick, so it’s definitely possible to squeeze in a few rounds.

By incorporating these eight hands-on activities into your food chains lesson plans, you’ll significantly boost your kiddos’ engagement and deepen their understanding of food chains and food webs. In addition, when there’s active participation like speaking and collaboration, students are much more likely to retain their learning and maybe, just maybe, you’ll spark a further interest in science!

If you’re ready to check for understanding, check out my food chains task cards! They’re a perfect way to review content and provide you with a covert assessment. You could even use them as science centers if you’re feeling adventurous!

You know your classroom best, so I have every confidence that you’ll choose activities that are a good fit for your upper elementary science students. Although, to be fair, it’s always a win as long as there are real-world connections and teamwork involved! No matter which activity you choose from this list, you can be assured you’re building a comprehensive understanding of food chains.

I hope your food chains lesson goes swimmingly! Don’t forget to share with a pal if you enjoyed these activities.

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