As part of our worm unit, I've constructed Food Chain Activity Cards to introduce kids to the idea that all living things are connected. I've made a deck of cards that include an earthworm, as well as a variety of earthworm's enemies, and then additional animals that will allow kids to see how animals connect to one another. The 32-card activity includes a variety of pictures of plants and animals and a variety of food chain vocabulary. The free download is available at the end of this post.
Implementing the Food Chain Activity with Kindergarten-age Children
Our focus is earthworms, so I had my 5 year old son Caleb pick the worm card first. With questions such as "What do worms eat?" and "Who eats worms?" As you can see in the photos, I gave him a dry erase marker and let him draw right on the plastic tablecloth that covers the white cloth one. I think writing on the table was his favorite part of the activity. He went a bit crazy with the arrows as we added more and more cards.
We started simply with a single food chain drawing arrows in the direction that the energy moves. So plants is first card, with an arrow pointing to the worm. Then the child can pick any predator/enemy of the worm to go next. Caleb drew an arrow to the bird and then the owl.
Tip: Arrows point in the direction in which the energy moves.
Then we started over and made a new chain, again starting with the plant/soil and worm. The purpose of doing several linear chains was to make sure he understood that worms are eaten by several different animals. Then we stepped it up a notch by putting the worm in the middle and drawing arrows outward to represent the animals that eat the worms. Arrows going in multiple directions is how we began our food web.
From there we kept working out drawing lines and seeing what connections we could make. Caleb liked it when the card was on the opposite side of the table and his line had to go all the way around or through the web. You just never know what gets them excited!
Modifications and Extensions for the Food Chain Activity
Change the Surface. We manipulated the cards on a flat surface but you could easily put magnetic tape on the back and allow kids to place the cards on a fridge, chalkboard, or dry erase board. Arrows could be made with pipe cleaners or gummy worms!
Help solidify the BIG ideas.
- Sun is needed to start the chain! The food chain activity deck has a sun in it, and it is important that kids understand that all of our energy comes from plants that are able to do something that we can't! We can't use sunlight to create food...but plants can. Here's an angle: Even if you don't like to eat plants directly, you eat things that have eaten plants. And that is an important concept for kids to get. So including the sun before the plants in your food chains might be a good idea!
- Decomposers are Crucial. If you've not read There's a Hair in My Dirt! A Worm's Story by Gary Larson (yes the Far Side Cartoonist), this book drives this point home. As does the book The Magic School Bus Meets The Rot Squad: A Book About Decomposition. If it weren't for the decomposers we wouldn't have soil, therefore we wouldn't have plants, and without plants all the animals die. Kinda important!
Critical Thinking: After kids make a food web, consider taking one of the cards away and have them think about how that would affect the food web. What organisms would have less food? What other foods would animals be competing for? What might be the short-term and long-term affect of this change?
Implementing the Food Chain Activity with Elementary Age Children
I made 21 plant/animal cards and the remaining cards are food chain vocabulary. The vocabulary cards should make the activity applicable to the higher grades.
I include the vocabulary terms:
- Plant Eating (herbivore)
- Meat Eating (carnivore)
- Plant and Meat Eating (omnivore)
- Primary Consumer
- Secondary Consumer
- Tertiary Consumer
- Quartenary Consumer
Categorize The Cards
With the vocabulary cards you could choose to have kids categorize the cards into any of the following groups:
Producers (make food from the sun), Consumers (eat producers), and Decomposers (conduct the rotting process)
Then if you wanted, you could have the kids further categorize the consumers into primary, secondary, tertiary, and quartenary. For this activity be sure to have the kids explain why they have categorized the card the way they did because many some cards can be placed in more than one category depending on what he ate! For example, the hawk could go into the tertiary or quartenary category!
Another categorizing activity that even the kindergartner might be able to do, is placing the cards into groups of which ones eat plants (herbivores), which ones eat meat (carnivores), and those that eat both (omnivores). What might be a bit tricky is insects. While we adults don't think of insects as having muscle (they actually do), and therefore do not think of them as "meat," we do consider animals that eat insects carnivores. Kids might do just fine with this!
I've had a bit of fun played with the Food Chain Activity Cards but I'm sure there are many other ways to use them. PLEASE share your ideas I'd LOVE to hear how you end up using them, or if there are things I can add to make it fit your needs! Enjoy!I linked up at: