7th Grade Science : Unit #6 - Energy in Life: Food Chains & Food Webs : Lesson #2

Food Chains & Food Webs: Pre-Requisite

Objective: Students will be able to access the foundational knowledge they need to understand energy diagrams.
Standards: 5-LS2-1 MS-LS2-3 SP2
Subject(s): Science
60 minutes
1 Teachers' Lounge - 0 minutes

Purpose of Lesson:

The purpose of this lesson is to set the stage for learning about food chains and other energy diagrams.  There are some introductory concepts that it is important students understand as well as vocabulary that we will use throughout the unit.  Finally, I want to show students how the learning in this mini- unit is related to the other learning in class through a concept map.

Major Strategies to Watch for:

In this lesson, I use a collaborative vocabulary protocol that helps students learn new words.  I also use a concept map of the unit to help students put their learning in perspective.  

Unit plan and mini-unit plan
Unit Planning

Here the unit plan is explained: 

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Here the mini-unit plan is explained:

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2 Ready. Set. Engage! - 5 minutes

Learning Goal: Understand the words and ideas we will need to learn about energy diagrams.

Opening Question:  From looking at the food chains yesterday, what words do you think are going to be important to really know well?

Today, after the students are done with their opening question, I open the floor to the students to hear their responses.  Together we build a word bank on the board that we can use throughout the class.  

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

This screencast explains how the students record their learning goals.

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3 Hook - 5 minutes

The purpose of this section is to hook the students' attention and spark some interest for the work to come.  I like to start with this video clip from the Lion King because most students will have seen it and it makes a great jumping off point.  

Before it starts, I remind the students that Disney videos are mostly made for 5-7 years olds and this represents a very "young" look at the idea of food chains and connections.  I tell the students that we will be building off of this "little kid" understanding to get to a middle school understanding of food chains and food webs.  


The students watch the video and then raise their hands to state what they noticed in the video.

4 Important Prior Concepts - 10 minutes

The purpose of this section is to get all students to the same point of understanding on the underlying ideas of energy diagrams.

1) The arrow goes the way the energy flows.

2) Energy diagrams show the flow of energy AND matter in an ecosystem.  

To do this, I do a quick mini-lesson using the Background Information: Food Chains presentation.  During the presentation, stop and check for understanding by asking the questions on the slides.  I like to have students Think-Pair-Share after I've asked the question, but then I pull a name stick to select someone to respond. 

This random selection of students to respond raises accountability (everyone must be prepared to respond, so all are expected to do the thinking requested in the question) while ensuring that a small number of hand-raisers do not dominate classroom discussion. This also benefits the teacher, who now is gathering formative assessment data on a broader selection of students.

Pulling sticks also positively influences classroom culture because it sets the expectation that every student adds value to the classroom discussion.

5 Vocabulary Activity - 15 minutes

Now that students are excited to learn about food chains and know what they are going to learn about, it is a perfect time to introduce some vocabulary words.  I use a multimodality strategy to introduce only about five to seven words, and do this in collaborative groups of four with each person having an assigned job.  

1- Word person- states what they already know about the word or what the word means to them.

2- Image person- States what they think about the picture and what it means to them.  

3- Definition person- Reads the definition and states what it means to them.

4- Sentence Person- Reads the sentence and states what it means to them.  

I project the presentation on the board or put individual copies at the desks.  For this lesson, students are learning the words; producer, consumer, herbivore, carnivore, and decomposer.

I use a timer and a bell.  Each person gets 15 sec for their role.  In the beginning of the activity the students need to be trained on what to do and it helps to give them some sentence starters, like "This means..."  "When I hear this I think..."

After each person has rotated through their roles for the first word, I give the students 1-2 min of independent time to make their TIP charts (Term, Information, Picture) for that term. Then we move on as a class to the next term.  Later in the year, when students are familiar with the process this can be released to them to manage their time.  But in the beginning I manage the time to keep the class on track.

This work has meaning and purpose. Students keep these homemade glossaries in their folders and can use them on all the work we do in class including tests and quizzes.  This is a great resource for them to use the rest of the year!

Below is a screenshot of the slide and a video of the student discussion for the word PRODUCER


The power of routines
Routines and Procedures

I was recently evaluated and my evaluator asked me about whether my kids were just ritually compliant or whether they were actually engaged.  Really, there are fewer questions in the world that can make me see red faster! First, it is such a judgement call.  I love being evaluated but I am sick to death of Monday morning quarterbacking.  Second, what is the big deal about ritual compliance?  In fact, I would argue that ritual compliance is a necessity in class and that it leads to higher levels of learning and doing.

This activity is a perfect example.  Are kids really ENGAGED in learning the vocab?  I don't know! They seem to like it, they talk to each other, they smile.  I don't think they go home and say, "OH MY GOSH!  We did the best vocab activity EVER today."  But isn't a better question, "Are they learning the vocabulary?  To that question I can say YES!  They are learning vocab better than they ever did before.  They are using the words in discussions, and getting the words right on tests and quizzes, they are pulling out their glossaries and using the word wall.  

And ritual compliance is a big part of this activity.  It is always the same.  I don't switch it up because the kids do better with a structure they can depend on.  The first few times I do this activity the students shyly put forth ideas on the table, worried that I am tricking them and am really going to ask them something hard.  Now they THROW their ideas on the table exuberantly because they feel comfortable and capable.

Sometimes, when evaluators get into engagement they forget that the most important aspect of engagement is the students' belief that they can do the work.  Rituals, routines, and procedures may look like compliance but in actuality they are the structure that allows the students to feel safe and secure in their work. 

6 Closure - 2 minutes

Closing Statement: The learning goal today was to understand the words and ideas we will need to learn about energy diagrams.  Today we looked at food chains and learned that the arrow shows how the energy and matter is moving from one organism to another.

Closing Question: What was the most important thing you learned today and how does it relate to you.

 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