Ecology Box

5. Food Chains - Getting Ready

Getting Ready

  1. Make copies of organism cards for each student.
  2. Make an overhead copy of the food pyramid. If your classroom does not have an overhead projector, you can draw a similar diagram on the board or make a few copies to pass out and for students to share among themselves.
  3. Set out colored pencils, scissors, and glue sticks in an easily accessible a

5. Food Chains - Logistics

45-50 minutes



  • 1 copy of organism cards for each student 
  • 1 copy of food pyramid overhead for the teacher
  • colored pencils
  • scissors
  • glue sticks
  • optional: envelopes

Setting classroom

5. Food Chains

Students review the concepts of food chains and the roles of organisms in a food chain through a simple card sorting activity. Cards representing different individuals in a California ecosystem are first sorted by herbivore, carnivore, dentrivore, and omnivore, then are reordered to create several food chains. In addition, students begin to understand the idea of a food pyramid – since all living things use energy to move, reproduce, respond to the environment and grow, less energy is available to pass on at each link of the food chain.

4. Pond Water


Delve into a micro-habitat that is the size of a drop of water. This lesson allows students to explore the plankton (organisms that drift with the currents) that exist in a drop of pond, lake, or bay water. A microscope is required to view most organisms although some are observable with a hand lens. If possible, this is a fantastic opportunity for students to collect the pond water themselves using pantyhose and a small bottle. If you are pursuing a restoration project, collecting water might be an excellent excuse for an initial visit (as long as the creek/body of water has regions of relative calm where algae can grow on the rocks). Plans for both an initial creek visit activity and a classroom investigation of the water sample are included in this lesson plan. If it is not possible to bring students to the creek or pond, then you can collect the sample ahead of time and skip the creek visit and sense of place activity.

2. Water Analysis - Getting Ready

Getting Ready

  1. Prepare 3 stations around the classroom with the materials needed to conduct that test and a printout of the student instructions (see attachment at bottom of summary page).
    1. Temperature: thermometers, water samples
    2. pH: pH paper, labels, small cups, water samples
    3. dissolved oxygen: dissolved oxyg

2. Water Analysis


Students conduct 3 tests of water quality in the classroom that can then be applied to their terraqua columns and to the outdoors: pH, dissolved oxygen, and temperature. They make comparisons between different types of water and draw conclusions about how "healthy" each water source is for fish and other organisms. Through this process, students practice their observational and data analysis skills. Water quality monitoring data is routinely used in the "real world" to determine the effects of habitat restoration, development, pollution, and wastewater treatment. It is often the initial step in describing the health of an ecosystem. There are hundreds of ways to extend this simple activity and make connections to the real world - from monitoring water quality in a local creek to making comparisons between different bodies of water in your area.

3. Soil Analysis - Lesson Plan

Lesson Plan

  1. Discuss the Comparing Soil Homework from the night before. This assignment asks students to observe and compare 2 samples of soil, one from home, one from school, and to devise original tests to look for differences between the soils. Some examples of questions to ask:
    • What did you observe about the school soil? about your home soil?

3. Soil Analysis - Getting Ready

Getting Ready

  1. Prepare 4 stations around the classroom with the materials needed to conduct that test and a printout of the instructions (attachments can be found on the bottom of the summary page).
    1. Soil observation: paper towels, magnifying glass, 2 different soils labeled in plastic cups, spoons <

3. Soil Analysis

Soil Profile from Tabott county, Tennessee

Students conduct 4 tests of soil quality in the classroom that can then be applied to their terraqua columns and to the outdoors: visual observation, soil separation, pH, and Tullgren Funnel (to isolate living things in the soil). They make comparisons between 2 different types of soil and draw conclusions about how "healthy" each soil is. Through this process, students discover the major "ingredients" of soil: clay, silt, sand, organic material, water, air, living things, and minerals. By recording information in their science journals, they learn how to keep good notes and share the information with others in the class during a concluding class discussion about what "healthy" soil might look like and why.

1. Terraqua Columns - Logistics

30 min ecosystem lesson and discussion
20 min build terraqua column frame
20 min add soil, water, and seeds
* I recommend building the terraqua column frame on one day then adding the soil, water, and seeds the following day.

2-3 students

For each group:

  • 1 clear 2 Liter soda bottles
  • 1 foot wick (1-2 cm wide strip of old cotton towel)

For 2-3 groups to share:

  • Awl OR electric drill with 3/8 inch bit
  • Hole punch
  • Box cutter
  • Scissors
  • Sharpie marker

For whole class to share:

  • Soil, either store-bought potting soil or soil from outside
  • Hand trowel
  • 1 package radish seeds OR Wisconsin Fast Plant seeds
  • Water, either tap water or pond/creek water
  • Graduated cylinder


  • Rubbing alcohol (for erasing sharpie marker lines)
  • Clear tape