Food Webs in the 21st Century

Planning for an engaging way to have my sixth graders assemble food chains and webs was a challenge given their video game mentality, so I took an old trick and modernized it. Rather than take cutouts and pictures of producers, consumers, and decomposers and have the students arrange them according to what consumes what, I used MS Publisher. Using clip art and the drawing tools provided in Publisher, I had the students choose one producer, consumer, and a decomposer from clip art, arrange them in the proper order, and then label their food chains. While some students needed help understanding the concept of clicking and dragging the images to place them in the correct order for a food chain, the majority of them were fine, and actually got really excited about the project.

After placing the images I had them use the line tool to create arrows showing the flow of energy and then the text frame tool to write a short description of the transition (frog eats the mosquito, human eats the deer, etc.). I wish I had given them more time to work on the project, because not only were they excited about finding a better picture than the person next to them, they also tried making very long food chains with several levels of consumers and decomposers. I think what really clicked for them was that they weren’t tied down to whatever organisms I had cut out for them, or chosen before hand. Granted, I did have them start with a list we created as a class, but with the freedom to choose any organism they could find in clip art, they quickly began expanding upon what we had achieved as a class. It’s better than apiece of paper because I can offer extra animals or plants and they can quickly alter their webs to include it, rather then erase to make room. The extra practice they’re getting with Publisher skills like manipulating text, images, and lines will also help when I want to make brochures or other publications later in the year.

Don’t have Publisher on your computers at school? You can achieve the same results using MS Word (so versatile isn’t it?), or any other word processor and clip art. You could also have them make food webs using images they find online. Several of my students actually started to complain that they couldn’t find certain animals, so opening up the number of available images would help.