Wetlands Are Wonderlands

John Farmer
Type Category
Instructional Materials
This resource, vetted by NSTA curators, is provided to teachers along with suggested modifications to make it more in line with the vision of the NGSS. While not considered to be “fully aligned,” the resources and expert recommendations provide teachers with concrete examples and expert guidance using the EQuIP rubric to adapted existing resources. Read more here.



This resource consists of five activities for students to explore food webs and food pyramids within the context of a wetlands ecosystem. The example ecosystem is based in Ohio but would work as an ecosystem introduction in any state. The lessons highlight the interdependence of organisms within a wetland and how energy flows through food webs as higher order organisms consumer lower trophic level organisms. The first activity, How Does Energy Travel?, looks at food chain relationships within the wetland. The second activity, How Does EnergyTravel Through Food Webs?, allows students to create a wetland food web. In the third activity, Can one change in a Food Web Affect the Entire Community?, the students look at an example of a e single change that affected the entire ecosystem on Wolf Island. The fourth activity, What Is the Pyramid of Energy?, introduces the students to the Pyramid of Energy and the Rule of Ten Percent. The final activity, What Is the Role of Energy and Matter in an Ecosystem?students learn that although an ecosystem constantly recycles its matter, it must also constantly receive new energy to remain in balance, how the energy is used, and how to identify food web roles in the ecosystem. In the final activity, How Do Humans Fit into the Pyramid of Energy?students compare the foods they eat to the Pyramid of Energy in order to discover their consumer level. The time suggestion for this unit is seven 45-minute class periods.


Intended Audience

Educational Level
  • Upper Elementary
  • Grade 5
Access Restrictions

Free access with user action - The right to view and/or download material without financial barriers but users are required to register or experience some other low-barrier to use.

Performance Expectations

5-LS2-1 Develop a model to describe the movement of matter among plants, animals, decomposers, and the environment.

Clarification Statement: Emphasis is on the idea that matter that is not food (air, water, decomposed materials in soil) is changed by plants into matter that is food. Examples of systems could include organisms, ecosystems, and the Earth.

Assessment Boundary: Assessment does not include molecular explanations.

This resource is explicitly designed to build towards this performance expectation.

Comments about Including the Performance Expectation
Students are using a series of models (food chain, food web, and energy pyramid) to understand ecosystems. While the activity does an excellent job of showing how energy moves from producers to first, second, and third level consumers, decomposers are not mentioned in this activity. The teacher should add this information to more fully address the performance expectation. This activity could also be strengthened by having students construct models of local ecosystems,as well. Note: A common misconception among elementary students is that the arrow in a food chain or food web should point from the predator to the prey, for example from the frog to a bug, since the frog is eating the bug. The teacher should reinforce the concept that the arrow shows how the energy moves, so the arrow points from the bug to the frog, who now has energy from the bug.

5-PS3-1 Use models to describe that that energy in animals’ food (used for body repair, growth, motion, and to maintain body warmth) was once energy from the sun.

Clarification Statement: Examples of models could include diagrams, and flow charts.

Assessment Boundary: none

This resource is explicitly designed to build towards this performance expectation.

Comments about Including the Performance Expectation
The beginning of this lesson addresses energy transfer. Later lessons guide students to make connections between what they eat and how energy flows through food chains. During day 6 teachers can improve the lessons connections to NGSS by stressing what animals use food for (body repair, growth motion and to maintain body temperature) and where the energy to perform such processes comes from. The students should ultimately create a written explanation supporting the claim that the energy in animal food was once energy from the sun using evidence from the models and readings provided throughout the unit.

Science and Engineering Practices

This resource is explicitly designed to build towards this science and engineering practice.

Comments about Including the Science and Engineering Practice
Always connect the model back to the sun as the original source of energy. The students should create a written explanation supporting the claim that energy in animal's food was once energy from the sun using evidence from the models and readings provided throughout the unit. This unit uses a variety of models to support learning, and the students are allowed to create their own unique model by creating their own food webs. The students also predict which animals will consume other animals in their ecosystem based on the Online Wetlands Ecosystem information sheet.

Disciplinary Core Ideas

This resource appears to be designed to build towards this disciplinary core idea, though the resource developer has not explicitly stated so.

Comments about Including the Disciplinary Core Idea
This concept will be easier for students to connect to if 5-LS1-1 (Support an argument that plants get the materials they need for growth chiefly from air and water) is addressed previously or bundled together with 5-PS3-1.

Crosscutting Concepts

This resource is explicitly designed to build towards this crosscutting concept.

Comments about Including the Crosscutting Concept
Students create wetlands ecosystems, and then follow the energy as it moves between animals. They also learn that the amount of energy that moves to the consumer from the prey is only about ten percent of what the prey has consumed. The teacher should emphasize that although some energy is transferred to the predator, much of the energy is used by the prey to live.

Resource Quality

  • Alignment to the Dimensions of the NGSS: This resource helps the students to make sense of the phenomena of energy movement in food webs. To ensure a more thorough alignment, the teacher will need to introduce the concepts of producers getting their energy from the sun, and then decomposers breaking down dead plants and animals, which return energy to the earth. The students need to understand that the energy moves in a cycle, which will prepare them for the next concept at the middle school level.

  • Instructional Supports: This unit included a time-line, a day-by-day description of suggested instruction, website links, student lab sheets, and templates for multiple models. Supports for ELL and struggling students are not present, although the variety of hands-on models may be helpful for those students.

  • Monitoring Student Progress: Many formative assessment strategies are offered (completed lab sheets, completed food webs, writing assignment about Wolf Island, etc.), as well as a content-driven summative writing assessment. If instructor chooses to have students construct an explanation at the end of the unit, a rubric would need to be developed to evaluate the writing.

  • Quality of Technological Interactivity: Students use a variety of resources that are available online, but they do not interact with the materials. All activities could be completed without the aid of a computer. To more fully integrate technology, the students could actually build their food web online to present to the class, rather than drawing it on an overhead. Moving pictures would make the presentations much more entertaining to the students. This would probably add a day to the length of the unit, however.