Interactive Interdependence

Julie LaConte; NSTA
Type Category
Instructional Materials
Article , Lesson/Lesson Plan
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.


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This article describes an interactive lesson in which the complexity of food webs and ecosystems is explored.  Students generate a list of organisms in a Pacific aquatic ecosystem, assign each organism to a student, and then link the organisms together in a food web using string. Students tug on the string to identify the connections in the food web. In response to several potential changes the teacher describes, the students tug on their strings to predict patterns of interactions. Next, they investigate the limiting factors in an ecosystem. As a concluding activity, students respond to how organisms are affected with differing "Interdependence Scenarios."

Intended Audience

Educational Level
  • Grade 8
  • Grade 7
  • Grade 6
  • Middle School
Access Restrictions

Free access - The right to view and/or download material without financial, registration, or excessive advertising barriers.

Performance Expectations

MS-LS2-2 Construct an explanation that predicts patterns of interactions among organisms across multiple ecosystems.

Clarification Statement: Emphasis is on predicting consistent patterns of interactions in different ecosystems in terms of the relationships among and between organisms and abiotic components of ecosystems. Examples of types of interactions could include competitive, predatory, and mutually beneficial.

Assessment Boundary: none

This resource appears to be designed to build towards this performance expectation, though the resource developer has not explicitly stated so.

Comments about Including the Performance Expectation
This lesson facilitates student comprehension of the complexity of ecosystems. Students model a food web using themselves and yarn, a simple but powerful activity that provides students the opportunity to construct an explanation of relationships between the biotic and abiotic factors in an ecosystem. The "Salmon Tales Field Trip" link is no longer active, however local ecosystems can be easily substituted and this is encouraged to maximize student engagement. Find an appropriate video that shows a local top predator and brainstorm the connections between that predator and it's prey. Videos about ecosystems can be found at

Science and Engineering Practices

This resource appears to be designed to build towards this science and engineering practice, though the resource developer has not explicitly stated so.

Comments about Including the Science and Engineering Practice
The "Human Food Web" activity provides a powerful opportunity for students to make sense of ecosystem dynamics. These explanations should be discussed during the whole group interaction of creating a food web and during the small group interaction investigating limited factors. Students should then be able to construct an independent explanation in response to the four scenarios. The explanations can be written, diagrammed, or verbal. It would also deepen understanding if students prepared real-world scenarios for each other to respond to.

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
The "Meeting the Animals Needs" (Allen 2002) game builds on student understanding of ecosystem complexity by providing students the opportunity to make sense of the phenomenon of "carrying capacity".

Crosscutting Concepts

This resource appears to be designed to build towards this crosscutting concept, though the resource developer has not explicitly stated so.

Comments about Including the Crosscutting Concept
The lesson provides opportunities to develop and use specific elements of the crosscutting concept by student participation in all three activities. The "Human Food Web" facilitates student comprehension of the interactive nature of ecosystems. The "Meeting Animals Needs" game (Allen 2002) illustrates the ripple effect of changes in the abiotic and biotic factors. If you choose, you could have the number of students acting as each type of organism mirror the number of those organism in nature (instead of only one per organism as recommended in the article). Then, as a change happens, students can witness how population size changes.

Resource Quality

  • Alignment to the Dimensions of the NGSS: This lesson integrates the three dimensions to support students to make sense of the phenomenon of the interdependence of food webs with two primary activities and a formative assessment.

  • Instructional Supports: The lesson provides numerous opportunities for students to express, clarify, justify, interpret, and represent their ideas about food webs. In the first two activities, responses to peer and teacher feedback is oral, although the teacher could exercise discretion to build connections to the Common Core State Standards in English Language Arts. The teacher would need to develop a rubric in this case.

  • Monitoring Student Progress: The final activity in the lesson is for formative assessment of students' three dimensional learning about ecosystems. Students are presented four different written scenarios. These require responses that explain their deep understanding of the interconnections between abiotic and biotic factors in an ecosystem.

  • Quality of Technological Interactivity: - none -