Chew, Bite, Chomp

California Academy of Sciences
Type Category
Instructional Materials
Activity , 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.



This activity, created by the California Academy of Sciences, gives students the opportunity to explore the relationship between the structure of their teeth and their various functions. The students eat different types of food, consciously noting the differences in which teeth they use to eat them. They discover that incisors are usually used for cutting or slicing foods (like carrots or celery), canines are best for piercing or tearing foods (like dried fruit or crusty bread), and molars are most effective for grinding foods (like popcorn or pretzels).

Intended Audience

Educational Level
  • Upper Elementary
  • Grade 5
  • Grade 4
  • Grade 3
  • Grade 2
Access Restrictions

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

Performance Expectations

4-LS1-1 Construct an argument that plants and animals have internal and external structures that function to support survival, growth, behavior, and reproduction.

Clarification Statement: Examples of structures could include thorns, stems, roots, colored petals, heart, stomach, lung, brain, and skin.

Assessment Boundary: Assessment is limited to macroscopic structures within plant and animal systems.

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

Comments about Including the Performance Expectation
This activity focuses on a very easily observed example of the relationship between structure and function that impacts students every day. To reinforce and extend this understanding, teachers could have students engage in activities that investigate the structures of bird beaks or feet, insect mouths, or plant seeds. The teacher may want to allow students to experience the phenomenon and limit introductory information. The foods could be distributed first without the recording sheet, and students could chew them and note where in their mouths they chew it. Then the recording sheet and vocabulary can be reviewed so they can relate tooth shape and the proper names for them to their experience during a second round of chewing with recording. Students might create visual or physical models to explicitly evaluate tooth structure, and compare human teeth to those of other animals or designed objects. This could also be extended to include mouth systems in general, e.g. those of cats, elephants, or blue whales.

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
After recording which type of teeth they used to chew each food, students are asked to explain why different teeth were used for different foods. Class results are compiled to facilitate discussion, providing an opportunity for students to critique the explanations of others, defend their own findings, and analyze differences in conclusions. Students are encouraged to consider variables like missing teeth or orthodonture and their effect on results.

Disciplinary Core Ideas

This resource is explicitly designed to build towards this disciplinary core idea.

Comments about Including the Disciplinary Core Idea
Students are asked to consider how tooth shape is adapted to tooth function in humans and to make predictions about which type of teeth would to chew other foods. To more fully address this core idea, students might investigate the tooth structure in other animals through pictures, video or other activities. Comparing the teeth of herbivores, carnivores, and omnivores can deepen the understanding of how they are adapted to the diet of a given animal. The Skull Alphabet, by Jerry Pallotta, includes detailed images of animals' teeth, and can be used to analyze the relationship between diet and mouth structures.

Crosscutting Concepts

This resource was not designed to build towards this crosscutting concept, but can be used to build towards it using the suggestions provided below.

Comments about Including the Crosscutting Concept
This activity is focused on the relationship between structure and function, which at the 3-5 level in Life Science should also include the concept of substructures. Teachers should emphasize that teeth can be understood to be substructures of the mouth, which in turn is a substructure of the head. This connects with the concept of Systems and System Models, by helping students to see how individual body parts comprise systems that can carry out functions individual body parts cannot.

Resource Quality

  • Alignment to the Dimensions of the NGSS: Students are presented with an opportunity to look at the everyday act of chewing food though the lens of structure and function, and they are asked to make sense of the phenomenon of the variation among different tooth structures. All three dimensions of NGSS are incorporated as students conduct an investigation to collect evidence about how their teeth are used.

  • Instructional Supports: This is a relevant and highly engaging activity for all students, although it is brief with limited supports. Students have an opportunity to express ideas in writing, and verbally, which can deepen understanding or provide an alternative for those with limited writing ability. For emergent readers, the activity can be done as a class discussion. There is some background information for the teacher, two versions of a recording sheet for students, and suggested questions for discussion and extension.

  • Monitoring Student Progress: Students record their finding on a provided sheet, but this could be revised to include more explicit writing prompts to provide more in depth assessment. The teacher is instructed to lead group discussion, but answers to the suggested questions could also be recorded in student notebooks. A class discussion about the suggested extension (asking the students to predict and report on which teeth they used for which foods during the next day's breakfast) would provide a good opportunity to assess student understanding and review/extend the learning.

  • Quality of Technological Interactivity: This resource does not include a technologically interactive component.