Weaving the Web

David G. Cox Janet E. Hawkes New York Agriculture in the Classroom Cornell Educational Resources Program For the United States Department of Agriculture - Agriculture in the Classroom Program to accompany the Smithsonian Institution's traveling exhibit
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.



In this lesson students participate in a classroom model of a food web. During the creation of the model, students discuss types or organisms, relationships between organisms in an ecosystem, energy, and matter. An extension activity at the end of the lesson is where the student demonstrates the performance expectation. This is a whole class activity that includes physically creating a food web with yarn and different animal cards.

Intended Audience

Educational Level
  • Elementary School Programming
  • Upper Elementary
  • Grade 5
Access Restrictions

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

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
Have the students complete extension #1 using a local ecosystem. Ensure students are using arrows to show the transfer of energy and matter. Have students share and revise models together in class and discuss the strengths and weaknesses of the models. If time permits, construct a class consensus model.

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
Students could address this practice more fully if after the whole class food web activity, extensions were utilized. Students could be asked to construct a model of a local ecosystem, develop an alternative to the web model, or make predictions about what would happen if organisms were eliminated from a "weaker" web with fewer connections. They could also share, critique and revise each others' models.

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
Decomposers are not considered in this activity (designed originally for students in grades 2-5) but are appropriate to include for 5th graders. By adding examples of decomposers to the organisms in the activity, the teacher could bring in the idea of the food web as a cycle, and more fully address the core idea.

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
This activity is explicitly about ecosystems and the interactions among its components, but a systems approach is not a real focus. The teacher should relate the terms food chains, food webs, and community to the idea of a system model to more fully address this Crosscutting Concept.

Resource Quality

  • Alignment to the Dimensions of the NGSS: This lesson builds toward students meeting the performance expectation by incorporating main elements of all three dimensions. In addition to the food web activity, teachers should ensure that they are posing appropriate questions and using specific vocabulary to extend the learning and to cover elements missing from the standards alignment notes above.

  • Instructional Supports: Teacher background information is provided, including mention of likely student misconceptions so that teachers can anticipate the need to displace them. Two extension activities are suggested. If creating webs for other ecosystems, teachers might want to consider having students model the local ecosystem, or ones that include plants other than flowers that have easily recognizable nuts or fruits.

  • Monitoring Student Progress: The activity includes many questions that serve as formative assessments in place throughout the lesson. The instructor also has students signal what type of organism they are representing. The majority of assessment could come observation of individual food web models of an ecosystem if extension #1 were completed. This would drive the instructor’s instructional choices for the next activity. A rubric for assessing the models is not included.

  • Quality of Technological Interactivity: This resource does not include a technologically interactive component, unless teachers used the internet for research in Extension Activity #2.