Teaching Ecosystems Activities for Kids

Teaching ecosystems activities? These lessons build background information for this complex concept. First, kids consider food. Then they dive into cells and photosynthesis. Next, they learn about producers, consumers, and decomposers. After exploring food chains and webs, students are finally able to understand the flow of energy and matter.

Teaching Ecosystems Activities Cover

Mr. Grow Teaches Ecosystems

Our favorite fifth grade teacher once again sat in the teachers’ lounge with his team. “In fourth grade,” he said, “kids learned about plant and animal structures and functions. This year, they’ll extend their learning with an ecosystems unit. Let’s get started on plans for these life science activities.”

As usual, he pulled up some life science files to share. Turning his laptop toward his colleagues, he began. “These ecosystems materials scaffold kids to understanding. Let’s take a look.”

When teaching ecosystems, kids need lots of scaffolding. Beforehand, teach kids about food, cells, and photosynthesis. Then move into producers, consumers, and decomposers. After exploring food chains and webs, fifth grade students will be ready for the flow of energy and matter.
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What Is Food?

“First things first,” said Mr. Grow. “When teaching ecosystems, kids need to know what food is. Using this table, students think about what they eat. Then they categorize it. Ultimately, they find that all food comes from something that was once living.”

“Simple yet profound,” said Ms. Columbo.

Mr. Grow smiled and continued.

Try this ecosystems activity to help kids understand food. With this table, they take a look at where their food comes from.

What Are Cells?

“Second, students discover that all living things are made of cells. Therefore, everything we eat is also made of cells. In these ecosystems activities, kids explore organelles with this information sheet. However, I’d really like to do this little lab too. Using microscopes, students observe plant and animal cells.”

Mrs. Washington spoke up: “We have five or six microscopes. Let’s set up a schedule to rotate them between our classes.”

“Great,” Mr. Grow responded. “That way, our students will be able to see chloroplasts in real life. After all, that’s the big take-away here: Plants have chloroplasts.”

When teaching ecosystems, students must first understand cells and organelles - especially chloroplasts.

What Is Photosynthesis?

Mr. Grow scrolled to the next page. “Next up, photosynthesis. With energy from the Sun, chloroplasts convert water and carbon dioxide to glucose. This process provides food for all living things on Earth. Here, kids do some reading and complete a diagram.”

“Actually,” said Ms. Columbo, “they learned about this in their fourth grade plants unit. But including it when we teach ecosystems will be a great review.

“As we review photosynthesis, we can also begin our hydroponics project. Kids will germinate seeds in baggies. That will prove that plants mainly need air and water to grow. Then they’ll use the engineering design process for a plants STEM project.”

Include photosynthesis in your ecosystems activities. This helps them understand how producers make food.

Ms. Columbo tapped finger on the table, deep in thought. “You know,” she said, this ties in with another standard. In fifth grade, kids must describe interactions between Earth’s spheres. To facilitate photosynthesis, water moves from the hydrosphere into plants’ roots. At the same time, carbon dioxide from the atmosphere enters leaves. The chemical reaction that occurs next provides food for the entire biosphere.”

Producers, Consumers, and Decomposers in Ecosystems

“Brilliant!” Mr. Grow exclaimed. “Now that kids understand that producers (like plants) make food through photosynthesis. So it’s time to talk about consumers and decomposers in ecosystems. Consumers eat producers and/or other consumers. Decomposers move matter back to the earth when it dies. Once kids know that, they can practice with more ecosystems activities. They will categorize organisms on a table and complete a sorting activity.”

These ecosystems activities use a table and sorting activity. Kids practice categorizing producers, consumers, and decomposers.

Food Chains in Ecosystems

“Next, kids create food chains to create a linear model of who eats whom. My favorite is the picture of the bear. First, the rabbit ate the grass. Second, the fox ate the rabbit. Third, the bear ate the fox. Reminds me of an old lady who swallowed a fly… Guess I never knew that was an ecosystems lesson.”

Everyone laughed.

“My students would love to make paper chains too,” said Mrs. Washington. “They get so tired of worksheets.”

Mr. Grow made note of this before continuing.

After learning about producers, consumers, and decomposers, students create food chains.

Food Webs in Ecosystems

“Next, students learn that ecosystems are more complex than just chains. Why? Because consumers and decomposers eat multiple organisms. At this point, kids are ready to diagram food webs. As a matter of fact, the arrows they draw here show movement of matter and energy. You can see it in this picture. The black arrows indicate movement of matter. And the yellow represents flow of energy from the Sun.”

Kids explore food webs found in ecosystems.

Flow of Energy and Matter in Ecosystems

Mr. Grow showed the teachers two more information sheets. “Finally, we will provide more information about the flow of energy and matter in ecosystems.”

“Wow,” said Mrs. Washington, “that really moves kids from point A to point B. I love the way it integrates life and physical science. So much better than just reading out of a book.”

The other teachers nodded.

Show kids how energy flows in an ecosystem and explain cycles of matter.

“Finally,” said Mr. Grow, “the kids review and take a test. This unit has everything.”

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