What’s a food web?

The Basic Idea

Children are labeled as wildlife that makes up a series of food chains and have to guess what they are and then connect themselves up to explore how they are reliant on each other.

Prepare your labels in advance for a specific habitat you want to explore with the children. Have a long ball of string ideally yellow to represent the suns energy.

Stick a label on each pupil’s back or forehead and either in a circle or getting them to mingle with each other get them to ask yes/no questions to figure out what they are – e.g. do I move? do I live on the ground? etc. This can take a while and can be speeded up by allocating a set time limit or number of questions that can be asked and then revealing what each label showed.

Once everyone knows what they are get everyone to stand in a circle with ideally the leader at the centre holding the ball of string. Get the group to guess what the habitat (you may need to introduce what you mean by this) is that you are in based on what they are. Discuss what a food chain is from producers (sun munchers if you are interested in Earth Education) to consumers (plant or animal munchers). You may also want to include decomposers (you will need to decide this when making your labels). Discuss how all food chains start with the sun’s energy to power photosynthesis.

The ball of string gets passed from the ‘Sun’ to the first plant, and so on, until a web appears and everyone is holding the string at least once.

Then… introduce what happens if one animal gets taken out of the food chain – this could be due to hunting, disease or a catastrophe – water pollution or someone cutting down a tree – for example. Ask any animals or plants directly affected to sit down but hold on to their string. Then ask anyone connected to someone sitting down to also sit down. The food web will start to collapse as everyone sits down.

Discuss what happened and why everyone was affected.

How to take it even further or make it more challenging

Spend longer on this and visit a local green space or explore your school grounds and hunt for live plants, insects, animals or clues that they have been there. If possible take photos of them or write down names to create your own site specific labels to use in this activity.

To make it more complex… Add a variety of consumers, producers and prey, including humans. The discussion could move to adaptation and how some species have adapted to new sources of food in order to survive. This is particularly true of foxes and rats for example, who have urban environments find alternative food sources such as bins and food waste which obviously contain products (like dairy) that would not feature in a naturally occurring woodland environment.