Critical Conversations about Conservation

Lesson 2: Energy to Sustain Life in Ecosytems

North Carolina Essential Standards

4.L.1 Understand the effects of environmental changes, adaptations and behaviors that enable animals (including humans) to survive in changing habitats.

4.L.1.1 Give examples of changes in an organism’s environment that are beneficial to it and some that are harmful.

4.L.1.2 Explain how animals meet their needs by using behaviors in response to information received from the environment.

5.L.2 Understand the interdependence of plants and animals with their ecosystem.

5.L.2.1 Compare the characteristics of several common ecosystems, including estuaries and salt marshes, oceans, lakes and ponds, forests, and grasslands.

5.L.2.2 Classify the organisms within an ecosystem according to the function they serve: producers, consumers, or decomposers (biotic factors).

5.L.2.3 Infer the effects that may result from the interconnected relationship of plants and animals to their ecosystem.


Prerequiste Knowledge

This is the second lesson in a conservation unit.  Students need to have an understanding that there are different types of ecosystems in our world. Students should understand that ecosystems contain living and nonliving things that provide resources to support life.  


Students will be able to:

  • compile examples of how plants and animals adapt to live in their ecosystem.
  • create food chains/food webs depicting the flow of energy between plants and animals native to areas.
  • classify the organisms used in the food chain/webs based on their role in the ecosystem (producer, consumer, decomposer).
  • explain how plants and animals within an ecosystem are interconnected.
  • conclude from reasoning how changes impact an organism’s environment.


  • Students will participate in class discussion allowing time for clarifying questions and recommendations.
  • Students will provide and exit ticket at the end of lessons.
  • Students will engage in individual group progress monitoring with teacher and present orally to class on progress (teacher and class check-in’s).
  • Students will complete peer group work and individual work evaluations.
  • Students will participate in teacher generated question/answer games (Kahoot, Jeopardy, True/False, Sorting Cards…).
  • Students will l write LOL (Line of Learning) entries into their interactive science notebook.


Both students and teacher will need access to internet.


  • Africa's Big Five Wild Animals by Anna Othitis
  • Pass the Energy Please! by Barbara Shaw McKinney

Online resources:


Prior Preparation

  • Teacher will have rubric of summative project available to students.
  • Ensure Power Points and activity cards are prepared.
  • Supply students with a list of appropriate websites to conduct research.


  1. Before watching the video, pose questions:

    • Watch to discuss how food “energy” is passed through the ecosystem.

    • What are the animals eating?

    • Analyze the plants and animals you see, what features or actions do they have that aid them in living in their ecosystem? What are challenges to living in their ecosystem?

  2. Watch the introduction video about Africa’s Big 5.  

  3. Try checking out a live web cam at one of Africa’s game reserves.

  4. Review and discuss abiotic and biotic factors observed. [Students should know: Abiotic Factors - climate, water type, daily weather, landforms, topography, sunlight, soil type, air quality; Biotic Factors - animals, plants, bacteria].

Guided Practice

Day 1

  1. Revisit the Abiotic/Biotic student charts from previous lesson. Focus on and examine the biotic factors listed.
  2. On this day, have students sort the biotic factors listed into three groups and justify why they decided on that grouping. Guide groups to classify the groups as plants, animals, and bacteria/mushroom. Teacher will share that these groups have certain roles in an ecosystem. (See example below.)
  3. Discuss why these roles are important to keeping the ecosystem in balance. Share the vocabulary words producer, consumer, and decomposer along with definition of each on an anchor chart to be displayed. As a class complete the anchor chart with examples.  
  4. Share FreeSchool: Understanding Ecosystems for Kids: Producers, Consumers, Decomposers. Students will create a 3-flap flip book to glue into their interactive notebook or 3-column chart in Office 365 notebook. The front, outer flaps will have the word producer, consumer, and decomposer and picture. The upper, inner flap will have other student drawn pictures and examples. The lower, inner flap will contain the definition/role of that organism.
  5. The teacher will check for understanding and provide feedback.  


Example: Classify Organisms




Grass (food for insects, holds soil in place)

Deer (eats plants, food for larger animals)

Mushroom (eats dead trees)

Trees (shelter, food, holds soil)

Vulture (scavenges for food to eat)

Bacteria (eats dead things)

Flowers ( food for insects)

Lion (hunts for food)

Worm (eats dead things)

Day 2

  1. Teacher will use organism activity cards for this lesson.  
  2. Students will be given a card with a picture of an organism. Students will study their card and decide if it is a producer, consumer, or decomposer. Teacher will remind students to use the anchor chart for help. Teacher will instruct students to stand in a corner 1,2, or 3 based on the type of organism they may have.
  3. Students share and look at each other cards to monitor understanding. Teacher may collect cards, shuffle and distribute again for multiple rounds.
  4. Next, students will go back to their seat with one card. The teacher will find a card that has a producer and ask that student to come to the front of the class. Teacher asks “Who has an organism that eats or gets energy from the grass?” The teacher will select one of the correct responses to join the producer. This time the teacher will ask the class “Who has an organism that eats or gets its energy from ______?” Continue calling students up until there is a complete food chain. Explain that we have just shown how energy flows or is passed through the ecosystem. Use yarn and tape cut out arrows to represent the flow. Label and hang this model in the classroom for future reference.  After that, the teacher will explain “In the real word, the flow of energy is more complex and food chains can combine or overlap.” Discuss how consumers may eat more that one type of organism. The teacher will have the class create a model of a food web using the yarn and organism cards. “Web of Life” activity cards may be used also. 
  5. Discuss how the path of energy now looks more like a web. Tape the cards to another anchor poster and draw the arrows to represent the food web.
  6. Watch these two short videos to reinforce concept:
  7. In closing, have  pictures of a correct and incorrect food web/food chain. For exit tickets, students must select the correct model and support with reasons why the other model is incorrect. Check understanding and provide feedback. 

Day 3

  1. Review that organisms have roles in ecosystems, producer, consumer or decomposer.  Students will play a game “Pass the Energy” to model the roles and to discover what happens when changes in the environment happen.  To play game:
    • Materials: environmental changes cards (example: number of producer decreases by 4 due to a drought, number of consumers increase by 7 due to lack of competition, etc.) and many balls of crumpled paper, timer
    • Directions for “Pass the Energy” game
    • Start the game with equal numbers of producers, consumers and decomposers. Students will play the role of these organisms.
    • The producers will one-at-a-time in a slow and steady manner “Pass the Energy” by tossing the paper balls (which is representing the energy)  to the consumer. The consumer will in turn “Pass the Energy” to the decomposer in the same manner.  The decomposers will “Recycle the Energy” back to the producer. With the ecosystem in balance there is enough energy for all organisms.  Do this for 90 seconds. Next have a student pull an environmental change card and adjust the organism’s numbers to match. Set timer for 90 seconds. With the ecosystem unbalanced, observe what happens as the students “Pass the Energy”. Go back to the original balanced numbers and pull a new card to act out changes in the environment again. Do this for several rounds. Discuss what happens each time. How did the change effect each group of organisms?
  2. Show images of real food webs and discuss what would happen if the ecosystem became unbalanced (due to disease, loss of habitat, poaching, over-hunting, natural disaster, increase/decrease in other organisms).
  3. Discuss humans efforts to conserve one of Africa’s Big 5, the lion, due to poaching. How does this impact the food web? (Without carnivores, herbivore population numbers increase. As the herbivore numbers increase more producers are eaten for energy. Producers are the foundation for a healthy, balanced ecosystem.)
  4. Read and watch information National Geographic: Ten Cool Reasons to Save Lions .
  5. Check for understanding. Have students write a “Quick Write” about this topic question.
  6. Explain that just like in Africa, we have laws in NC for controlled hunting/fishing limits and times (ducks, deer, salt water fish, etc). How do these laws help to keep the ecosystem in balance?


Days 4-6

Project: Conservation of Endangered Species-Reserves Designed by Zoologists

  1. Read Africa’s Big 5.  
  2. Discuss how many of these animals are endangered and must live on reserves maintained by zoologists for conservation purposes.  Revisit webcam of game reserves in Africa.
  3. Explain to students that they will take on the task of a zoologist.  In Africa, there are many game reserves that function to conserve endangered animals.  Their task is to create a reserve that will support the life of an endangered species. Students will research an endangered animal from a provided list.
  4. Questions to think about when designing your reserve:
    • What are the basic needs for the animal and how will you meet them in your design? (food, shelter, water)
    • How will your model represent real life?
    • Where will be the best location/climate?
    • What are some possible dangers to the reserve?
  5. Students will create a diorama depicting a section of their reserve. The diorama will show a drawn model and 3D pop-up style model food web as close to real life as possible (students can draw pop-up organisms or bring in replicas from home). On the sides of the diorama, the student will attach the role of the organisms shown and explain how it supports the ecosystem (balance). Students must include producers, consumers, and decomposers (containing at least 6 organisms in the web.).  Students must justify why they included the organisms they chose. Students must justify how their reserve will support life and especially for the endangered species. Students must explain how they will protect their reserve from possible negative impacts.
  6. Students will share their dioramas and present information about their reserves to the class.


Advanced learners can create a US version of Africa’s Big 5. Provide reasons why and explain their roles in the ecosystem.  For students having difficulty, provide frequent teacher check-ins, peer study buddies and modify assignments to meet their specific need.