ACTIVITY: Understanding Food Webs

NGSS Science and Engineering Practices
NGSS Crosscutting Concepts
The activity below draws from the content in the page Energy from the Sun


Image caption

Fig. 1. All of the energy we get from our food can be traced back to the sun!

Image copyright and source

Image courtesy of FreePik


The energy we get from eating food originally came from the sun.


How do we know the food we eat was once energy from the sun?


Build a mobile to model the ocean food web. Then, use what you've learned to create a complex food web with your classmates using a ball of yarn.


  • Student worksheet and teacher guide (attached below):
    Summary Not available-no caption
    This teacher guide follows the procedure written here and in the student worksheet with additional instructions and guidelines. We highly recommend starting this activity by introducing the Phenomenon, Inquiry, and Guiding Questions from the top of this webpage.
  • Optional: Extra blank creature card pages (attached below):

Part A: Build a Food Web Mobile

  • Clothes Hanger
  • Creature cards: images and descriptions (included in the student worksheet attached above)
  • Single Hole Puncher
  • Scissors
  • String or Yarn
  • Glue stick
  • Coloring utensils (crayons, colored pencils, or markers)
  • Optional: construction paper
  • Optional: index cards

Part B: Life-Sized Food Web

  • Ball of yarn or string

Teacher Recommendations:

  • It may be helpful to line up the creatures in their designated spot on the food web before cutting the string. 
  • Students can glue their creature cards to colored paper to represent trophic levels (i.e. green background for primary producers etc.).
  • Suggestions for additional creatures that students can add:
    • Coral (Porites sp. pōhaku puna)
    • Bluefin trevally (ʻōmilu)
    • Hawaiian dascyllus (ʻāloʻiloʻi)
    • Zooplankton


  1. Follow along on your worksheet to build an ocean food web and answer questions. 
  2. Before building an ocean food web, think about what you ate today and make a list.
  3. Pick two food items that you or someone you know ate and trace back the origin of it's energy.
    (Hint: If you are unsure of the ingredients of some of your food items, find a food label and explore some of the ingredients.)
    1. Think of a meat item, what did it eat?
    2. What about a plant, where did it get it's energy?

A. Create a Suncatcher Food Web:

  1. Image
    Image caption

    Fig. 1. An example food web mobile might look something like this.

    Image copyright and source

    Image by Kanesa Duncan Seraphin

    Draw and color a large sun or create it out of construction paper.

  2. Tie the sun to the center of the hanger to start off the web.
  3. Print out the last five pages in your worksheet packet (creature card images and descriptions in student worksheet). Color in the organism images if you want!
  4. Cut out the pictures and descriptions.
  5. Lay out all of the images where you think they fit in the food web. 
  6. Match the descriptions to the organism images, confirm the placement in the web, and glue the descriptions to the back of the matching organism. 
  7. Hole punch all of the cards in the top middle.
  8. Attach everything to the hanger. Start with the primary producer level:
    1. Fold the paper in half and glue the two sides together.
    2. Hole punch the top corners.
    3. Thread some string through the holes and tie them to the bottom of the hanger. 
  9. Optional: If you want to add different organisms than provided, write your own creature card and attach it to your mobile. 

B. Life-sized Food Web:

  1. Now that you've explored your own food and a food web in the ocean, create a large web with your classmates!
  2. Stand in a circle with your group or class.
  3. Choose one person to start with the ball of yarn - they represent the sun!
  4. Have the sun hold on tightly to the end of the string, and toss to ball to another person in the circle.
  5. Whoever catches the yarn ball represents the next level of the food web, and calls out an organism that uses energy from the sun.
  6. That person then clasps the string with one hand and tosses the rest of the ball of yarn on to another student in the circle.
  7. The next person then calls out a name of an organism that eats the one before it.
  8. Continue until all students in the circle are connected with the ball of string at least once.
  9. Take a look at and discuss the web you have created!
    1. How does the web look?
    2. Can you see where all the parts of the string go?
  10. Draw the food web that you just created with the yarn or draw a new food web of a different ecosystem. Remember, all food webs start with an energy source like the sun!

Activity Questions:

  1. What did you learn about where your food comes from?
  2. Can you trace what you ate for breakfast back to the sun?
  3. In your food web, who are the:
    1. primary producers?
    2. primary consumers (the herbivores)?
    3. secondary consumers (the carnivores)?
  4. What do you notice about the size of of prey items of the largest predator, the humpback whale (koholā)?  
  5. Which organism is the top predator in your food web? Hint: which organism eats at every trophic level in the food web?
  6. Think of an organism that you would like to add to your food web (or that you did add in #12!). How does this new organism interact with the food web?

Related Conversations

Exploring Our Fluid Earth, a product of the Curriculum Research & Development Group (CRDG), College of Education. University of Hawai?i, 2011. This document may be freely reproduced and distributed for non-profit educational purposes.