Actively Learning the Food Chain

Recently the children started showing interest in what animals eat by using the plastic animals we have in the room. After using them for a while they wanted to know what a Cheetah ate so the teachers encouraged the children to look it up online via to help them find out what animals eat. The provocation was led by the students’ interest in animals as the teachers guided the investigation through dialogue, and engaging their senses through active learning. Instead of telling the children facts, this project encouraged the children to think about a topic of interest using dialogue and exploration while incorporating literacy and math skills.



First, the children chose an animal to draw by looking it up in the animal encyclopedia or by looking it up on the Internet. The children used styrofoam cups, sharpies, and colored pencils to apply what they were learning through their thoughtful inquiries. The cups helped the children to understand the food chain because the children could stack them and see the progression of how the food chain functions. In doing so the teachers and students learned about what that animal ate or what ate that animal.



While observing this project the teacher noticed that as the children did more food chains the children were able to identify what an animal ate before even looking it up in the encyclopedia. In this project the children were able to investigate and demonstrate their understanding of the circle of life. They also were able to see that not all animals ate meat or plants, some only ate one and some ate both.


The students were introduced to the terms carnivore, omnivore, and herbivore. By making associations to previously acquired knowledge the students are more likely to not only learn new information, but will be able to retain new information from this experience as well. To continue their research the children utilized various literacy skills in their exploration. They used the laptop to type the questions of what an animal ate so that they could find the answer. The children also sounded out the name of the animal by themselves and wrote it on the cup. They were also able to read a lot of the animals’ names without the teacher having to tell them what it was. Using the various loose-parts materials the children incorporated math into the project by counting and identifying how many legs, ears, and eyes the animal had. The students also used the “paint” program on the computer to create their animals.



This provocation had many components to the active learning process, similar to life experiences that are often complex with various components. In both type of situations inside and outside the classroom the children use their brain, body, and mind to function together to discover and learn new information about the world around them. This experience has fortified the students’ dialogue with new vocabulary and skills that they will be able to use in a broad range of situations throughout their life. This project has allowed the children to explore a plethora of various animals through intellectual research and active learning which has encouraged the students to make educated inferences.

“Experiences themselves are educative only if the students actively clarify, internalize, and reflect on them.”

–Henry David Thoreau


Educational resources used in this provocation:

What Eats

–  Food Chain Stacking Cups

-The Encyclopedia of Animals a Complete Visual Guide by Fred Cooke, Hugh Dingle, Stephen Hutchinson and Richard Schodde (Nov 3, 2004)


The Importance of Engaging in Active Learning  

The Three Elements of Great Teaching  




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