Micro Explorers

Micro Explorers

Designed By: Courtney Lopez, Ben White, Dan Sedlacek, Abiola Lawal

Age Level: 11-12

Grades: 5

Performance Objectives:

  • List some common species of Ohio.
  • Observe small items and features with a magnifying glass.
  • Reflect on how observation changes with a different perspective.
  • Construct a food web and explain how energy flows within the chain.
  • Explain how all living things depend in some way on plants for food.
  • Use pictures and yarn to create a food web that includes the sun, green plants, herbivores, omnivores, and carnivores.

Ohio Science Standards

Life Science

Topic: Interactions within Ecosystems

5.LS.1: Organisms perform a variety of roles in an ecosystem.

5.LS.2: All of the processes that take place within organisms require energy.

Materials Needed 

Materials Needed for Procedure #1 – Micro Hike:

  • String, thin rope, or yarn
  • Scissors
  • A magnifying glass
  • A bug container (optional)
  • Common Insect guide (optional)
  • Common Plant guide (optional)
  • Nature Journal (optional)

Materials Needed for Procedure #2 – Creating a Food Web:

  • Ball of yarn
  • Activity sheets with pictures of prairie plants and animals (On pages 9-21)
  • Tape or clothespins to attach pictures to clothing

Background Information

The purpose of this lesson plan is to engage and introduce 5th graders to how organisms perform

different roles in ecosystems. They will get the opportunity to explore the Natural Areas in their own micro hike and connect those discoveries to a food web exercise. Every organism needs energy in order to survive. Plants rely on the soil, sun, and water for energy, while animals rely on plants and other organisms. In an ecosystem, plants and animals need each other in order to survive. Scientists draw out the dependence in food chains or food webs. A food chain is a hierarchical series of organisms that describes where organisms directly get their energy from.

For example: Grass→ Grasshopper→ Bluebird.

Each organism on the food chain can be placed into a category based on how exactly they get their energy. Plants are producers because they produce energy for the other organisms and the ecosystem. They produce their own food through the process of photosynthesis. Animals are considered consumers because they don’t produce energy, they consume it through other organisms. This category can be further broken down into primary, secondary, tertiary, etc. consumers.

Animals that get their energy from plants are primary producers and herbivores (organisms that only eat plants). Animals that eat other animals are secondary consumers or carnivores (animals that only eat other animals). If a carnivore eats another carnivore, it’s a tertiary consumer. Sometimes, an animal will eat both plants and other animals making it an omnivore. As you move down the food chain, energy is lost. So, plants have the most energy and animals at the end of the food chain have less energy.

In any ecosystem, there are multiple food chains, and most plants and animals are a part of more than one. When all of the chains are put together, we end up with a food web. Each level of a food web can be described with a trophic level. At level 1 is the producers, level 2 is the herbivores (primary consumers), level 3 is the secondary consumers (carnivores), level 4 is the tertiary consumers (carnivores), and at level 5 is the carnivore that doesn’t have any predators. Prairies contain organisms such as bluestem grass and prairie cornflower which are considered to be the primary producers.

Grasshoppers and antelope are the primary consumers. Coyotes are the secondary consumers, and at top, the eagles, are the tertiary consumers.

Teacher Preparation

  1. Before heading to the Natural Areas:

    ● Organize students into small groups, each group led by a chaperone. (Map of Natural Areas on Page 22).

Field Investigation # 1 Procedure

Engagement – in the field

1. Once at the Natural Areas site, split your students into their micro-explorers’ groups and give them a small background on the site that they are currently at (i.e. This prairie was once a soccer field, but has been restored into a native prairie).

2. Ask students to name the smallest creature that they have seen in nature.

3. Ask students to name the largest creature they have seen in nature.

a. This is an opportunity for the students to write or sketch in their nature journals.

b. This will get students thinking about organisms they already know and can make connections with later.

Exploration-in the field

4. Ask the students what they wonder about the prairie? What questions do they have about prairies? Help them determine what questions that they could answer with the field investigation they will be going on. Let the explorers come up with questions to ask so they feel that the investigation is their own.

5. Invite students to explain what it would be like for that creature to walk along a grassy area inside the prairie.

6. Organize lengths of string or rope for each small group. The students could estimate the length of 1 meter (3 feet) using their bodies or accurately measure using a large ruler or measuring tape. Distribute magnifying glasses if available.

7. Go into different parts of the Natural Area and measure out about one meter of string for each group of hikers. This will be your hiking trail.

8. Now imagine you’ve shrunk! You are now the size of a thumbnail.

9. Have the students lay down next to their trail and begin their hike at one end of the string, getting close and looking at every detail.

10. Remind the students to hike slowly! Remember you are only the size of a thumbnail and have very short legs.

Explanation-in the field

11. Have the students record their discoveries in their nature journal. What would you say if you were a tiny, thumbnail-sized person seeing the trail for the first time?

12. Capture your favorite discoveries on the trail, through drawings, describing words, or lists.

Elaboration – in the field

13. Does pretending you are tiny change the way you look at the world? In what ways did the journey change your perspective?

14. Create a class list of some of the terrain, plants and animals that the students observed. You could write it on a 3-column chart, with a column for each of the above observations. (possibly in the memorial grove or native plants section of the walk)

Evaluation – in the field

15. Invite students to share their answers to the question: “Does pretending you are tiny change the way you look at the world?”

16. Brainstorm other ways to imagine a different viewpoint and how you would try them out.

Field Investigation #2 Procedure

Engage – in the field

1. Your explorers now have a good understanding of what makes up a prairie and what organisms might be living in them, big and small. They now understand that there are different roles organisms play within an ecosystem.

2. Copy Activity Sheets 1 – 8 and cut apart. Have students tape one picture each to their chests.

3. Tell the students that they will make a food web. Have them stand in a circle and introduce themselves as the plant or animal they represent. The student with the sun picture should stand in the center. They should look around and ask themselves:

4. Who in the circle could I give my energy to? (Who might eat me?) Who in the circle could give me energy? (Whom could I eat?)

Explore – In the field

5. Explain that the ball of yarn represents sunbeams, or energy from the sun. Ask the student representing the sun to hold the end of the yarn tightly and toss the ball to someone who can use that energy (a green plant). When a student representing the green plant catches the ball of yarn, he or she should hold a piece of the yarn and throw the ball to someone else who could use the energy. a. For example, the sun might throw the yarn to the grass, the grass to the grasshopper, and the grasshopper to the meadowlark.

b. After the yarn reaches a carnivore, break it off to represent one food chain. (Explain that humans, bears, raccoons, etc. are omnivores and can end a food chain, or they could be eaten by a carnivore.)

6. Ask the explorers: How can all these other plants and animals get the energy they need? (Through different food chains)

7. Return the yarn to the sun to start another chain. This time the sun might throw its energy to the grass, the grass to the field mouse, and the field mouse to a great horned owl. a. Again, break the yarn, throw it back to the sun, and have the sun start another chain. Continue making chains until every student holds at least one strand of yarn.

Explanation – in the field

8. Ask the explorers: Have we made food chains? (Yes, lots of them!)

9. What do all of our food chains together look like? (A food web.)

10. What is the difference between a food chain and food web? (A food web is made up of several food chains. A web is more complicated than a chain because it has connections among the chains.)

11. Who is holding the most pieces of yarn? (The sun.)

12. Why? (Because each food chain starts with the sun.)

13. Who else is part of many food chains? (Green plants)

14. What would happen if all the green plants died? (Nothing else in the food web could survive.)

Elaboration – In the field

15. Ask the explorers: How could we show what could happen if one kind of plant, such as all the clovers died? (The student representing the clover could pull out his or her pieces of yarn and sit down.)

16. If all the clover is gone, who may have trouble getting enough food? (Identify all the animals that were in food chains that included clover. Whoever had yarn pulled out of their hands might have trouble getting enough food without the clover.)

17. What happened to our food web? (It is much thinner, less complex, and less strong.)

18. Why should we be concerned about each kind of plant or animal? (Because other plants and animals in the food web may depend on it.)

Evaluate – Back in the Classroom

19. Emphasize that each group is important and applaud each in turn.

20. Will the carnivores please show their teeth?

21. Will the omnivores please shake a leg?

22. Will the herbivores please wink an eye?

23. Will the only living things that can make food using the sun’s energy – green plants – please take a bow?

24. Collect the “Who Eats Who” sheets to save for another activity.

Weather Alternatives

● Give a student an overview of a prairie habitat and have them try to name as many species as possible that could reside there.

● Demonstrate the length of prairie plant root systems using twine, a measuring tape, and a prairie root depths diagram.

● Set up insects of the prairie stations such as displays of specimens in their different orders and have the students go station by station observing and sketching in their nature journals. Rotate students among the stations.

● The Field Investigation #2 could be done indoors with enough space for the explorers to spread out.

Teacher-Led Extensions/Adaptations/Assessment Ideas

Field Investigation # 2 Procedure

● Have students identify food chains from other ecosystems (forest, wetland, marine, etc.) and make pictures of the plants and animals from that ecosystem, using arrows to indicate the flow of energy.

● Students can learn about the plant or animal they represented in the food web activity and write a report, tell a story, or make an illustration about the plant or animal to share with the class.

● Contact the Hefner Museum of Natural History about borrowing their Food Chains (Forest/Meadow) Discovery Trunk. This trunk has laminated photos of producers and consumers used to create food chains.



An animal that eats only animals


All the plants and animals that live in one place, and that interact and depend on one another


A biological community of interacting organisms and their physical environment


The capacity for change: all living things need energy from food to live and grow

Food Chain

Transfer of energy in sequence, for example, from green plants, to animals that eat plants, to animals that eat other animals

Food Web

A network of food chains that are interconnected within a community


The natural home or environment of an animal, plant, or other organism


An animal that eats only plants


To influence one another


An animal that eats both plants and animals

References and Resources

● Attached are pictures of native species of Ohio along with brief natural histories for each. (On pages 9-21) 

Forces of Change. 2020. “Weaving the Web” USDA. http://forces.si.edu/ltop/pdfs/2-5-WeavingTheWeb.pdf Accessed January, 2020.

● If you cannot get ahold of these pre-made copies, you can print these pages along with the lesson plan. The pictures and natural histories are next to one another on the sheet, so you should be able to cut the photos horizontally and fold the natural histories section behind the picture and attach string to each species. 

References for Species Natural Histories

American Expedition. “Coyote Information, Facts, and Photos.” Accessed March 13, 2020. https://forum.americanexpedition.us/coyote-facts-information-and-photos.

American Expedition. “Western Meadowlark Facts, Information, and Photos.” Accessed March 13, 2020. https://forum.americanexpedition.us/western-meadowlark-information-facts-and-photos

Animals. “Snakes,” National Geographic. January, 2019. https://www.nationalgeographic.com/animals/reptiles/group/snakes/.

Animals. “Spiders,” National Geographic. January, 2019. https://www.nationalgeographic.com/animals/invertebrates/group/spiders/.

“Beetles | Smithsonian Institution.” Accessed March 13, 2020. https://www.si.edu/spotlight/buginfo/beetle.

Bradford, Alina. Live Science Contributor. “Foxes: Facts & Pictures.” livescience.com. September, 2017. https://www.livescience.com/27168-foxes.html.

Bradford, Alina. Live Science Contributor. “Facts About Frogs & Toads.” livescience.com. May, 2015. https://www.livescience.com/50692-frog-facts.html.

Bradford, Alina . Live Science Contributor. “Facts About Moles.” livescience.com. September, 2015. https://www.livescience.com/52297-moles.html.

Bradford, Alina . Live Science Contributor. “Facts About Raccoons.” livescience.com. October, 2015. https://www.livescience.com/52655-raccoons.html.

Bradford, Alina . Live Science Contributor. “Mouse Facts: Habits, Habitat & Types of Mice.” livescience.com. June, 2014. https://www.livescience.com/28028-mice.html.

Bradford, Alina. Live Science Contributor. “Rabbits: Habits, Diet & Other Facts.” livescience.com. March, 2017. https://www.livescience.com/28162-rabbits.html.

“Butterflies and Beyond | Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History.” Accessed March 13, 2020. https://naturalhistory.si.edu/education/teaching-resources/life-science/butterflies-and-beyond.

“Butterfly Fun Facts - Butterfly Facts to Amaze Your Friends!” Accessed March 13, 2020. https://www.thebutterflysite.com/facts.shtml. 8 Miami University Natural Areas Micro Explorers Lesson Plan


“Caterpillar Facts - Nature Detectives.” Accessed March 13, 2020. https://naturedetectives.woodlandtrust.org.uk/naturedetectives/blogs/nature-detectives-blog/2018/04/caterpillar-facts/.

“Coneflowers Facts.” Accessed March 13, 2020. https://www.softschools.com/facts/plants/coneflowers_facts/1253/.

Encyclopedia Britannica. “Black-Eyed Susan | Description & Facts.” Accessed March 13, 2020. https://www.britannica.com/plant/black-eyed-Susan-plant.

Encyclopedia Britannica. “Clover | Plant.” Accessed March 13, 2020. https://www.britannica.com/plant/clover-plant.

Encyclopedia Britannica. “Sunflower | Description, Uses, & Facts.” February, 2020. https://www.britannica.com/plant/sunflower-plant.

Encyclopedia Britannica. “Worm | Animal.” Accessed March 13, 2020. https://www.britannica.com/animal/worm.

“Fun Grasshopper Facts for Kids - Interesting Information about Grasshoppers.” Accessed March 13, 2020. http://www.sciencekids.co.nz/sciencefacts/animals/grasshopper.html.

Gardening Know How. “Aster Plant History – Learn About The Origin Of Aster Flowers.” Accessed March 13, 2020. https://blog.gardeningknowhow.com/tbt/history-of-aster-flowers/.

Harvesting History. “Black Eyed Susan,” March 1, 2016. https://harvesting-history.com/black-eyed-susan/.

“Hawk Facts.” Accessed March 13, 2020. https://www.softschools.com/facts/animals/hawk_facts/307/.

OneKindPlanet. “Amazing Facts about Deer | OneKindPlanet Animal Education & Facts.” Accessed March 13, 2020. https://onekindplanet.org/animal/deer/.

Owl Research Institute. “About Owls I Owl Research Institute.” Accessed March 13, 2020. https://www.owlresearchinstitute.org/owls-1.

Tilton, Lois. “Grasses of the Tallgrass Prairie - Dave’s Garden.” September, 2014. https://www.davesgarden.com/guides/articles/.

Wilson-Rich, Noah, Allin Kelly, Carreck Norman, and Quigley Andrea. The Bee: A Natural History, July 2018. https://press.princeton.edu/books/paperback/9780691182476/the-bee.

Credits / References for adapted lesson plan

Forces of Change. 2020. “Weaving the Web” USDA. http://forces.si.edu/ltop/pdfs/2-5-WeavingTheWeb.pdf Accessed January, 2020.

Nature Passport. 2020. “Lesson Idea: Micro Hike”. Islandwood. https://outdoorclassroomday.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/04/