1S2: Producers, Consumers, and Decomposers

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1. All the organisms out there in the world need energy to live, and today we are going to talk about where they get their energy from. Energy can come in many forms; one is the sun. Some organisms get their energy in the form of light.

Q. What can you think of that uses light to grow? (plants)

Plants get their energy from the sun. They can turn the energy in light into energy to grow tall. Plants are called producers because they produce their own energy. It’s easy to remember that plants are producers, because think of the produce section in the grocery store. What’s in the produce section? Plants, there are many different parts of plants there, fruits, and leaves, like lettuce. Plants are called producers because they make their own energy from something that is not living.

2. But not everyone can produce their own energy.

Q. Can you think of some organisms that can’t produce their own energy? (any animals, us, etc.)

That’s right, we can’t make our own. We eat instead. We have to get our energy from other objects. We can’t survive on rocks though, can we? We have to eat other organisms, living things. We can get our energy from other living things because they have already turned it into a form, like a fruit, a leaf, or meat, that we can use. Organisms who have to eat other living creatures are called consumers.

Q. Who can tell me what consume means? (to use up, to eat)

Animals are called consumers because they need to eat to get their energy. There are many different types of consumers. Some eat only plants (a consumer eating a producer), others only meat (a consumer eating a consumer), and some both.

3. There are also decomposers.

Q. Can anyone tell me what a decomposer is? (a decomposer breaks thing up, turns them back into soil)

Decomposers can be little tiny organisms like bacteria, or earthworms, or mushrooms and molds. Decomposers are a specific type of consumer. They need to consume other organisms, but they are different from other consumers because instead of using the energy to put into their own body they use a lot of it to break up dead matter. The dead matter could be from either a producer or a consumer. They are what turn your compost pile that started out as garden clippings and food, back into the minerals that make up soil.

4. All animals got their energy from the sun. Even if they don’t directly use the sunlight like producers do, without the sun they couldn’t live. This is because without the sun we wouldn’t have the producers, and without them there would be no energy on the planet in a form we animals could use. Sometimes it’s hard to see though, because the energy has passed through so many different organisms. But if you trace back what an animal ate, it will always come back to a plant, a producer.

Examples: A deer, a deer eats grass to get its energy, and grass got its energy from the sun, so the deer really gets its energy from the sun too. It’s just that the grass turned the sunlight into a form the deer could use. An owl, an owl eats a mouse, which ate some grass seeds. The owl also got its energy from a plant, which got it from the sun. Mold on your cheese, the mold lives off the cheese, which came from cow’s milk, and the cow survived by eating grass.

Q. What did you eat for dinner last night?

We can also trace that back to a producer. (go through a meal or two to prove it.) Producers are the foundation for all other living organisms. Plants need nothing living to grow, but they begin the energy cycle for all other living creatures.

Activity 1: The Garden Food Web

Description: Children will pass around a skein of yarn which will demonstrate the interconnectedness of all life in the garden. Each child will have a garden food web card that will name an organism and what that organism eats and gets eaten by.

Background: In any ecosystem there are three types of organisms: producers, consumers and decomposers. This is as true in a healthy garden as in any other ecosystem. Producers, (plants) make their own energy from the sun. Consumers (which can be herbivores, carnivores or omnivores) eat the producers and each other. Decomposers feed on the dead matter and turn it back into nutrients which are taken up by the producers.


  • A set of Garden Food Web cards (one for each child) *see below
  • A ball or skein of yarn

Opening Questions:

  • What type of living things can we find in the garden?
  • How do these living things get food / energy?


  1. Give each child a Garden Food web card. This card will have a picture of a garden organism, the type of organism it is (producer, consumer or decomposer) and an example of what it eats and gets eaten by. (E.g. Ladybug, Consumer. Eats: Aphids. Eaten by: Decomposers.)
  2. The facilitator will hold the ball of yarn as the sun. Ask, which of you gets your energy from the sun (more than one should raise their hand – all those who have pictures of plants). Have the child state their plant and throw the yarn to the child while holding onto the end.
  3. Then ask who eats that plant. The child should hold onto the yarn and throw the rest of the yarn to the next child. This continues.
  4. When a decomposer gets the yarn, it will go back to a plant because plants use the nutrients that the decomposers release into the soil. In this way the game will continue until all students are holding the yarn in a big web.

Follow up questions:

  • How were all of these organisms collected?
  • What would happen if there were no plants? no consumers? no decomposers?

Activity 2: (If time permits). Planting seeds.

Plants need sun, water, soil and air. Today we are going to plant some seeds, and you can watch them sprout and grow. (If they’re radish seeds) And if they live long enough to form a radish, you can eat the radish. Then you are absorbing energy that started out as sunlight, and you can thank the radish for turning it into energy you can eat.

Give the kids their supplies and begin planting, outside is best. Make sure to tell them not to plant the seeds too deep in the soil, or they won’t get any light. And don’t mush the soil down, or they won’t have enough air. Water the pots so they’re moist, but don’t over-water them and drown the seeds, or they also won’t get enough air and sunlight.

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