Share it! Science : June 2018

Surviving Like a Shark Energy Transfer Game

Kids love sharks! In this post you will find a book recommendation for a hilarious, yet factual, children's book about sharks, and an active science modeling activity for exploring the lives of sharks and the movement of food energy through an ecosystem.

Both the kid's book and science activity are great for your upper elementary school-aged kids at home or the students in your classroom. The modeling activity will get kids moving while building understanding of trophic pyramids and food chains.

If you are a teacher aligning your lesson plans with the Next Generation Science Standards, you will also find links for standards that this activity will help you meet.

Shark Science Food Chain Energy Activity

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How to Survive as a Shark 

First of all, a read-aloud of Kristen Foote's How to Survive as a Shark is a must. This funny children's book, illustrated by Erica Salcedo, includes science facts about the life of sharks, white sharks in particular, their important place in the ecosystem, adaptations and more.

This book is perfect for upper elementary students. They enjoy the humor and understand the science. Even the kids who think they are too old for picture books get a kick of this one! The end of the story includes some discussion on what was realistic and what was fictionalized for the sake of presenting the information in the style of a humorous picture book. It is an all around great book for home or the classroom!

If you are reading How to Survive as a Shark as an intro to the activity outlined below, the strongest tie-in to the food chain and energy transfer is the discussion and illustration of the food pyramid (or trophic pyramid). In this story, white sharks are the apex predator. Depending on the species of shark, sharks may not always at the tippy top of their food chain. The food pyramid, discussion of the different levels of consumer and apex predators is a great introduction to the energy transfer activity below.

For more standards-aligned activities to accompany books in the "How to Survive" series, head on over here. 

Shark Energy Activity

There are many food chains and food webs in any ecosystem, including the ocean. Energy moves through these ecosystems in the form of food. The active food chain activity outlined below allows students to model the transfer of food energy throughout a system and see it move first hand.

Shark Food Chain Science Activity NGSS aligned

For this activity you will need:


Model Energy Transfer in the Ocean


Set up the game: 

Split the group of kids into thirds. One group will be the "sharks", one group will be "large fish", and the last will be "small fish". [Note: if you are studying a specific type of shark, adapt the game to be specific to that species, i.e. "large fish" might be "tuna" or "seals" instead.]

Assign each of the groups a different color. This will be the color of the bandana that they will tie around their arm to denote their role in the activity.

Give each student a paper bag or envelope, which represents their stomach.

After assigning some boundaries for the play area, spread out the colored paper squares evenly throughout the area. These represent "plankton" in the activity.

How to Survive as a Shark illustrated by Erica Salcedo Science Activity

Game play: 

The goal of the small fish is to collect as much plankton as possible and put it in their stomachs.

The goal of the large fish is to eat the small fish, by gently tagging them, and transferring all of the plankton paper squares from the stomach/bag of the small fish to their own.

Similarly, the sharks will eat the large fish by gently tagging them, and transferring all of the plankton paper squares from the bag of the large fish to their own. (In reality, sharks may also eat small fish, but for simplicity's sake they will not in this simulation.)

Give just a few minutes (no more than 5) for game play. In order to have survived the round, small fish must have 5 plankton in their stomachs, large fish must have 10 plankton in their stomachs, and sharks must have "eaten" at least one large fish with 10 plankton in its stomach.

Write down how many of each animal survived after each round for graphing and data collection extensions.

How to Survive as a Shark illustrated by Erica Salcedo Science Activity

Wrap it up:

Be sure to discuss the results of the modeling activity.
Guide your discussions with questions such as:
  • What trends do kids notice? 
  • How is this activity realistic or unrealistic?

Create a data table or graph the results. Introduce the idea of a trophic, or ecological, pyramid and show how the amount of energy changes as it moves through the ecosystem.

Ecological Pyramid


Extend the Energy Transfer Activity


To continue modeling important ideas around energy transfer and balanced ecosystems, see what happens when you change the rules of the game. Try these adaptations of the simulation and discuss the results with your kids or students:

  • Change the number of sharks / small fish / large fish 
  • Set out more "plankton"
  • Release the small fish first, then the large fish, and eventually the sharks
  • Set up a "safety zone" for fish

Align with the Next Generation Science Standards

This activity fits with the following 5th grade science standards:

Additional Energy Transfer and Food Chain Book Recommendations 

Teaching about ecosystems is one of my favorite topics. If you are looking for other great books to share on the subject of energy transfer and food chains, you will definitely want to get your hands on a copy of Pass the Energy, Please! and The World of Food Chains with Max Axiom: Super Scientist.

I love Pass the Energy, Please! because of it's rhyming text and beautiful illustrations. Although it is a rhyming picture book, the vocabulary used is at an upper elementary level. The World of Food Chains with Max Axiom: Super Scientist appeals to upper elementary readers because it is written and illustrated in a graphic novel style.

Ocean Learning Activities

Ocean Science STEM Activities

If your kids love learning about the ocean, then you won't want to miss these other fun ocean-themed science activities!

Experiment with fizzing sea shells in this activity on the Teaching Without Chairs blog, and recreate the layers of the ocean with this density activity over on From Engineer to Stay at Home Mom.

More Shark STEM and Science

Shark Week Science and STEM activities

Can't get enough shark science? Same here. Check out these AMAZING shark eggs we saw at the Shedd Aquarium.

You'll find a bunch of shark STEM activities here, particularly fun for all of you "shark week" fans.

Want to know how sharks float? You'll find cool hands-on shark experiments here and here.

Buy a Book and Help a Good Cause

You may not be aware of this, but when you purchase a book published by The Innovation Press, like How to Survive as a Shark or How to Survive as a Firefly, you are not only getting a great book for the children in your life, but also helping others. For every 10 books sold, The Innovation Press donates one book to First Book, getting books into the hands of kids and schools in need.