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Lesson Plans
Who's Coming to Dinner?
OverviewProcedure for teachersStudent Resources and Materials
Prep for Teachers

Download the Shockwave plug-in (available at Review Web resources and bookmark those that are appropriate for your students' ages and abilities. You may optionally create and publish a Web page of your own that includes links to Web resources and clarifying instructions to which students may repeatedly refer.

View the video clip in its entirety to become familiar with all starts and stops. CUE the videotape to the appropriate starting point so you may easily begin the lesson.
Prepare the student organizers and handouts for the lesson by copying them for each student.

When using media, provide students with a FOCUS FOR MEDIA INTERACTION, a specific task to complete and/or information to identify during or after viewing of video segments, Web sites, or other multimedia elements.
Introductory Activities: Setting the Stage

Display the lyrics to "There Was An Old Lady" on a large screen monitor or a handwritten chart. Ask students to join you in a sing-a-long. If an audio copy is available or you play an instrument, feel free to provide musical accompaniment. When the song is complete, ask students if the song accurately represents the natural environment. Though spiders might indeed catch and eat flies, can the same be said of cats and dogs, cows and goats? (Dogs may chase cats but domesticated varieties are not likely to have a predator/prey relationship. Goats and cows are known to share the same habitat peacefully.) If spiders do catch and eat flies in the environment, what animals might catch and eat spiders? (Birds, insects such as wasps, snakes, lizards, frogs and fish eat spiders.)

CUE the Wild TV video to the Jamaica Bay segment that begins with an image of marsh grass with the Empire State Building in the background, just after the elevated subway passes by and the horn music from the prior segment about an urban garden ends. The segment will be viewed twice, once halfway through to collect information about each of the animals, and a second time to focus in on the efforts of the researchers and scientists.

Step 1: First Viewing

Introduce the Wild TV segment about the habitat of Jamaica Bay. Explain that animals that occupy the same habitat often have a special relationship (predator/prey) because they are part of a food chain. Distribute the "Data Gathering" Worksheet. Provide students with a FOCUS FOR MEDIA INTERACTION, asking them to list as many facts about each animal as they can while viewing the segment.

Step 2:

PLAY the video clip. STOP after the scientist and the graduate student are checking a nest in the dunes and the scientist refers to Jamaica Bay as, " of the largest nesting areas anywhere for this species." CHECK that students have recorded some of the following facts:

Terrapin Facts:
  • Diamondback Terrapins only come on land to nest.
  • Terrapin is the name given only to this species of turtle.
  • They can live as long as we do.
  • Jamaica Bay is one of the largest terrapin nesting areas.
  • Nests are well hidden.
Raccoons Facts:
  • Raccoons may have gotten to Jamaica Bay by coming across the bridge.
  • They might have been released by well-meaning animal control people into what they thought was a wildlife preserve.
  • Raccoons find almost all of the terrapin nests and eat the unhatched eggs.

Step 3: : Second Viewing

REWIND the video to the beginning of the segment. Provide a FOCUS FOR MEDIA INTERACTION, asking students to listen for the reason why scientists decided to study Jamaica Bay and be able to identify each animal's role in the food chain. Who is the predator? Who or what is the prey? PLAY the tape.

Step 4:

PAUSE when the screen shows the biologist walking down the path after he says, "We wanted to find out what had happened since the 1980s that had caused this change and made it so much more difficult for terrapins to produce eggs that would actually survive to hatch." CHECK for understanding. (In the 1980s terrapins laid eggs that hatched; the predation rate was low. Recently the predation rate was high. Raccoons, the predators, are raiding terrapin nests and eating the unhatched turtles, the prey.)

Step 5:

Provide students with a FOCUS FOR MEDIA INTERACTION, asking what role do terrapins play in the ecology of Jamaica Bay? What do students think will happen if they're gone? RESUME PLAY.

Step 6:

PAUSE after the graduate student says, "We don't know, if they're gone, what will happen." CHECK for understanding. (Terrapins' "job" is to eat mollusks and crustaceans in the bay.) Ask students to guess what might happen if the population of terrapins is destroyed. (Answers will vary.) List responses for review after the Learning Activity.

Step 7:

FAST FORWARD quickly to the terrapin walking on the shore just after the bird in a tree and the music is playing. Provide a FOCUS FOR MEDIA INTERACTION, asking students what the scientists discovered about the terrapins and the raccoons and what were they going to do. RESUME PLAY.

Step 8:

PAUSE when the scientist, pointing out to the bay, says about the terrapins and raccoons, " figure out what might be manipulated with them." CHECK for understanding. (Scientists found out that raccoons were eating every terrapin nest in sight. They plan to gather information in order to recommend some kind of management plan. They will study the animals so that they can manipulate the environment.)

Step 9:

Provide a FOCUS FOR MEDIA INTERACTION, asking students to list on their "Data Gathering" Worksheet what the researchers do with the terrapins and what they do with the raccoons. RESUME PLAY.

Step 10:

STOP the video as the graduate student is carrying the terrapin into the bay and the scientist says, "In the end what I'd like to see happen here is that we use the information we gather to do something to help protect the terrapin." CHECK that students have recorded some of the following facts about the research:

Researching Raccoons
Capture, measure, and place radio collars on them to find out where they spend their time.
Researching Terrapins
Catch them after they nest, mark them. Track the location of the nests. Protect the nest with wire mesh. Wait for the hatchlings. Mark the hatchlings and let them out into the water. Measure the terrapins and place a transponder, like a tiny computer, inside the shell.

Step 11:

Encourage discussion by repeating the scientist's last statement and then asking whether protecting the terrapins is a good idea. Why or why not? Will the scientists' efforts succeed? (Answers will vary. Some students will want to protect the terrapin; some might want to protect the raccoons.)

Learning Activities

Learn more about the relationship among members of a food chain by exploring the Food Chain Reaction Web site at

Step 1:

Provide a FOCUS FOR MEDIA INTERACTION, asking students to define the following terms:
Carnivore      Herbivore      Omnivore.

Step 2:

Ask students to PAUSE their examination of the Web site before testing the food chain. CHECK for understanding by asking students to identify each member of the Chain Reaction food web using one of these terms. (Crickets are predator and the grass their prey. Frogs are the predator and crickets the prey. Snakes are predators and the frogs their prey. Snakes are the prey for owls who are the predator. Most members of this chain have a dual role.)

Step 3:

Provide a FOCUS FOR MEDIA INTERACTION, asking students to be prepared to provide an explanation of the prey/predator relationship in the example food chain.

Step 4:

Monitor students to insure they are able to successfully complete the chain by dragging picture to its appropriate place in the chain.

Step 5:

CHECK for understanding. (The owl is a predator, the snake, frog, and cricket are predator and prey.) Extend student understanding by asking for whom might the owl be prey, and how they would characterize the relationship between the grass and the sun. Is the sun prey? Does the grass deplete it? (Answers may vary.)

Step 6:

Provide a FOCUS FOR MEDIA INTERACTION, asking students to be prepared to explain the effect of removing the frog from the chain.

Step 7:

for understanding. (Without the frog in the food chain, there will initially be an overpopulation of crickets, who will eat the grass until there is less and less. With less grass, the grasshoppers will not survive. The snakes will have less to eat without both frogs and crickets, and will look elsewhere for food. The owls will also leave or look for other food in order to survive.)

Step 8:

Extend student understanding by referring back to the video. What effect would the diminishing population of terrapins have in Jamaica Bay? (Overpopulation of mollusks and shellfish.) How might this be detrimental to the ecology of the bay? (Answers may vary. Refer back to the list generated in the Introductory Activity. Students may require more information about the ecology of Jamaica Bay in order to provide a more complete answer.)

Cross-Curricilar Extensions

Groups of students will use Internet resources to gather information about more local endangered species, their habitat, place in a food chain and a larger food web. (A food chain depicts one organism's relation to another. A food web may depict several relationships. For example, acorns may be food for more than one animal.) Be sure to review all Web resources listed under "Media Components" and select those appropriate for your students' ages and abilities. Bookmark sites for easy access and maximum on-task time at the computer.

Assign a habitat and a designated animal to each group. Students are to find other related animals or plants that are part of the same food chain. For example: peregrine falcons found on all continents in high cliffs, buildings, and bridges, are at risk due to pesticide-contaminated prey; the Florida manatee, whose Everglade habitat is suffering at the hands of humans, is vulnerable to disease, injury, and a decreasing food supply. Distribute the "Research Organizer" to help structure the research process.

Step 1:

Provide a FOCUS FOR MEDIA INTERACTION, asking students to use as many of the bookmarked Internet resources as necessary to find out about the designated animal and the other animals in the related food chain. Group members are required to complete the organizer with all required information.

Step 2:

Working in cooperative groups, students will apply their research to create a presentation including a visual representation of the food web to which the designated animal belongs. They may either a) use original art or magazine cutouts to show the members of the web and the predator/prey relationship, or b) do a technology-based activity using HyperStudio, Inspiration, or PowerPoint to demonstrate the food web relationships.

Cross-Curricilar Extensions

SCIENCE: Biodiversity Dilemmas
Protecting biodiversity often requires making difficult choices. The Center for Plant Conservation provides four scenarios for students to explore. They may need to do further research and identify what further information they need to know before being about to answer the questions, draw conclusions, or make recommendations to preserve biodiversity.

MATHEMATICS: Action Research
Students create a mini biome using local flora and fauna. Once a stable environment is created, students may vary one factor and record the effect over time, for example reducing the availability of one organism or altering an environmental factor such as sunlight or water. A final report should include analysis of data collected, including spreadsheets and/or graphs, and recommendations that could be applied in the real world.

Complete a study on Jean Craighead George, naturalist and author, who has written ecological mystery stories that provide students with a literature connection to their research. Students can do an author study by visiting her Web site,, and reading some of the following:

The Missing 'Gator of Gumbo Limbo
There's an Owl in the Shower
The Case of the Missing Cutthroats
And Sam Gribley's adventures in the trilogy:
My Side of the Mountain
On the Far Side of the Mountain
Frightful's Mountain

Fables often depict animal relationships. Have students examine fables and determine how much is fact and how much is fiction based on their animal and food chain research. A modern fable for students to explore is Poppy by Avi, a story about a deer mouse who urges her family to move next to a field of corn big enough to feed them all forever. However, Mr. Ocax, a terrifying owl, has other ideas.

Community Connections
  • The Wild Ones: The Children's Education Program of Wildlife Trust
    Explore the Bioscapes of the Children's Education Program of Wildlife Trust to examine the both local and global environmental communities. Students have an opportunity to explore why their bioscape is important to them, share their thoughts and read what other students have to say through this collaborative project. Includes resources in Spanish.

  • Local Advocacy
    Determine what local environmental issues involve animals and what efforts are underway to protect both the habitat and its denizens. Your class might want to adopt a species to both learn more about it and advocate for it.