Kids Day on the River

FOOD CHAIN TAG © An original game & concept by Debra Gordon-Hellman


To educate children about their watershed, food chains & webs, the critters that inhabit them, threats to them, and possible solutions while having fun. Two underlying principles guide this game:

1. Everyone lives in a watershed. So, just as children learn what state & county they live in, they can learn what watershed they live in.
2. To protect, save, & care about something; you must know & understand it.

Create Your Game:

1. Acquire & laminate duplicate pictures on cardstock of flora & fauna in your watershed that are part of food chains and a food web. You can start at the beginning with a sun picture, and have more than one algae since so many critters eat it.  Also make duplicate pictures of several threats (“Destroyers”). Have enough pictures for a class.

2. Make sandwich boards with each duplicate, connecting them by strong string. Now you’re set for years of play.


Laminated pictures, ball of yarn, song sheets, clothes line, agricultural lime or marking tape, 2 fence posts, tarp, game directions

(For copies of my pictures, e-mail:

Prior Knowledge:

Participants have prior knowledge of terms prey, predators, producers, consumers, decomposers, carnivores, herbivores, omnivores, vertebrates, invertebrates, food chains & webs.


1. Use ag lime or marking tape to create a boundary site for the kids to play tag inside of.

2. Outside the game site, display on a clothesline the laminated pictures of animals and plants in your watershed. Kids sit on ground or tarp facing clothesline. Tell them that all the animals and plants displayed live in the _____ watershed and in fact, they are sitting in the watershed.  Everything they can see around them is in it. (Assess knowledge, ask, “What is a watershed?”)

The following 3 activities could be done ahead in the classroom or at game time:

3. Review or quickly teach about prey, predators, producers, consumers, decomposers, carnivores, herbivores, omnivores, food chains & webs…can refer to the pictures. In a mixed age group, usually some kids know these terms.

4. Now, pass out copies, and sing the song, "Links in a Food Chain." Tune = “There was an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly.” It’s fun to divide the kids into groups by the animal/plant for rounds.


5. To heighten the meaning of this activity, you could pass out the pictures now. If you do, give the kids a few moments to get to know who/what they are now.  Sit in a circle and toss around a ball of yarn with each child holding a piece of the yarn before throwing it to another person. When finished, ask the kids what this looks like—a web. Instruct one person to let her or his yarn go, then another—the web starts to disintegrate. Stop for a moment & briefly discuss what they think is happening.This symbolizes the disintegration of our food chain as we lose critters and plants, etc., if done at the river, point out to them like the animals & plants before them. Ask what they think will happen if our animals and plants in food chains get destroyed or tampered with. Compare to answers after game.

6. If #5 wasn’t done, leaders pass out the pictures to the kids.

A. The kids take their picture, familiarize themselves with what the animal eats, and put it on themselves.

B. Tell them that now they ARE that animal or plant, etc.  Allow some discussion for the kids to use what they’ve learned here or in the class to determine if s/he is a producer, consumer, decomposer, carnivore, herbivore, or omnivore? It’s important to note that a chain starts with plant life or the sun if it’s included.

C. The kids share aloud what they eat, so they can determine whom they consume for the game. Make sure they know whom they’re hunting. Note that for some there will be more than one possibility.

7.  Game Time:

A. The kids play a game of sticky tag, an English game of tag where when you tag a person, you stick--or rather hold onto them. The catch here is that they only catch or tag the animal/plant they eat. Eventually a chain is created and often a web. Once everyone is attached, yell out, “Freeze.” Let the kids notice what they’ve become (food chain and maybe a web). Then, “Dum-de-dum-dum,” kids, teachers, or parent volunteers wear the pictures of the Destroyers: dam, industrial run-off from a pipe (point source pollution = when you can see and point at the source), sedimentation, non-point source pollution (e.g. polluted agricultural run-off), etc & now attack the food web and try to break through, kind of like in Red Rover, Red Rover. They must stay in the boundary. After the chains are broken up, yell, “Freeze!” again.

B. Extension: If not in order, ask each Food Chain to get themselves in order by prey-predator relationship.

C. Have a brief discussion of what they think will happen to life in the watershed & us if our food chains are destroyed.  Discuss ideas for repairing the food chain or web, or what can be done to prevent more damage.

Some sample answers:

1.) Conserve water rather than dam streams for more drinking water.

2.) Developers can leave natural streamside buffers of forests and plants called “riparian areas” to prevent erosion, filter pollutants and protect habitats.

3.). Report to authorities pollutants or dead fish seen in water.

4.) Make sure farmers use Best Management Practices (BMPs) to prevent agricultural run-off and pollution from pesticides, herbicides, fertilizers, and livestock waste.

5.) Keep non-native species out of the river.

6.) Use BMPs to help prevent mining & clear-cut damage.

7.) Make sure septic tanks are working properly.

8. A Little Background Info:

A.  What is a watershed?

It is the land area drained by a particular river or stream; the area of land where all of the water that is under it or drains off of it goes into the same place. John Wesley Powell, scientist geographer, said that a watershed is: "that area of land, a bounded hydrologic system, within which all living things are inextricably linked by their common water course and where, as humans settled, simple logic demanded that they become part of a community."  Watersheds come in all shapes and sizes. They cross county, state, and national boundaries. In the continental US, there are 2,110 watersheds; including Hawaii Alaska, and Puerto Rico, there are 2,267 watersheds.                                                                                  

B. What is a Food Chain (FC)?

It shows how every living thing gets its food.
1.) Each link in chain is food for next link.
2.) It starts with plant life & ends with animal.
3.)  Most animals are part of more than 1 food chain.
4.) Connected Food chains = Food Web.

C. Parts of the FC
1.) Plants = Producers.  They cause use light energy from sun to produce food (sugar) from CO2 & H2O
2.) Animals = Consumers.  They can’t make own food but eat/consume plants &/or other animals.  Kinds of Consumers: What are they? Herbivores, carnivores, omnivores.  Ask the kids which they are in their own lives?
3.) Decomposers = microscopic bacteria & fungi that feed on decaying matter; e.g. mushrooms, molds, etc. (Process releases mineral salts into soil to be absorbed by plants.)

D. Impacts to Health of Food Chain

1. Balance is important for the health of native plants, wildlife, and ultimately human health and life.
2. Negative impacts or degradation to water quality and watershed health can come from such events as poor practices in agriculture, mining, urban activity, construction/development, and exotic species.
a.) Agriculture – e.g. improper management of agricultural activities that contribute to the degradation of river quality
b.) Mining - e.g. can have toxic run-off or cause siltation
c.) Urban activity – e.g. pollution & overdevelopment pressure on natural systems
d.) Construction/development, e.g. when proper steps aren’t taken to prevent erosion, or construction and development is too close to the water.
e.) Introduction of exotic, imported invasive plants and animals; such as kudzu vine, privet shrubs, the Asian clam, and some fish have upset the balance.   f.) Forest clear-cutting – can contribute to erosion & siltation

E.  Interesting Alabama Tidbits
1.  Historically, Alabama has more species of freshwater mussels than any other state. They are an important part of a river ecosystem. They filter the water and they are food for a variety of animals. Alabama also has high populations of fresh water snails, also called gastropods or periwinkles.
2. Alabama is #1 in navigable miles in the US. We have 77,000 miles of streams.
3. Alabama is #1 in diversity of aquatic vertebrates.
4. We are rich in fishes, amphibians, and reptiles.
5. In Alabama the Cahaba River and the Black Warrior River are the only watersheds that begin and end in AL.



Food Chain Tag