Energy Pyramid


Energy Pyramid introduces students to this structure that explains how much energy organisms have at different levels of the pyramid. Students will discover that producers have the most amount of energy while tertiary consumers have the least. They will also learn why this is the case and be able to explain the process to others.

The “Options for Lesson” section of the classroom procedure page lists several suggestions for additional ideas or activities to incorporate into the lesson. One idea is for students to research the energy levels of various foods and determine the advantages and disadvantages of eating some foods versus others to gain energy.

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What our Energy Pyramid lesson plan includes

Lesson Objectives and Overview: Energy Pyramid explores the concept of figuring out how much energy organisms have based on where they fall on the pyramid. Students will discover the relationship between this concept and that of the food chain. They will also learn how to identify and explain where an organism fits on the pyramid. This lesson is for students in 4th grade and 5th grade.

Classroom Procedure

Every lesson plan provides you with a classroom procedure page that outlines a step-by-step guide to follow. You do not have to follow the guide exactly. The guide helps you organize the lesson and details when to hand out worksheets. It also lists information in the yellow box that you might find useful. You will find the lesson objectives, state standards, and number of class sessions the lesson should take to complete in this area. In addition, it describes the supplies you will need as well as what and how you need to prepare beforehand. For this lesson, you will need to provide poster board or something similar and colored pencils for the activity. You will also need to ensure students have access to the internet or other resources that they can use to find information on food chains and energy pyramids.

Options for Lesson

This lesson provides several ideas in the “Options for Lesson” section of the classroom procedure page that you may want to add to the lesson. A few of these suggestions relate to the activity. One idea is to assign students a specific food chain to research for their posters for the activity. Students could work in pairs or groups rather than alone if you prefer. They could also create 3D models of a pyramid, instead of using posters, where each side of the pyramid could represent a different food chain. Another suggestion is to have students research the levels of energy in various food products and figure out the pros and cons of eating certain foods over others.

Teacher Notes

The teacher notes page provides a paragraph of extra information or guidance regarding the lesson and what to expect. It reminds you that students are likely more familiar with the food chain than they are with the concept of the energy pyramid. It suggests you teach this lesson at the same time as others that relate to the topic, such as Carbon Cycle, Nitrogen Cycle, and others.


Food Chain

The Energy Pyramid lesson plan contain three pages of content. To start off, the lesson reminds students what the food chain is. A food chain shows the path of energy in an ecosystem. For instance, humans get energy from eating plants and animals, which makes us consumers. Plants are producers because they use sunlight to create energy for food. The path of energy in the food chain goes from producer to consumer to decomposer.

A producer is an organism that captures energy directly from the sun to make its food. A consumer eats the food and thus gets energy from the sun indirectly. Finally, decomposers break down dead matter into substances that producers can use. There can be multiple levels of consumers, but there are usually three: primary, secondary, and tertiary.

While the food chain shows the movement of energy, an energy pyramid shows the amount of energy that flows from one level to the next along the food chain. The base of the pyramid includes producers, who have the highest amount of energy available. The higher up the pyramid, the less energy available to the organisms on those layers. The lesson provides a diagram that shows what this would look like for a specific food chain.

Four Levels of the Energy Pyramid

Students will learn that there are four levels that represent groups of organisms that might make up a food chain. From the bottom up, the levels are producers, primary consumers, secondary consumers, and tertiary consumers. The page lists the types of organisms that might fall into those levels and provides examples for each group.

The producers level would contain organisms that make their own food by harnessing energy from non-living sources of energy, like the sun. Examples include plants like grass and trees. Primary consumers are the animals that depend on plants for food, also known as herbivores. Such animals include some insects, elephants, deer, and some birds.

Secondary consumers are organisms that usually depend on primary consumers for their survival. Carnivores and omnivores would fall into this category, such as snakes, frogs, and baboons. Finally, the tertiary consumer level is made up of organisms that feed on both primary and secondary consumers. These are usually omnivores or the top predators that eat plants and animals, like humans, alligators, and sharks.

Decreased Energy and Decomposers

As we move up the energy pyramid, the amount of energy decreases. This is because the organisms at each level use energy for basic life processes like movement and growth. For humans, the body releases energy as it is used. In fact, only about 10% of the energy at any given level transfers to the next level of the pyramid.

For instance, if a piece of fruit contains 100% energy, only 10% will be available from the organism at level 2. Then, only 1% of that original energy will be available from the animals at level 3. At the top level, the animal or organism will only receive 0.1% of the energy that the producer first had. This is why eating fruits and vegetables is so important. We receive much more of the available energy. We would receive 100% energy as opposed to 10% energy from an animal from level 2.

Decomposers include bacteria, worms, and fungi. They break down the tissues and organic matter that have not been consumed by higher-level organisms. They perform this process throughout the entire pyramid. Decomposers use up the small amount of energy that remains in the dead organism’s tissue and recycle the nutrients back into the soil. This process actually contributes to the carbon and nitrogen cycles.

There are many examples of energy pyramids in various ecosystems. These pyramids help many people—consumers, scientists, dieticians, food manufacturers, and more—understand where we get energy. Knowing how these energy pyramids work helps us ensure that we obtain the energy and nutrition we need to live a healthy life.

Key Terms

Here is a list of the vocabulary words students will learn in this lesson plan:

  • Food chain—the path energy takes from producer to consumer to decomposer
  • Producer—an organism that captures energy directly from the sun and makes its own food
  • Consumer—an organism that receives energy indirectly from the sun through the food it eats
  • Decomposer—an organism that breaks down
  • Energy pyramid—a diagram that shows the amount of energy that flows from one level to the next along a food chain
  • Herbivore—an organism that only eats plants
  • Carnivore—an organism that only eats meat
  • Omnivore—an organism that eats both plants and meats


The Energy Pyramid lesson plan includes three worksheets: an activity worksheet, a practice worksheet, and a homework assignment. Each of these tasks will help students demonstrate what they learned in different ways and solidify their grasp of the lesson material. The guidelines on the classroom procedure page describe when to hand out each worksheet to the students.


Using the supplies you provide, students will research a specific ecosystem and create a poster that describes the energy levels of organisms in that setting. They can use the internet or other sources to gather information. The posters should include both information and pictures. Students should label and describe or define each level and ensure they demonstrate how energy moves from one level to the next. In addition, they should include images or pictures to show the different consumers and producers available in their ecosystem. They must also title the poster and present a summary of the information to the class. The worksheet provides a rubric you can follow to grade students’ presentations and posters.


For the practice worksheet, students will first match terms to their correct definitions. There are seven definitions, and students will choose the correct terms from the word bank on the right. Next, they will place the terms and percentages in the correct locations on the energy pyramid. Students should include a food chain example on the pyramid as well.


Like the practice worksheet, the homework assignment is split into multiple sections. The first section requires students to read 10 statements. For each statement, students must match the statement to the correct energy level. There are only four energy levels, so students will use a few of them more than once. For the second section, students will mark whether each of five statements is true (T) or false (F). Finally, they will answer two questions based on what they learned from the lesson. You may or may not allow students to use the content pages for help on this assignment.

Worksheet Answer Keys

The final pages of the lesson plan are answer keys for the practice and homework worksheets. All the correct answers are in red to make it easy to compare them with students’ responses. On the practice worksheet, there will be some variation for the final prompt in which students provide an example food chain for the energy pyramid. Similarly, answers will vary on the final section of the homework assignment. All other responses should match the answer keys. If you choose to administer the lesson pages to your students via PDF, you will need to save a new file that omits these pages. Otherwise, you can simply print out the applicable pages and keep these as reference for yourself when grading assignments.

Additional information


4th Grade, 5th Grade



State Educational Standards

NGSS.5-PS3-1, NGSS.5-LS2-1, NGSS.5-LS2.A

Lessons are aligned to meet the education objectives and goals of most states. For more information on your state objectives, contact your local Board of Education or Department of Education in your state.

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Energy Pyramid and more!

I started using the lesson plans this year for my 3rd grade Science and English periods. They have been a wonderful addition. I use the sheets for note taking, group class work, and homework assignments. Thank you so much for making a hard but wonderful job easier and even more amazing.

Bobbie P.

Energy pyramid

This lesson is simplistic yet it helps students to understand the concept.