Lesson Plan

Bison Banquet

Bison on the prairie
Grade Level:
Upper Elementary: Third Grade through Fifth Grade
Lesson Duration:
60 Minutes
Common Core Standards:
3.RI.1, 3.RI.3, 5.RI.7, 5.SL.5, 3.W.1
State Standards:
Thinking Skills:
Understanding: Understand the main idea of material heard, viewed, or read. Interpret or summarize the ideas in own words. Applying: Apply an abstract idea in a concrete situation to solve a problem or relate it to a prior experience. Analyzing: Break down a concept or idea into parts and show the relationships among the parts.


All life needs energy to grow and survive. Plants receive a vital part of their energy from the Sun, while animals receive their energy from eating plants or other animals. The path energy takes through a series of organisms is known as a food chain, while all the paths energy can travel through an ecosystem is known as a food web. Discover how the mixed-grass prairie plants and animals of Badlands National Park are connected to each other through food chains and an overall food web.


A food web shows how energy is transferred in the environment. Energy is transferred from the Sun to plants, then to herbivores (plant eaters), then to carnivores (meat eaters).

The mixed-grass prairie ecosystem of Badlands National Park is home to a variety of plants, herbivores, and carnivores. Herbivores like grasshoppers and rabbits eat grasses like ricegrass and wheatgrass. Meanwhile, birds like the meadowlark and the golden eagle prey upon the herbivores. As is the case in most ecosystems, plants and herbivores can be energy sources for many different animals.


Student Worksheet

Download Prairie Food Web

Lesson Hook/Preview

What do you think of when you think of a bison?


  1. Have students brainstorm one or more examples of a prairie food chain featuring animals that live in the Badlands, illustrating the food chain(s) on the board.
  2. Introduce the idea of food webs. A food chain shows one specific route that energy can take through an ecosystem, like one path you could walk to get from your home to school. A food web is like a spiderweb, it has a lot of connections. It shows how different species in an area can interact with each other to meet their energy needs. Most species don't get their energy by eating just one thing. For example, a coyote may eat many different small mammals, insects, carrion (dead meat), and plants.
  3. Hand out the Prairie Food Web worksheet. Have students draw arrows between different members of the food web to show where the different members of the prairie food web get their energy. Students may also draw in one or two additional plants or animals that live in the Badlands and fit them into the food web.


  1. Bison: any of several large shaggy-maned usually gregarious bovinemammals (genus Bison) having a large head with short horns and heavy forequarters and a large fleshy hump
  2. Prairie: land in or predominantly in grass
  3. Food chain: an arrangement of the organisms of an ecological community according to the order of predation in which each uses the next usually lower member as a food source
  4. Food web: the totality of interacting food chains in an ecological community
  5. Ecosystem: the complex of a community of organisms and its environment functioning as an ecological unit
  6. Mixed-grass prairie: an ecotone located between the tall grass and short grass prairies.
  7. Energy: a fundamental entity of nature that is transferred between parts of a system in the production of physical change within the system and usually regarded as the capacity for doing work
  8. Mule deer: a long-eared deer (Odocoileus hemionus) of western North America that is larger and more heavily built than the white-tailed deer
  9. Prairie dog: any of a genus (Cynomys) of gregarious burrowing rodents of the squirrel family chiefly of central and western United States plains
  10. Coyote: a buff-gray to reddish-gray North American canid (Canis latrans) closely related to but smaller than the wolf
  11. Swift fox: a small fox (Vulpes velox) with large ears that occurs on the plains of western North America
  12. Rabbit: a small animal that usually lives in holes in the ground and has long ears, soft fur, and back legs that are longer than its front legs
  13. Eagle: any of various large diurnal birds of prey (family Accipitridae) noted for their strength, size, keenness of vision, and powers of flight
  14. Hawk: any of numerous diurnal birds of prey belonging to a suborder (Falcones of the order Falconiformes) and including all the smaller members of this group
  15. Snake: any of numerous limbless scaled reptiles (suborder Serpentes syn. Ophidia) with a long tapering body and with salivary glands often modified to produce venom which is injected through grooved or tubular fangs
  16. Lizard: any of a suborder (Lacertilia) of reptiles distinguished from the snakes by a fused inseparable lower jaw, a single temporal opening, two pairs of well differentiated functional limbs which may be lacking in burrowing forms, external ears, and eyes with movable lids
  17. Mammal: any of a class (Mammalia) of warm-blooded higher vertebrates that nourish their young with milk secreted by mammary glands, have the skin usually more or less covered with hair, and include humans
  18. Insect: any of numerous small invertebrate animals (as spiders or centipedes) that are more or less obviously segmented —not used technically
  19. Carrion: dead and putrefying flesh
  20. Drought: a period of dryness especially when prolonged; specifically: one that causes extensive damage to crops or prevents their successful growth
  21. Extinct: no longer existing

Assessment Materials

Answer Key

Food web answer key

Download Assessment

Supports for Struggling Learners

Trial and error: help students match two things on the web and think “Does this make sense?” 


Enrichment Activities

Have students create a food web for a different climate and environment.

Additional Resources

These resources are available through Badlands National History Association (BNHA), a not-for-profit organization established to support education and research efforts at Badlands National Park.

  • America's Prairie and Grasslands by Marianne D. Wallace
  • Local Tracks of North America "Quick Guide"
  • Golden Guide: Mammals
  • Badlands Suite: Land of Stone and Light, From Field to Lab, Multiple Perspectives DVD

Contact Information

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Last updated: May 21, 2015