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Classroom Resources

Meal Deal

Teacher's Guide

Tips for Teachers


Step By Step through the Interactive

Students will follow this sequence as they complete Meal Deal.

Students decide whether they want to play the basic or advanced level of the game. They can choose to either read the rules, or to go straight to the game. If they choose to go straight to playing the game, they still get a few brief rules of play. A printable version of the rules for both basic and advanced Meal Deal is available.

If they decide to read the rules for the basic level, they can access a detailed explanation of the terms: predator, prey, producer, and consumer.

In the basic level, they are given four cards, chosen at random each time the game is played.

  • They are to build a food chain of two cards.
  • If they can’t build a food chain with the cards they are given, they can elect to get more cards.
  • Once they’ve made their two-card chain, they get a point and go to the next round. If it’s incorrect, they can fix it, or they can just go to the next round without getting a point.
  • They can play the basic level an infinite number of times. At any time, they can advance to the advanced level, or they can quit the game.

If they decide the read the rules for the advanced level, they get a detailed description of food chains and food webs.

Because we know the vocabulary of science can be challenging, we have highlighted many words throughout this interactive. By clicking on words in red, students can read a definition of the term.

In the advanced level, they are given six cards, chosen at random each time the game is played.

  • They are to build a food chain of at least three cards. If they can build a chain of more than three cards, they are allowed to do that.
  • If they can’t make a three-card chain with their six dealt cards, they can ask for more cards.
  • The basic plant or animal in the food chain is placed on the left of the top, followed by the second lowest in the chain, etc.  
  • Once they have made a chain, they get a point and go to the next round. If it’s incorrect, they can fix it, or they can just go to the next round without getting a point.
  • Students can play the advanced level an infinite number of times. At any time, they can go to the basic level, or they can quit the game.

Once students have decided to finish playing the advanced level, they are asked one final question. They have to speculate about what creature in a given food chain would be affected, if soft-shelled clams were removed from the ecosystem. They click on the creature, and receive an answer.

Finally, they have to use their PDA to write to the producers about what they think the consequences of removing or adding a creature to the ecosystem are.

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Teacher Tips:  Before Using the Interactive

Review the interactive yourself prior to introducing it to the class. You may want to consider questions such as:

  • How long do you think your students should play each level of the game?
  • Should your students begin with the advanced level, or do you want them to start with the basic level?
  • Each user’s work is saved online, using his or her unique password. How might you take advantage of this to segment their work with the interactive to best fit your needs?

This activity centers on the relationships in the food chain: predator/prey, consumer/producers, and scavenger. If you haven’t done so already, you may want to introduce these terms to your students. You can find definitions for these terms in the glossary. Definitions of the terms with illustrated examples can also be found by following the links in the game instructions.

This activity introduces the terms “juvenile” and “detritus”. Animals may eat only the juvenile form of another animal or the detritus of a plant, and animals may eat different foods as they go through their own life cycles. The brief facts on the back of each card state these distinctions. However, those distinctions are not factored into the playing of the card game. For example in the game the blue crab card can trump the diamondback terrapin card, although in reality the blue crab only eats juvenile terrapins. For this reason, we suggest that you discuss these distinctions with your students before they engage in the interactive.

There is a printable version of each of the cards, for use as you see fit. Some suggestions are listed below.

If time permits, you may want to have your students do the BayQuest interactive. That interactive gives young people a good overview of the different ecosystems in the Chesapeake Bay and the plant and animal creatures found there. With the exception of the red fox, each creature in Meal Deal is also featured in BayQuest. There is a fact sheet for each creature, giving photos, additional information, and in some cases, video of the creature. Each card in Meal Deal is hyperlinked to its corresponding fact sheet in BayQuest.

Some suggestions for activities to do before playing Meal Deal include:

  • Discussing: Why do we eat food? How does the energy we get from our food get to the food itself? Have students list the foods that they eat, using breakfast, lunch and dinner, to get a wide array of possibilities. Once foods are listed, take a few on the list and begin to trace the origin of the food. Where does this animal or plant get its food from? Where does that thing get its food from? All things should eventually flow back to the sun, water, and nutrients from the soil. Why are most of the foods that we eat primary consumers or producers? It’s because there is less energy available the higher up the trophic level you go.
  • Discussing: What are all the animals in our everyday environments? Have students list all of the animal creatures that they have seen or seen evidence of in their homes, neighborhoods, and cities. Students can then group the creatures according to the kinds of foods they eat. Once those groupings have been made, if students have not already begun doing so, they can think of ways to classify the animals. Rats and roaches are scavengers, eating things that they find. Ants and flies are decomposers and scavengers, eating food that they find and eating things that are dead. Animals that eat the same things are called competitors, etc.
  • A similar activity can be done using the printable cards provided. The cards can be used to help students discover classifications of creatures. Students can sort the cards, noting and grouping them according to similarities. Then they can report back to the class, telling how they grouped the creatures and why (“We put all of the creatures that eat other animals together”; “We put animals that eat both plants and animals are together”; “We put all the things that make their own food are together”; etc.). New vocabulary (carnivore, omnivore, producer, etc.) can be introduced to help students define their groups.
  • Students can look at the printed cards before playing on the computer, so they can familiarize themselves with the creatures and take their time reading the brief facts on the backs of the cards.

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Teacher Tips: During the Interactive

All cards are dealt randomly by the computer. No two students are likely to have the same set of cards, and students aren’t likely to get the same cards dealt to them in subsequent playing sessions.

There are 44 animals and plants to be found in this interactive. They include:

American oysters
Bull sharks
Clam worms
Grass cerith
Herring gull
Red Fox
Sea cucumber

Canada goose
Cownose rays
Grass shrimp
Horseshoe crabs
Red beard sponge
Striped bass
Widgeon grass

Beach hoppers
Eastern mudsnail
Great Blue Heron
Oyster drills
Ribbon worms
Sea roaches
Wood duck

Blue crab
Hermit crabs
Mute swans
Ruddy turnstone
Sea squirts


If students don’t know what a creature eats or what eats it, they can always flip the card over to read about it.

There is a discovery log that students can fill in as they move through the activity. This chart allows them to keep track of any aspects of the food web that might be new, interesting, surprising, or that might raise questions. For instance, students might not think that mosquitoes are eaten by any other animals. But they learn that many birds and fish make mosquitoes a part of their daily diet.

An answer key is provided for you. It lists out each creature, what it eats and what it is eaten by. This might be helpful for you as a quick reference, as you’re moving from computer to computer assisting students.

There is a printable version of the Meal Deal instructions, for both the basic and advanced levels.

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Teacher Tips:  After Using the Interactive

This interactive ends by having students think about how altering the food chain (by removing or adding a species) impacts the rest of the ecosystem. It uses the example of the disappearance of soft-shelled clams.
Suggestions for extension activities include:

  • In Cinema Bayville, students can view a short clip about the devastating impact of nutria, an invasive species, in the Chesapeake Bay watershed. Students can use a cause and effect graphic organizer to track this impact. There are also videos about the impact of mute swans and the disappearance of oysters from the Chesapeake.
  • Use your state’s Department of Natural Resources website to research plant and animal species that may have disappeared or are facing severe loss, and research any invasive species that may be in your area. Use those real-life examples to localize the discussion of the impact of species loss or species invasion throughout the food chain.
  • The Baltimore Aquarium has a curriculum that offers two examples of the impact of human-induced disappearances of species. They have been reprinted as found in the curriculum:
    • “In the early part of this century, extensive hunting of mountain lions in northern Arizona effectively removed predation from the deer herds. In the years that followed, the deer herds grew because their predators were gone. Eventually there were so many deer that they ate all the vegetation. Then the deer started starving during the winters. They had virtually destroyed the vegetation on which they depended. During succeeding years the deer population declined dramatically due to starvation. In this case removing the top carnivore resulted in starvation of its prey and such extensive damage to the plants that neither the vegetation nor the deer have ever recovered properly.
    • “Recently extensive fishing for small fish called capelin has so reduced the numbers of these animals that the sea birds such as puffins that depend upon capelin for food are experiencing reproductive failure as their young starve. It is possible to overfish capelin because they swim in tight schools. By hunting for the schools with planes and surrounding them with large nets from boats, humans can catch so many that there are not even enough fish left to reproduce.” 1

Have students think of things that might be done to help prevent human destruction of links in the food chain. Look up laws regulating hunting, fishing, and other kinds of wildlife management.

  • Ask students if they’ve noticed or heard about an explosion in populations of animals or plants in their area (sea gulls, deer, feral cats, rats, for example). What do they think might be causing that creature’s population to rise? Different answers can include that there is more food for it to eat; its habitat is shrinking so you see it more; it doesn’t have any predators; etc. What might be some of the effects (both within the food chain, and in the larger ecosystem) of this population rise? What might be able to control the population rise?
  • With the printable cards, students can create food webs at their desks. Variations can include removing the invasive species cards (nutria, mute swans, and phragmites), having students build a web, and then putting the invasive species into the web to see what creatures would be affected.

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1. Living in Water: An aquatic science curriculum for grades 5-7, second edition. “Activity 30: Getting Caught”. National Aquarium in Baltimore. 1989. Page 171. This curriculum was used with permission from the National Aquarium in Baltimore

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