Background Lessons for Journey North

Seeing the Light
Exploring the Sun's Role in the Living Systems

1 period and ongoing additions to chart

chart paper, markers


Overview: Students create webs that illustrate their thinking about seasonal physical and biological changes caused by changes in sunlight. They begin to grasp the central role of sunlight in living systems.

Most students have learned that sunlight makes plants grow, some animals eat plants, and predators eat other animals. However, they may not have thought about how these food chains and webs change with the seasons. For example, during spring in the Northern Hemisphere, lengthening and strengthening sunlight and rising temperatures boost plant photosynthesis, which increases the amount of food they produce.

Laying the Groundwork
Ask small groups of students to make a list of five changes they think the sun will bring about as winter wraps up and spring springs forth in their community. Suggest they think of both physical changes (e.g., temperatures) and biological changes (e.g., plant growth). Have the class create a master list of these changes along with questions they have.


  1. Example of Webbing Activity
    (Click Image to Enlarge)

    Ask students to review their list and discuss what kinds of impact each physical change (e.g., ice melting, more daylight hours, temperatures warming) might have on living things — particularly on their ability to make or get food. Consider introducing or reviewing the concept of food chains. You might, for instance, ask, What do plants need to grow and thrive (e.g., sun, warmth, water)? As they grow, what does it mean for animals that depend on plants? For animals that eat other animals?

  2. As the class discusses ideas, use a large piece of paper to begin to create a Web to illustrate them; use the sun as a starting or center point (see the example, right). Help students explore connections between sunlight and changes in living things as spring emerges.

  3. As spring progresses, read updates from Journey North and keep a running list of new connections students discover between sunlight and spring events. Have them use another marker color to add these to their Web. How can their findings help answer some of their initial questions? What new ones do they have?

Making Connections — Journaling and Discussion Questions

  • Where and how would you fit animal migration into our web?
  • Did any of the new connections we made during the season surprise you? Why?
  • How do seasonal changes in photoperiod (day length) and the sun's intensity affect your animal's food web?


  • Note the new connections students make and add these to the class web over the course of their migration studies.