Living Organisms: Producers, Consumers, and Decomposers

Contributor: Meghan Vestal. Lesson ID: 11004

What food do you like? How about rotten vegetables and roadkill? Bleh! Maybe you can stand in the dirt and sun and not eat at all! What an organism--even you--eats plays a large part in the ecosystem!


Life Science

learning style
Kinesthetic, Visual
personality style
Grade Level
Middle School (6-8)
Lesson Type
Dig Deeper

Lesson Plan - Get It!


Look at the different organisms in the picures below:

  • How does each of these organisms get its food?
  • What types of foods do each of these organisms eat?

Let's find out!

It probably does not surprise you that all of the organisms pictured eat different food.

  • Why do they eat different food and how do they get their food?

All living organisms can be divided into three categories; producers, consumers, and decomposers. These terms describe what types of food the organism consumes and help us know how they go about securing their food source.

Producers are living organisms that are able to make their own food through a process called photosynthesis. Plants use sunlight, carbon dioxide, and water to make food. This process takes place inside of the plant, so they do not have to relocate to find their food source. Look around you.

  • Do you see any examples of producers near you?
  • If not, what are some examples of producers?

Consumers are living organisms that are not capable of creating their own food. Consumers are broken down into three categories: primary consumers, secondary consumers, and tertiary consumers. Copy the chart below onto a sheet of paper. As you re-write the information from the chart, think about the definition of each type of consumer. When you have finished creating your chart, complete the third column by providing at least two examples of each type of consumer:

Type of Consumer




Primary consumers are herbivores, meaning they only eat plants.



Secondary consumers are carnivores, meaning they eat meat. Secondary consumers eat the primary consumers. In other words, they eat animals that only consume plants. Some secondary consumers are omnivores, meaning they eat plants and animals.



Tertiary consumers are also carnivores. Tertiary consumers eat the secondary consumers. This means that they eat other carnivores. Some tertiary consumers are also omnivores.



When you are finished, review your chart with a teacher or parent. See if they can help you develop more examples for each type of consumer.

Next, learn more about producers and consumers by watching this Crash Course video. As you watch Ecosystem Ecology: Links in the Chain - Crash Course Ecology #7, continue to add examples of consumers to your chart:


  • When discussing consumers, did you add yourself to the chart?
  • What type of consumers are humans?

Now, move on to the last group:

Decomposers break down materials by consuming dead plants and animals. Some people refer to them as nature's cleaners because they clean up the dead remains that no other organisms want. Watch PBS39 Learning Media's video, NOVA | Decomposers. Make a list of all the decomposers you see or hear about in the clip.

Take a look out the window or go for a short walk with your parent or teacher.

  • What living organisms can you see?
  • What types of living organisms do you know are present? Grass? Birds? Worms?
  • How would you catagorize each of these organisms in terms of how they get food?

Explain your answers, then continue on to the Got It? section to continue to identify the groups.

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