Herbivore, Omnivore, Carnivore: Activities for Teaching about Animals' Eating Habits

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From the Latin Word…

You can use herbivore, omnivore, and carnivore activities to help your students learn the difference between the three terms. Since your students may not even realize that these words come from Latin, use this first activity to help them understand the etymology of the words. Tell students that the root vorare means “to eat” or “to swallow.” Then ask them what they think the prefixes/roots herb, omni, and carn mean. Once they’ve guessed, provide students or small groups of students with dictionaries, and have them look up the origins of the words herbivore, omnivore, and carnivore. Encourage students to discuss whether their prediction were correct.

Food Web Exploration

Hand out copies of a food web (or food chain) as herbivore, omnivore, and carnivore worksheets. Ask students to use the food web to figure out which animals are herbivores, which ones are omnivores, and which ones are carnivores. If they need some help, remind them how to use a food web to find out what each animal eats. Then let students put the animals into a three column chart, with the headings herbivore, omnivore, and carnivore. You can also use this worksheet to give students additional practice.

Sorting Activities

At a dollar store or another place with cheap playthings, you’ll probably find stickers with animal pictures on them, small plastic animals usually used as party favors, or other depictions or representations of animals. Buy a collection of them, and then let students sort them according to whether they are herbivores, omnivores, or carnivores. If they are three-dimensional, students can sort them into labeled boxes. If they are stickers or pictures, students can stick them to labeled pieces of poster board.

Hands-On Exploration

Of all of the herbivore, omnivore, and carnivore activities in this section, you’ll have the hardest time finding the materials for this one. Go to a nearby museum or agricultural university and ask them if you can borrow some animal skulls. Although you’ll hear plenty of “ew"s from students, most will be intrigued with the chance to identify animals based on bone structure. Point out the molars, incisors, and other teeth on one of the skulls, and explain that carnivores tend to have large canines for ripping into their prey and sharp molars for chewing it, herbivores tend to have flat (often ridged) molars and premolars with no canines along with eyes on the sides of their heads, and omnivores have all types of teeth. Both omnivores and carnivores tend to have eyes in the front of their heads to better catch prey. Provide students with skulls to examine. What can they guess about the animal’s eating habits? How do they know?

Use these activities in your classroom, and no student will believe that the topic is boring!

Online Resources

Science and Health Education Partnership. “Skulls- Herbivores, Omnivores, and Carnivores.” https://www.seplessons.org/node/366

Online Etymological Dictionary. https://www.etymonline.com/

Eleanor Van Gelder School. “Carnivore, Herbivore, or Omnivore.” https://www.evgschool.org/Carnivore%20-%20Herbivore%20-%20Omnivore.htm

This post is part of the series: Science and Math Hands-on Activities

Looking for science and math hands-on activities? This series contains some excellent ideas for several levels of math and science classes.

  1. Fun Games to Play in Geometry Class
  2. Fun Activities for Geometry Class
  3. Kids’ Science Projects for the Summertime
  4. Ideas for Teaching Students About Surface Area in the Classroom
  5. Teaching Activities for Herbivore, Omnivore and Carnivore with Worksheet Resources