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Learning Activity

Sunburst of Life


Art Form
Creative Dramatics
Science, Art
Grade levels
You will need
signs, lengths of rope, twine, a sturdy waist belt, materials to make a hat, paint, markers, masking tape, yellow Post-it notes
Time two hours on successive days


The power source for all life on Earth (with a few small geothermal exceptions) is sunlight. The Earth spins like a great slow top as it floats through space, and with each day’s spin it is entirely bathed with light. When that light falls on algae, cyanobacteria and plants, it triggers photosynthesis, the process in which light and carbon dioxide and water transform into carbohydrates (food) and oxygen is breathed out as waste.

All animal life depends on the sunlight energy that is re-packaged by plants. Animals of all sorts eat grasses and leaves and buds and seeds and fruit, and they in turn are sometimes eaten by animals called predators.

A grass blade absorbs sunlight and grows, a caterpillar eats the new growth and grows, a bluebird eats the caterpillar.

This is a Food Chain with three links in the chain. The basic relationships among lives on Earth are energy transfers.

In this creative dramatics activity students make and act out a Sunburst of Life and feel what happens when energy is transferred well, and then what happens when the first links in food chains get in trouble. They will begin to learn about Energy relationships on Earth, and begin to consider what kinds of actions damage those relationships.

Note: Before doing this activity, Explore the Energy pages on this site.

Making the Sunburst of Life

This activity may be done in groups or as a whole class.


With masking or other tape, lay out a sunburst on the floor. You will need one “ray” or “spoke” for each three or four students. (Most classes will require 8–10 spokes.) Tape a 3 foot hollow circle for the sun.

The Sun is the source for all the energy that powers life on Earth.
One person will play Sun (who is the Source, and may NOT be touched or yanked on).

Sun will wear the waist belt and stand in the center of the sunburst of Life.

Sun will distribute energy to the plant (photosynthesizing) organisms in the inner circle, closest to Sun.


Tie the rope lengths to the waist belt.

Each rope will have three or four students positioned along it (on the taped line)
Each actor will wear an identifying sign, such as Snail, Grasshopper, Whale.

Each rope or each ray of the Sunburst of Life is a food chain, which is a way of describing the transfer of Sun energy from life to life. Most food chains on Earth are only two or three members long.



Make signs for students in the first circle (closest to the sun). They will wear these signs:

• Algae & Cyanobacteria
• Grasses
• Leaves & Twigs
• Seeds
• Fruits
• Roots

Energy originates in Sunlight and travels outward along the food chain rays.

Students in the first circle will be organisms that transform sunlight energy into carbohydrates through photosynthesis.

Students in the second and third circles will be organisms that live by eating the organisms that transform light.

The most common food chains of all look like this:

plant—grazer/browser —scavengers & decomposers.

But, short food chains which end in bacteria aren’t as much fun to dramatize. Most animals are not killed by predators; they die of other natural causes.

A common textbook food chain looks like this:

leafy branch - deer - wolf


Choose food chains: You are welcome to invent your own food chains, or use the examples below.

The use of local or familiar animals will help students comprehend.
Please include some ocean or aquatic food chains. (Most life is in the ocean.)

Sample Food Chain Sunburst Rays

• Algae —Snail—Turtle—Alligator
• Seeds—Mouse—Owl
• Grasses—Grasshopper—Bluebird
• Leaves & Twigs—Deer—Wolf
• Fruits—Oriole—Hawk
• Algae—Zooplankton—Krill—Squid—Sperm Whale
• Algae—zooplankton—Fish—Shark
• Grasses—Zebra—Lion
• Algae—Plankton—Jellyfish
• Roots • Insect Larvae—Shrew
• Algae—Minnow—Fish
• Grasses—Antelope—Cheetah


Make name signs for all the creatures in the second and third links of the food chains. Distribute all the signs.


Tell the various organisms that yellow Post-It notes represent sunlight energy. Sun may designate one Helper to help distribute energy.


Sun takes all the energy to the center of the Sunburst, puts her belt on, and the actors (wearing their signs) set up the Sunburst of Life.

Acting Out the Sunburst of Life

Act One:

To make the Sunburst ‘come alive’, Sun passes units of energy to the inner “plant” circle. (Sun or Helper sticks a Post-It onto the plant)

(When the first circle receive the energy, they are happy—they grow, they bloom, they smile.) Encourage real acting here.

On Sun’s signal the inner circle passes the energy to the first circle of animals, who pass it on to the final circle.

Ask the second circle actors how they should act out their transfer to the final circle of predators.

As each organism receives energy it is happy, and grows, or reproduces, or dances.

How should they act as they give up their energy?

The Sun repeats the energy transfer process perhaps two more times. All is well. The Sunburst of Life is working. But right after the last passing of energy, two or three first circle actors fall down and get sick, dramatically. (This is pre-arranged secretly by the Sun.)

End of Act One. Pause. Actors all stay in place.

Act Two: The Sunburst of Life has problems. Something is making the grass sick, or the trees, or the algae.

Now, without pre-arranging, ask the actors to act out what must happen to the rest of the food chains whose green plant energy source is sick or dying.

The Sun again hands energy to the inner circle, but the sick ones can’t take it in, and can’t pass it along the food chains.

The 2nd and 3rd circle “animal” actors must solve the dramatic problem of showing hunger and starvation.

Sun keeps handing out energy, which only gets used by the healthy food chains.


Discussion should center on the experience rather than the ideas. The ideas will result from the experience. Ask actors how it felt to be bursting with the sun’s energy. Focus on how good it is to be alive and receiving energy.

Ask actors to share their feelings about not getting energy later.

Lead into ideas by asking the class what might be some reasons why Leaves, Algae, or Grass may have become unable to transfer their energy up the food chain.

Focus here should be on harmful actions (such as de-forestation), not on pointing fingers at ‘bad’ people.

Suggestions & Variations

• Be theatrical. Have an actor walk in front of the perhaps imaginary audience with a sign announcing Act Two.

• Coach actors so their “body language” fits the action.

• Play music appropriate to the action in both acts.

• Have students paint their organisms on their name signs.

• Color code the signs. If the plant circle is green, what colors are the other two circles?

• Perform the Sunburst for another class and have the student actors facilitate discussion.