Hands-on Lessons and Activities About Oceans

Oceans are a broad topic covering physical, earth and space, and life science concepts. Many elementary units focus exclusively on marine mammals, but there is much more to explore!

We’ve divided our lessons into five categories: oceans, waves and currents, marine animals and adaptations, ocean conservation, and ocean-related science, technology, and careers. Rather than pair each lesson or section with a literacy lesson, we’ve included broad suggestions for incorporating literacy into an ocean unit. Many of the science lessons also include literacy in the forms of reading, writing, research, or discussion.

Finally, we’ve aligned all lessons to national science and literacy standards. You can read the entire National Science Education Standards online for free or register to download the free pdf. The content standards are found in Chapter 6. Standards for the English Language Arts are available from the National Council of Teachers of English web site.


Oceans

Under the Deep Blue Sea (Grades K-2)
This lesson gives students the opportunity to explore oceans and ocean life. After locating the earth’s major oceans on a world map, students will “dive underwater” to discover the plants and animals that live in the sea. Students will listen to stories and poems with ocean settings and learn about the forms of sea life featured in each. They can add their own artwork and text about ocean animals and plants to a cut-away ocean display. Finally, students will engage in various forms of creative writing about the ocean and ocean life. This lesson meets the Life Science and Earth and Space Science content standards of the National Science Education Standards.

Why Is the Sea Salty? (Grades K-3)
Students simulate surface runoff with rock salt. They also observe that the salt is left behind when the water evaporates. This lesson meets the Earth and Space Science content standard of the National Science Education Standards.

New Species Found! (Grades 3-5)
This article from the National Science Teachers Association journal Science and Children describes an oceanography unit as well as the performance-based assessment that followed it. Articles are free for members and $0.99 for nonmembers. This lesson meets the Life Science content standard of the National Science Education Standards.


WAVES AND CURRENTS

Introduction to Waves (Grades K-2)
In this lesson, students experiment with creating waves of varying sizes and learn about wave height and wavelength. This lesson meets the Earth and Space Science content standard of the National Science Education Standards.

Wave Heights (Grades 3-5)
In this lesson, students will use hands-on experimentation, maps, discussion, and drawings to learn about the parts of a wave and why wave heights vary. This lesson meets the Earth and Space Science content standard of the National Science Education Standards.

Ducks in the Flow (Grades 3-5)
Students learn about ocean surface currents through a story and hands-on exploration. This module meets the Physical Science and Earth and Space Science content standards of the National Science Education Standards.


MARINE ANIMALS AND ADAPTATIONS

For more lessons about marine animals, please see our issues about mammals and birds. Ecosystem lessons will help students understand the relationships between organisms, and between organisms and their environments.

Ocean Discovery (Grade Pre-K)

This interdisciplinary unit helps students learn about the ocean by exploring marine animal adaptations and diversity. This unit meets the Life Science content standard of the National Science Education Standards.

Into the Ocean (Grades K-2)
This lesson introduces students to different ocean depths (shore/tide pools, open ocean, abyss) and to the ways in which animals have adapted to live at different depths. This lesson meets the Life Science content standard of the National Science Education Standards.

The Water Column: Where Do Ocean Animals Belong? (Grades 3-5) In this lesson, students will learn about three broad ocean habitats (the intertidal zone, the open ocean, and the abyss) and find out about some specific adaptations animals have made in each of these regions. This lesson meets the Life Science content standard of the National Science Education Standards.

Pair these two lessons with the following activities:

Hold On or Go with the Flow (Grades K-2)
Students can listen and sing along to this song about how animals survive in the rough-and-tumble world of the rocky shore.

Dive into the Deep (Grades K-5)
Students can create an undersea scene and discover what a remotely operated vehicle (ROV) sees as it dives deep in Monterey Canyon.

SeaWorld Science Activity Guide (Grades K-4)
Hands-on lessons help students learn about marine animals and the ecology of the ocean. These lessons meet the Life Science content standard of the National Science Education Standards.

We’re in Hot Water Now: Hydrothermal Vents (Grades 3-5) In this lesson, students learn about hydrothermal vents and uniquely adapted animals that live near them. They create aquarium exhibits showcasing some of these animals and their special adaptations. This lesson meets the Life Science and Earth and Space Science content standards of the National Science Education Standards.

Fish Aren’t Afraid of the Dark! (Grades K-2)
In this lesson, students will be introduced to the concept of bioluminescence and, through pictures, collages, and stories, will consider how animals benefit from having their own light sources. This lesson meets the Life Science content standard of the National Science Education Standards.

Lighting Up the Sea (Grades 3-5) Students will explore the adaptation of bioluminescence by conducting a simulation and viewing pictures of bioluminescent marine animals on the web. This lesson meets the Life Science content standard of the National Science Education Standards.

Pair the two lessons above with the following activity:

Lanternfish Sticks (Grades K-5)
In this activity, students use glow-in-the-dark paint to create their own bioluminescent fish.

Pilot Whales’ Place in the Ocean (Grades 3-5)
Students learn about pilot whales’ sociability and bonding, consider how research tools such as the Crittercam might help scientists learn more about their social behaviors, and formulate research questions. This lesson meets the Life Science and Science and Technology content standards of the National Science Education Standards.

Pair this lesson with the following activity:

Build a Whale of a Crittercam
In this activity, students design a video camera and determine how to best attach it to a humpback whale.

Are Sharks as Dangerous as We Think They Are? (Grades 3-5)
In this lesson, students conduct research about sharks and give oral presentations. This lesson meets the Life Science content standard of the National Science Education Standards.

Pair this lesson with the following activity:

Shark School of Art (Grades 3-5)
Learn some tips for creating your own shark cartoons and comics.


Ocean Conservation

Taking Care of Our Oceans (Grades K-2)
In this lesson, students will consider why so many people live near a coast and learn about the impacts of this trend on ocean animals. Students will make posters to educate coastal residents and visitors about human impacts on marine life. This lesson meets the Science in Personal and Social Perspectives content standards of the National Science Education Standards.

Oil Pollution (Grades 2-5)
Students will conduct a hands-on activity to learn why oil pollution is harmful to animals.

Using Photography to Help Save the Oceans (Grades 3-5)
In this lesson, students will learn about the importance of ocean conservation. They will think about how photography can help people understand the impact humans are having on the oceans. They will look at animals that are endangered because of human behavior, and choose one to study in depth. Finally, students will draw the animal they choose and describe why it is in peril and how it can be protected. This lesson meets the Science in Personal and Social Perspectives content standard of the National Science Education Standards.


Ocean-Related Science, Technology, and Careers

Echoes: What Animals Can Teach Scientists (Grades K-2)
In this lesson, students will learn how scientists use sonar to investigate the depths of the ocean. They will learn that some animals have an unusual way of figuring out what is around them in the dark. They will study the echolocation capabilities of bats and think about how ocean scientists can learn from these animals to develop deep-sea exploration techniques. This lesson meets the Life Science and Science and Technology content standards of the National Science Education Standards.

Submarines: The Classroom Fleet (Grades K-2)
This lesson introduces students to the submarine as a means of travel under the sea, and to the challenges humans face when traveling underwater. This lesson meets the Science and Technology content standard of the National Science Education Standards.

Who Sees the Seas as Important? (Grades K-2)
In this lesson, students learn about some people who think the ocean is so important that they have devoted their lives to studying it and its inhabitants. This lesson meets the History and Nature of Science content standard of the National Science Education Standards.

Ocean Exploration Museum (Grades 3-5)
In this lesson, students will become familiar with some of the latest discoveries in ocean research, including hydrothermal vents and historical shipwrecks. Students will complete their research by creating a “museum” exhibit about ocean exploration and by suggesting questions for future research. This lesson meets the Science and Technology content standard of the National Science Education Standards.

Underwater Study: Marine Biology (Grades 3-5)
In this lesson, students learn about marine biology as a career, the types of plants and animals marine biologists study, and how technology helps them in their work. This lesson meets the History and Nature of Science content standard of the National Science Education Standards.

Why is Oceanography Important? (Grades 3-5)
In this lesson, students learn about some of the important discoveries that oceanographers have made and some areas that they are still investigating. This lesson meets the History and Nature of Science content standard of the National Science Education Standards.


INCORPORATING LITERACY

Many of the science lessons involve literacy in some form – reading, research, or writing. However, you might want to consider one of these ideas to further integrate literacy and science instruction.

As Slippery as an Eel: An Ocean Unit Exploring Simile and Metaphor (Grades K-2)
After reading ocean-themed books, students examine the ways that the books use simile and metaphor, creating their own names and definitions of these figures of speech. Using the picture books as framing texts, students then revise a piece of their own writing to increase its use of figurative language. This lesson meets the following NCTE/IRA Standards: 3, 4, 5, 6, 11, 12.

Ferocious Fighting Fish: An Ocean Unit Exploring Beginning Word Sounds (Grades K-2)
Students explore alliteration (repeated beginning word sounds) in texts then compose their own class book to explore figurative language in their writing. The lesson includes a revision worksheet to apply the technique to another piece of writing. This lesson meets the following NCTE/IRA Standards: 3, 5, 6, 8, 11, 12.

Integrating Literacy into a Study of the Earth’s Surface (Grades 3-5) In this lesson students learn about the features of the earth’s bodies of water using a variety of literacy genres, culminating with a Readers Theatre performance. This lesson meets the following NCTE/IRA Standards: 1, 3, 4, 5, 7, 11, 12.

Reading and Writing about Pollution to Understand Cause and Effect (Grades 3-5)
This lesson uses a variety of reading and writing strategies and a hands-on experiment to help students learn that pollution in our oceans, lakes, rivers, and streams is a very serious problem. This lesson meets the following NCTE/IRA Standards: 1, 5, 7, 8.


This article was written by Jessica Fries-Gaither. For more information, see the Contributors page. Email Jessica at beyondpenguins@msteacher.org.

Copyright May 2009 – The Ohio State University. This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant No. 0733024. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation. This work is licensed under an Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported Creative Commons license.

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