Biodiversity of the Coral Reef

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The SWBAT tell about 3 animals and 1 plant that live in a coral reef.

Big Idea

A coral reef is a community of unique and unusual organisms. Let's dive in to find out more!

Teacher Notes

Activity Description

The children will gather and record information on a classification organizer about plant and animal life in the coral reef after listening to the teacher read a book and viewing a movie.  Then they will use their knowledge to create a page in their interactive science notebook.

NGSS/Common Core Connections

Students will learn about the plant and animal life in the coral reef. They will gather this information from listening to a book and viewing a movie which will help them to make observations that will be used to make comparisons of the four different habitats, which is part of planning and carrying out investigations.  This lesson is directly connected to the nature of science since students will be looking for patterns and order by classifying animals when making observations about the coral reef.  As a result of their learning, they will conclude that there are many different kinds of things in the world and they exist in many different places on land and in water.  Since the children will be connecting science ideas and concepts from the text you will aslo be hitting the RI 2.3 standard.

At the end of the unit, the children will use information gathered from this lesson (and others) to create a habitat diorama and write a research report.  This will give them a base knowledge for that project.  


ANY book about coral reefs that shows a variety of plant and animal life.  These are many books about the ocean, but ones just about coral reefs are a bit harder to find. Here is a great recommendation:  Coral Reef book

Coral Reef folded pockets--1 per student

Coral Reef Note Taking Chart 2 sizes--1 per student 

index cards cut to 3 x 3 1/2 inches to fit into pocket- 1 per child

Special note:  I usually spend an extra day or two reading books to help the children learn as much as they can about the coral reef.  During this time, they continue to keep notes on their chart.  This additional knowledge will promote a deeper understanding of coral reef plant and animal life so they can back up their thinking with logical thoughts and be able to make comparisons.

Here is a book that I recommend for additional reading:

Coral Reef Hideaway book

article about sea turtles in Newsela (you are required to sign up for a FREE account to be able to access this article)  


5 minutes

I gather the children in the corner.  I tell them to bring their white boards (to use as a hard surface to write on) and a pencil. 

The next habitat we are going to study has some very unusual animals that live there.  I'll give you some clues to see if you can guess what habitat it is.  

    • It is immersed in something called H2O.
    • The largest one is located by Australia.
    • Coral is the most abundant animal found there.

The children shout out "oceans."  Yes, you are partly right, we are going to be studying a part of the ocean called the coral reefs.  The ocean is so large and holds so many mysteries that we are going to focus on the part that scientists know the most about, the coral reefs.  Coral reefs are within the ocean. Coral reefs are a shallow, clear part of the ocean.  The main coral reefs are located along the coasts of Australia, Florida, the Caribbean, and Brazil.  

I show them the main areas on a map.  

I choose to have the children study about the coral reef instead of the whole ocean because we are going to be comparing plant and animal life found in four habitats.  The ocean is so vast and contains so many species that we are yet to be discovered, that finding statistics of the species for comparison was impossible.  Therefore I hard to narrow the field down to coral reefs.  This will enable us to reach the standard of comparing animal and plants species of different habitats.

Do you remember the note-taking chart that we used to collect notes about the rain forest?  We are going to be using the same type of organizer to keep notes on about the coral reefs. 

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I hand out the Coral Reef Note Taking Chart  to the children.  See my reflection on why I use this type of organizer.  Click here to see how graphic organizers, in general, can be beneficial.  

Remember at the beginning of the year how we learned about scientists asking questions? (see lesson link) Questions help lead investigations.  So before we start I would like you to take a minute and think of one good question that you have about coral reefs.  If you need help on how to begin your question, look at our Question Stems.  Write the question on your paper on the lines at the top. (I point out where to write).  As you are learning about the coral reef you might find the answer to your question.  If you do, please write it on the next set of lines.

I like to start the children with asking questions.  It helps them focus their learning on the current task. Also, it is one of the science practices and a skill of interest in the Common Core.

Let's review before we start.  What are the five classifications of animals that scientists use to group animals with backbones together? We are going to be using those same 5 categories, but I do need to share something with you.  The coral reefs are also full of animals that DO NOT have a backbone.  These are called invertebrates.  Examples of invertebrates are corals, sea anemones and jellyfishes.  They will not be on our chart since we are comparing  animals with backbones.  So look at the bottom of the page right below the chart.  If you find any animals that do not fit into the categories on our chart you can record them here on the lines.

As stated earlier, since we will be comparing animals across the different habitats, I needed the chart to be consistent.  Therefore, I chose to use the vertebrate classifications only.  This keeps the chart within feasible boundaries.


45 minutes

For the next part of the lesson, I have the children gather in the corner.

As biologists, we are going to explore the coral reefs.  I wish we could go for a dive, but that would be impossible.  So we are going to go on a pretend diving trip to the coral reef.  I would like you to keep track of all the plants and animals that you encounter on this note taking chart by writing the names of animals and plants in each of the categories, just like what we did when we studied the rain forest. Try to write down the names of three from each category.  Try your best to spell what you can, but don't worry if you don't know the proper spelling.   

We read the book titled Coral Reef, but you may choose any book on this topic.  After I am done reading the book we discuss and talk about some of the plants and animals they found interesting.  I want to keep reminding them of how biodiverse and unusual this habitat is.  

Then I have the children gather on the floor by the Smartboard.  We watch this video to see all different animals in the ocean, mostly from coral reef. It is 9.5 minutes long. During the video, the children will take additional notes on their organizer (see coral reef finished page sample).  If you would also like, the children can go to this website to find out more information about an interesting coral reef critter, sea turtles.

Note:  We did not find any birds, insects or amphibians in our reading, so the children left those columns blank.

Most of this lesson showcases the students recording observations to describe patterns and relationships in the natural world, which is a foundational NGSS standard.  The main goal for them is to collect data so they can compare the coral reef habitat with others at the end of this unit.


10 minutes

I ask the children to look at their chart and pick out their favorite fact from the either the movie or from the book about plants and animals that live in the coral reef.  This helps them evaluate and analyze their notes to see what they like best.  

To add to their interactive science journals, I have them make a Coral Reef folded pocket.  

Now I would like you to draw and color a picture that depicts life in the coral reef.  Make sure you sketch your idea first and then color it in beautifully.  When you are done, I would like you to write down what you think is the most interesting thing that you have learned along with a short explanation on this index card.  I expect you to use your best handwriting.

To make the pocket, I have them follow the instructions on the page.  

Then they can glue the smaller sized animal classification graphic organizer on the left side and the pocket they just made right under it (finished page sample).  This leaves the right side for the next activity, Coral Reef Gems of Biodiversity.  When finished, it creates a double-spread of information.


NOTE:  If you are not making science journals, make sure to SAVE the notes they took from today for this lesson.