Coral Reef Gems of Biodiversity

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The SWBAT construct a reason to back up data of why their are more reptiles than any class of animal in the coral reef.

Big Idea

"Gems of Biodiversity" is a great visual tool to help children grasp the idea of biodiversity of coral reefs. It can also be used to help the children understand relationships and as a springboard for an exercise in reasoning.

Teacher Notes

Teacher Note:

Are you ready to take your children's understanding of biodiversity to the next level?  You can do just that with an activity called "Gems of Biodiversity."  This activity will be done at the end of each of the individual habitats studied--rain forest, desert, coral reef and woodlands.  After the children have gathered information about each habitat, the class will make comparisons about the animal life found there using a visual model.  This repeating activity is called "Setting Up Gems of Biodiversity."  It unifies the concepts taught plus it creates a common ground for comparison among the habitats.  Please make sure to check it out since it is well worth the effort and can be used year after year.  Sound interesting?  Click here for information on how to set it up.  Life at the next level is pretty sweet!

Activity Description:

The children will compare and contrast the biodiversity of life in the ocean(see above note) using a visual model.  The model will be a jar filled with colored gems.  The jar will represent a animal species in the coral reef. It will be filled with colored gems denoting 5 animal groups (amphibians, birds, mammal, reptiles and fish) according to the amount of animal species in the coral reef.  Each gem will represent 100 different species of animals. So if there are 1,000 types of reptiles in the coral reef, 10 yellow gems would be put into the jar. As a class, we will fill the coral reef habitat jar with the appropriate amount of gems.  After the coral reef habitat is studied, the class will count the gems denoting the number of animals species living there.   We discuss the results and fill in a sentence frame to explain why there is the largest number of fish species that live there.


NGSS/Common Core Connections:

 The students will be making observations of plants and animals to compare the diversity of life within the coral reef.  They will be exploring all different kinds of living things--both plants and animals.  The children will also be practicing the concept of using a model to depict five classifications of animals.  In addition, the children will be counting by 100's when they count the number of species.  They will be constructing possible explanations of why some so many fish live in the coral reef.



see note and link above

Coral Reef Let's Back It Up! blank worksheet-- 1 per student

Biodiversity Habitat Essential Questions- pulled up on Smartboard


5 minutes

First we are going to discuss the animals and plants that live in the coral reef.  For this, I have the children pull out their chart from a previous lesson on the biodiversity of the coral reef.

The coral reef is beautiful and full of life! It would be great if we could share our findings with another classmate.  Let's take out your notes from yesterday so we can look at your information that you have gathered.  We are going to be looking at the animals that you chose to write down and compare them with a partner.  

You will be working with our Clock Buddies today.  I would like you to work with your 4:00 partner today.  

I wait for the children to get with their partner group.  I know if I give directions before they move, they will thinking about who their partner is going to be that they will not be attentive.

I want you to discuss your findings on your chart with your partner.  Discuss what you have found and compare.  See if you have written the same things down.  See if there are any differences.  You may add to your chart if you would like to. 

I give them about 5 minutes to talk to their partner.  Having them discuss their ideas first with  partner helps get the ideas out, which will greatly helps the children who don't typically like to share their ideas since they have "practiced" it with a friendly partner first.  It also helps bring the topic of discussion to the forefront of their mind.


20 minutes

Then I get the students' attention by clapping my hands in a rhythm. They listen and repeat.  I repeat until everyone is quiet.  We begin discussing their animal classification charts. 

Let's first take a look at the mammals of the coral reef.  What are some of the mammals that are found there?

I write their responses on the Smart Board in our class chart.  We repeat this process with the birds, fish, amphibians and reptiles.  I make sure to comment on the how we didn't find any amphibians or birds in the coral reef, but we found lots of invertebrates, which are not on our chart. 

Remember how we created a biodiversity jar for the rain forest?  Each of the gems stood for something.  Do you remember what the gems stood for?  What did each color stand for?

(Red for birds, black for mammals, yellow for amphibians, green for reptiles and blue for fish).

I write these colors next to the animal classifications on the board.  Using gems as a model for each of the animal classes helps the students to understand grand complexity of nature and its patterns.  For information on why I use the gems for models, click here.

What do we call something that stands for something else, or is a miniature version of it?  

Right, it is called a model.  Remember that each gem represents 100 DIFFERENT types, or species of animals.  So if 1 gem is in the jar, that means that there are 100 different types of that animal in the habitat. 

Today instead of filling up our jar, we are going to be doing the opposite.  You are going to be looking at the filled jar and then figuring out what type of animals we would find the most of.  But before we take a look at our Coral Reef Gems of Biodiversity jar let's make a prediction.  What animal species do you think we will find the most of?

One girl thought there would be more mammals.  I asked her why she thought that.  Click here to see a short video clip where she backs up her idea with good reasoning skills, which is exactly what I would like the children to start doing.

Most of the other children think there will be more fish.

Why do you think we would find the most fish?  

We discuss their thoughts and ideas.  Again, we are looking at backing up their answer with logical reasoning.

Our Coral Reef jar is already filled up. Let's take a look at it.  Tell me about your observations.

I unveil the jar. What species is there the most of? How can you tell?

 We discuss their thoughts and initial reactions.  We also discuss how they can tell that we have the most fish. I am looking for them to visually make comparisons between the animal species by looking at the different colors.  So it is important that I wrote what each color stands for on the board.  I want them to be able to look at a model of something and then translate it into useable information.

Now let's count our gems!

I gently pour the gems onto a piece of felt.  I ask two girls to group the like colors together.  Then we start with the mammals.  We only need to count 1 gem.  The kids giggle and say 100!

 Wow!  What does that tell us about mammals in the coral reef?  Do you think the coral reef has what many mammals need to survive?  Why do you think there are only 100 species?

I am trying to get them to think about animal needs and how that aides in survival of animals in specific habitats.

Okay, now let's count the amphibians.

One observant child yells out that there isn't any yellow ones or red ones.  We discuss why there aren't any amphibians or birds in the coral reef.

  Let's count and figure out how many species of fish are in the coral reef.  

I call on a quiet student to help with counting the gems.  He holds up 1 gem at a time and we start counting.  The class recites 100, 200, 300, 400, 500, 600, 700, 800, 900, 1,000 (all the way to 4,000)!   Wow!  That means there are 4,000 different types of fish that live in the coral reef.  That's a lot of fish!  Why do you think so many fish live in the coral reef?  What does it have that makes it easy for fish to survive?

This discussion continues the talk of dependency, survival, needs that have been a crucial part of this unit.  

We continue doing this for the last classification of animals.  We count 40 for the fish. This is great practice for the math standard of counting by 100's, especially since it repeats over and over for each of the animal groups.  The kids have fun counting and don't even realize that this is part of the math standard.

Explanation/ Construct Possible Reasons

20 minutes

I noticed when we were forming hypotheses when doing a scientific study (What's All the Buzz about Being a Scientist) that many of the children had some difficulty backing up their hypotheses with reasonable thinking.  I really want to continue to practice to help support their reasoning behind the predictions that they make. As in a previous lesson, Rain Forest Gems of Biodiversity,  the children will be constructing possible reasons why they think a particular classification of animals or a particular species was the most prevalent and why.  This will help them begin to form arguments based on information that they have gathered.  

So we stop and talk about the forms of life that are abundant.  We work together to try to form reasons why those particular types of animals are found in abundance.  This helps them start to form arguments by backing their thoughts up with possible reasons.

When we looked at our Coral Reef Biodiversity jar, we noticed that there were more fish than any other species.  What questions could we ask to help us find out more about fish that would help us to understand why there are so many that live there?

The class comes up with some great questions to start a mini-investigation.  The questions they come up with are: What do they need to survive?  What would make this habitat a good one for them to live in?  What do they eat?  What eats them?

We decide to check out a few websites to see if we can find the answers to our questions.  These answers will help us understand the reason why so many fish live in the coral reef.  

For the next part the children continue working in their partner groups.  I step it up a notch for the next example by using the graphic organizer Coral Reef Let's Back It Up!  I give this recording sheet to each student even though they are working with a partner.  I still want them both to get the experience of going through the process of filling it out and thinking of how to form a possible argument to back up their thinking. Click here to see why I love using sentence frames for helping the students construct their answers.

We know that fish have certain needs and therefore can only live in certain areas.  The coral reef must have all of the things that they need in order to survive.  Thinking about what we have just read, I would like you to discuss the needs of fish with with your partner.  Then I would like you to think of a possible reason that would tell WHY there would be more fish than any other species.  Click here to watch some of our discussions.  These two girls were reading through their work and being great partners.


The recording sheet, "Let's Back It Up!" contains sentence frames.  Sentence frames help the children to describe and clarify what they are thinking.  They help give children a bit of structure needed to accomplish a writing task.  The idea of backing up data by using arguments is a complex task, so sentence frames help the children form their ideas within parameters.  Another reason I have found this useful is that it makes it easier for students to compare their ideas and thoughts when we discuss it later. It also keeps the students' thinking on the right track.


5 minutes

To wrap up the lesson, we review what we have learned.  

You have learned so much today!  What do you think was the most important thing that we learned about?  How can you apply this learning to a new situation?

Then we revisit the Biodiversity Habitat Essential Questions for the unit.

I really want them to take away not only the smaller idea from the lesson, but think about the essential questions.  

Let's add your workpage to our science notebooks.  I want you to find the page where you put your coral reef pocket.  On the right side I would like you to glue in you "Let's Back it Up" paper.  Remember to use only small dots of glue.  Just like your first grade teachers told you, dot-dot-not a lot! (See coral reef completed page).

You have done an incredible job today.  I am very impressed with your thinking and writing.  Tomorrow we will be learning about a much drier habitat!


To evaluate the children's papers, I was checking to see if they understood the relationship between a habitat, the need of animal and survival, on a basic second grade level.

Click here for a sample where the child mentions dependency, which is a main theme of the previous unit.  In this example, the child shows above average understanding, using the word prey and also mentions dependency.  I love how this student mentions home, food and family.  Student A, student B and  student C  also show good understanding.  In this sample the student did not quite make the connections and also wrote irrelevant information.