Meeting Goldie the Goldfish

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SWBAT identify the parts of a goldfish by labeling a diagram.

Big Idea

Kids observe a fish to understand how a fish lives.


15 minutes

To begin this lesson I gather the kids on the floor by calling one table at a time to sit like scientists.  I read the book, A Fish Out of Water by Helen Palmer. If you do not have this book, I have included a video by the President of the Socorro Independent School Board created for Read Across America day. You can fast forward through the video to get to the story.

As I read the story, or we view it, I pause and think aloud about the things that happen with the fish, Otto. I ask them if the things in the story can really happen or not and why or why not.

I also ask the kids what they think a fish might really need. I have them think silently in their heads for 20 to 30 seconds and then talk to their floor partner. I assign floor partners for the kids by looking at academic ability and behavior. I partner kids no more than two levels apart. This means that if a student is a high-achiever then they are paired with a medium-low and the medium-high achievers are paired with a struggling student. This allows the kids to support each other while learning together.

I start the lesson this way to hook the kids and generate excitement in the lesson. Young children love this story. They love the silliness and entertainment of it.


10 minutes

I have a dozen medium sized goldfish in a tank in my classroom. I catch one fish, using a net, each of my six tables and place them in a jar or a large cup while the kids are at lunch. I place a fish on each table as I give the kids the rules and procedures for the investigation. This means I am delivering fish to tables as I talk to the kids while they are still seated on the floor. I also have my helper of the day place a magnifying glass where each student sits at each table while I pass out fish.


  • Stay in seat
  • Keep hands in lap until asked to use them
  • Be very quiet at your seats
  • Always look at the fish, but never touch the jar/bowl


  • You will sit at your seat and use the magnifying glass to look closely at your fish without touching the jar/bowl
  • You will look at your fish to determine how your fish breathes, moves and when I come to Your table, watch how it eats
  • You will talk to your table friends about what you see the fish doing and how the fish is doing it

I then dismiss one table at a time to go to their seats to observe their fish. I give the kids 6-8 minutes to observe the fish. The time depends on how long it takes to prepare them. I set a timer - I use my iPhone. Once timer goes off, I instruct the kids to give their magnifying glasses to their table leader who in turn gives it to my helper of the day.

I call one table at a time to come back to the floor to sit like scientists so we can find out what they observed.


5 minutes

Once the kids are sitting appropriately on the floor, I use the name stick can to randomly choose students to share one thing they observed their fish doing. As the kids share out, I record the information on chart paper.

What's listed:

  • breathing with the "cuts" behind its head
  • moving using "flaps"
  • eating with "fish mouth"
  • orange shiny spots
  • comes to top of water
  • has a line on its body
  • has two big eyes
  • can make bubbles

Once the information is collected, I tear off the sheet and post it on my ActivBoard so we can connect observations with the body parts of a fish and use it in subsequent fish explorations.


10 minutes

The kids remain seated on the floor while I draw a quick diagram of a fish on the next sheet of chart paper. The diagram includes the following parts:

  • body
  • lateral line
  • gills
  • eye
  • scales (a sampling)
  • mouth
  • dorsal, pectoral, tail fins

Once I have drawn the diagram of the fish, I walk the kids through the observations they made and label the diagram as we go through it. It sounds something like this:

"You shared that the fish are opening and closing the 'cuts' behind their head maybe to breath. Does anyone know what the 'cuts' are called?"

I call on a volunteer to answer. If the student responds with an incorrect answer, I praise them for the attempt and tell them that I appreciate that they were listening so well, but I am looking for a specific name for the 'cuts' behind the fish's head.

Once someone states, "gills," I draw a line next to the gills on the diagram and label them. I then ask the kids how they think the fish might use its gills.

Again I call on a volunteer to answer. Once an answer close to, "fish breathe from water through their gills," I have the kids silently think about what we just said and then share with their floor partner what gills are and how they are used.

I repeat this procedure for the remainder of the observations listed on the chart paper.


5 minutes

In order to elaborate on the anatomy of a fish, I make meaning of it all with the kids by making connections between humans and fish. For instance, I connect the gills of fish to the lungs of people by explaining how we breath air versus how fish use gills to get oxygen from the water (see attachment). I also make it clear to the kids that fish CAN drown just like people.

I then compare human legs and feet to fish fins.  I ask the kids why they think fish need fins rather than legs and feet. After all, humans can swim too. So why would they have fins instead of legs and feet? I leave this up to their imagination and allow them to share out any ideas they may have. We then discuss it with our floor partners.


10 minutes

To evaluate this lesson, I have the kids label their own fish diagram and place it in their science journals.

As I roam the room supporting their independent work, I ask each student at a table a different question:

  1. What do fish do with gills?
  2. How do fish move?
  3. What are scales?
  4. What is the lateral line for?

If a student responds incorrectly, I explain to them the correct answer and ask one of the other questions, even if it is a question that has already been asked at the table.

I find that the lateral line question is always the most difficult for the students.

To close this lesson, I have the kids gather on the floor by calling one table at a time to sit like scientists. I ask them to think of the most important moment of learning they had during this experience. I have them think to themselves for 20 to 30 seconds and then share that thought with their floor partner.

I choose random students to share out by pulling names from a name stick can.


10 minutes

One extension to this lesson is to have some fun singing a song, "Slippery fish" which introduces the food chain of the ocean.