Behind the Scales- Structure of a Goldfish

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Students will explore and identify parts of a goldfish by analyzing live fish and labeling a diagram.

Big Idea

What parts of a goldfish are important to its survival?


5 minutes

Ring the chime (class auditory signal).  Announce to the students "It's time for Science!  Come back to your carpet squares to hear what's next!.  I need you to 'Show Five' (1. hands folded, 2. legs crossed 3. eyes looking, 4. ears listening, 5. voices quiet".  I hold up my hand as a signal (it's my version of criss cross apple sauce.).

"Remember when we talked about our class pets? Some of you wondered more about the fish.  So now, we're going to talk about the fish in more detail.  That means, we're going to study them and learn the names of the different parts of a fish.  The more we know about the animals around us and learn the parts that make them unique, the better we can understand how living things work together to make the world better.  We're going to sing "Head Shoulders Knees and Toes" (add the second verse "Ankles Elbows Feet and Seat" if you'd like!) so we can get used to naming our body parts before we learn about the fish."  


Large Group Instruction

20 minutes

I read the book Swimmy by Leo Lionni to my class.  We discussed how fish need to overcome fears so they can thrive in their natural environment. "What was Swimmy's motivation to hide from the Big Fish?"  ("He wanted to survive.")

The underlying lesson of teamwork is a wonderful way to show how Swimmy helped his friends.  We saw this when he convinced the other fish to work together and create the pretend bigger fish.  The class and I brainstormed different types of fish (goldfish and sharks were most popular!) to connect the subject to something real.  

We discussed our experiences with fish as we talked about visits to pet stores and larger aquariums.   I facilitated a KWL chart of what we know about them.  This establishes a foundation of knowledge and helps the class understand what they already know and how to build on it with the curriculum we are about to explore.  How do we know if we are right about our "wonderings"?  We observe (look at) the fish.  In our class, we have a fish tank with a variety of goldfish, platys, and guppies (you'll meet them in future lessons!) that we use to do research on these wonderings.  As we discuss our fish, we review how to be considerate and observe them safely.  We have colorful magnifying glasses (bought with Scholastic Bonus Points, whoo hoo!) that prove to be a wonderful motivation to look closer at our pets.  I remind them to stay far enough away so we can look at without frightening them.  We have personal space and so do our animal friends. 

I connected the brainstormed list to our class fish (teachers without fish in the class can watch a simple video clip such as  "As we watch the fish, pay attention to how they swim, breath, and change directions.  To do this, they need their tail, fin, mouth, eyes, gills, and scales.  Each of these parts is important to the fish."  This gave the students some things to think about as they are dismissed to their work area to color the fish picture.  "How could we could color our fish?" ("Make them like the ones in our books/fish tank/video clip").  Coloring the fish gave them a way to connect to the material before we moved on to the step step of instruction.  To keep organized, I dismissed one table group at a time and passed out the fish diagram papers once they were all seated.

When I design a lesson, I follow a certain pattern.  First, I look at the standards that target the desired skills.  Second, I consider ways the students will be able to both present their lessons to each other and ask significant questions in order to gain deeper knowledge.  Last, I think of an engaging avenue that has a direct connection to the students' educational and professional future.  Designing an activity like this goldfish lesson and breaking instruction into two parts creates a concrete use for their new information ("Look at our fish.  Now we know what what they look like/to call the parts of them!").  This helps the students immediately apply what they have learned and extend it into their background knowledge.  A key thing to remember is each class is different, so pace this lesson in a way that is right for your class.


Individual Instruction

10 minutes

After the students have finished coloring the pictures, I brought them back to the carpet area using the same chime from the beginning of the lesson.  I showed them an enlarged version (ledger size, 11x17”) of the goldfish diagram.  I asked for volunteers to come up and point out that six fish body parts that we learned earlier.  This gave me a good opportunity to check for the class's understanding.  The volunteers were able to correctly identify all of the parts (if they hadn’t, I would have taken a few minutes to review and reteach).  I pointed out each body part as we orally practiced the words as a whole group. 

I dismissed the students by group back to their seats with a fun activity.  They pretended to be fish- move, breath, turn- like the fish we studied.  This made the information more concrete to them as they realized every living thing needs ways to move.  

Once seated, I provided the students with their fish picture, the one they colored.  As a summative assessment.  I now asked them to write the correct body part labels on the lines.  As they labeled the fish, I circulated to check each student’s progress.  When I noticed blank lines, I checked with the student to see if it was due to distraction or a lack of information and provided the form of support they needed (“Tell me more about your picture labels.” or  “Let’s go over what we know about this part of the fish.”).  During this part of the activity, I had the class add the labels to the fish and verbally identify each fish body part to a table partner (pair/share).  Rote memorization at this age and developmental stage would have been counter-productive to their absorption of the information.  Since my goal was mastery and not a test in the traditional sense, I allowed the students to refer to the list on the worksheet. Once they completed the labeling, I brought them back to their carpet squares to review.

Wrap Up

5 minutes

After I transitioned them back to carpet squares, we reflected on discussion.  We discussed and added additional realizations ("Fish breath like us!") and “ah ha!” moments to KWL chart, and posted it on the wall near our fish tank.  Sometimes, a wrap up activity really is this simple!