See Swimmy Survive- How Does a Goldfish Manage?

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Learn the function of each part by detailing it on a “help sheet”.

Big Idea

How do the parts of a goldfish help it live?


5 minutes

I call the students to the carpet with a chime and ask them to “show me five”.  Once seated, I announce “On Tuesday, we learned the body parts of a fish.  Today, we are going to learn what these body parts do for a fish.  We get to be ‘Fish Inspectors’ students whose job is to study fish to see how they use their body.”.  My goal here was to get the students tuned into not only that their body moves, but more why it moves.  What’s the purpose of this movement?  

"Now we get to be fish!", I told them, "Walk around the room and pretend to be fish.".  If left too long, this activity could quickly get out of hand so I limited it to about fifteen seconds.  I clapped a signal and asked them to quickly return to their carpet squares.  This activity helped them create an awareness that body movement has purpose.  We discussed questions such as “How did we use our 'tails'?  Did we change directionsWhat part of us helped controlled that?”.  Since this is an introductory discussion, I don't spend a great deal of time recording answers (that comes later).  I just planted seed- the connection between 'movement' and 'purpose'.  This simple activity also acts as a movement break (I call them ‘energizers’) that allowed the students to refocus on the lesson.


Whole Group Instruction

15 minutes

As a follow up to the previous lesson on the body parts of goldfish, I re-read the book Swimmy by Leo Lionni to my class and looked at it from a different perspective.  We discussed the idea that fish need to overcome fears so they can thrive in their natural environment.  We reviewed the KWL chart from the previous lesson as we looked at (observed) the fish in the book. 

I connected this list to our class fish (teachers without fish in the class can watch a simple video clip such as  As we watched, I asked the students "Did we see how they swam, breathed, and changed directions?".  With the learning opportunity of watching live fish, we saw them use different body parts.  We came up with questions to ask each other- Why do fish need these body parts?  Can anything else be used to do these things?  Do any other animals have these same body parts?  If they do, do they use them  the same functions?  This gave us an opportunity to introduce the work 'function' and define it as 'an action that has a reason'.  I recorded this word and definition on the fish chart so readers and non-readers can refer, discuss, and think about it. 

After the energizer, we reviewed the KWL chart from the previous lesson so we could go over the names of the body parts.  As a review, we repeated the names of the fish’s body parts (top to bottom) as a chant, along with rhythmic claps (“Eyes..eyes!  Mouth..mouth!  Gills..gills!  Scales..scales!  Fins..fins!  Tail..tails!”).  This part of the lesson went quickly by design since there was no need to take another movement break this soon.

To have a good visual, I previously enlarged the labeled fish part diagram on a copier to ledger (11x14”) size.  We looked at this enlarged picture that labels parts (tail, fin, scales, eyes, gills, mouth) of a fish.  I introduced discussion about the purpose of the fish’s body parts.  “Each of these body parts has an important purpose to the fish’s survival.  The eyes help it see, scales act like skin to protect the fish, gills are for breathing, tails move it, mouths take in food and eliminate air (burps), and fins steer.”.  I used hand motions to illustrate the functions (hand moves straight forward for tail, turns to right or left for fin.  The other functions are self-explanatory.).  I then added the purpose of the body parts to the diagram.  To give this information context, we began initial level discussion.  “What do we know about the parts of a fish?”  I listed each body part on a chart and record student responses.  I used these to develop a connection to our bodies.  Do humans use any of the same parts (mouth, eyes)?  Are any of the purposes the same (eat, see)?  I recorded all answers and put a check next to the ones that students agreed provide the same benefit to humans.  

Individual Instruction

10 minutes

I used a chime to announce the next part of the lesson.  Since they have been sitting on the carpet for a while, I made this instruction piece quick as possible.  I dismissed them to their assigned tables and passed out the fish “helpsheet” (I call it a ‘helpsheet’ as opposed to 'worksheet' because it’s designed to (fictionally) ‘help’ the fish, adding an element of stewardship.).  

"Look at the words at the top of the page.  The fish needs help to use his tail, fin, mouth, and eyes. The words underneath are the functions of these body parts.  Write in the blanks and match the part to the purpose..the function."  I chose the specific body part labels for two reasons.  First, the body part words come from the previous lesson so they are familiar.  Then, these function words came both from the discussion earlier in the lesson.  Basically, experience told me that these words were the easiest ones for Kindergarteners to write, read, and connect to things they know.  I find gills and scales are harder to connect to themselves. 

I asked the students to fill in the blanks that part of a fish and its purposes and verbally explain each to a table partner.  Once they completed that step, I used the chime to get their attention and dismiss them back to their carpet squares.  After they were seated, I asked "Who will volunteer to read one line at a time?".  My goal was to access and assess the material that they just reviewed.  When I ask questions like this, I often strategically choose a student that gained new knowledge from this lesson rather than one who came in knowing "everything".  I do this because the rest of the class sees the value in perseverance, working hard to gain new knowledge.  This quick review ended and I let them know that we were finished.

Wrap Up

5 minutes

I used the chime (there it is again!) to signal the end of this part of the lesson.  I asked them to put the paper in their bag/backpack and return to the carpet.  Once seated, we practiced the hand motions together as a class as you said the name of the related function.  This helped cement this lesson as well as celebrate a fun learning experience!