Goldfish and Tadpoles- More Alike Than Different?

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Students will use a Venn diagram to compare/contrast goldfish and tadpoles.

Big Idea

How do we know the difference between some living things that swim?


5 minutes

At the beginning of the year, I collect family pictures for a class "Family Tree".  While I was at it, I collected a few baby pictures of the students to use for future this.  

I gathered a few (3-4 is plenty for this activity) baby pictures of students in the class.  To protect them, I mount them on colored craft paper and put them in plastic sleeves.  As the class sat on their carpet squares, I passed around the pictures.  Once everyone had seen them, I passed around school portraits of the same 3-4 students, prepared in the same way.  We worked as a whole group to see the students can match the baby to the Kindergartener.  I suggested a few questions for discussion. "How much do people change in a short time?  Do animals change this much too?"

Whole Group Instruction

15 minutes

I read Fish is Fish by Leo Lionni.  As you may notice, this author is a favorite teaching tool of mine.  Not only does he write about engaging subjects, he also adds in some solid information that make for a great spring board to deeper learning.  We discussed that all living beings need an environment that is right for them in order to grow and survive.  Initially, livings things may look similar.  As time goes on though, they develop into unique species with very different structure, habitat, and needs. The important element to this lesson is that things aren’t always what you expect them to be.  As time passes on, we all change.

As I read the book, I stop at strategic points and ask questions- “How are the fish and tadpole the same on the first page?  What are the first changes you see?  How do these changes affect what the two animals can and cannot do?”.  The answers the students share set the direction of the next two steps.  Once I finished the book, I created a simple First/Later chart (a quick draw is fine since you’re introducing a concept) to briefly list the traits of each character.  We listed their differences and commonalities. 

I extended this concept by creating a Venn Diagram to specifically compare and contrast fish and tadpoles.  I use a Venn diagram in lessons like this because it is the best graphic organizer I’ve seen to show commonalties.  It helped the students easily grasp the idea that people/animals/ideas have parts that are different and parts that are the same.  We included information about their habitat, food, function, and behavior.  These facts can come from the Lionni book, prior knowledge, or brief video clips like or  You can either scribe for the class or ask volunteers (this usually takes longer but can often be worth the wait) to come up to write in their ideas.  With pictures and/or labels, note what is unique to fish & tadpoles, along with the qualities that they have in common. 

Individual Instruction

10 minutes

After the whole class chart work is complete, I dismissed the students back to the tables.  Students color coded the “Fish or Tadpole?” worksheet.  I said "Color the tadpole parts green and fish parts orange.  Brown can be colored over the body parts that both animals share (the brown parts are reflected area in the center of the Venn diagram)".  This category will likely be limited to eyes and mouth and that’s OK.  This lesson emphasizes a concept rather than specific facts.  I wanted to see if the students can make an argument for including other body parts, though.  It’s always interesting to challenge them beyond what is known.  

Wrap It Up

5 minutes

In my class, we have a variation of pair/share called "Mingle" that we use to share information with each other.   Take the words "Mingle, mingle, mingle..mingle, mingle, mingle" and put it to the "Conga line" tune.  Students mingle/share information until the tune stops (or you stop it.  Be cautious about this.  It's a 'ear worm' tune and will stay in your head for days!).  Whether they share information with one peer or ten, they will leave with deeper information in an enjoyable package. 

Using this technique, I divided the class into two groups, "goldfish" and "tadpoles".  Then I created a line of each animal.  The students shared one way they are same and one way they are different, using both physical ("We both have tails.") and functional ("You use your tail and fins to move and I just use my tail.").  They moved on to other partners and shared the same and additional information.  Sometimes, this activity will elicit additional facts that weren't included earlier.  This didn't occur this time.  However, if this had happened, it would have been a great opportunity to add either to our Venn diagram or KWL chart.  We could have gone over this new information when we returned to our carpet.  We shared for a total of three cycles (although they would have gone on for more.  It's the song.  They love it that much)! and returned to our carpet after the activity.