One Fish, two Fish, Red Fish, Dead Fish

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SWBAT identify the parts of a fish and their functions by getting an up close look at a large fish purchased from a food market.

Big Idea

Young children can get an "idea" of what fish parts look like and do from looking at a small fish in a bowl and diagrams, but they get a firm understanding by observing the parts of a large fish where they can see the parts close up.


5 minutes

To begin this lesson, I elicit what the kids already know about fish because I want to see how much information they have retained from prior lessons and what support they still need.

I list their thoughts on chart paper and leave it posted for the duration of the lesson for easy access. This allows my students who are more challenged by the science lesson to have access to baseline knowledge. This also supports my students with attendance challenges.

To elicit prior learning, I ask the kids to close their eyes and think about what they've learned about fish so far. I use a can of name sticks to randomly pull student names to ask the kids to share. This avoids subconscious bias, which is innate in all of us as well as requires all of the students to engage in the question and thinking whether they are called on or not.


10 minutes

To engage the kids, I read What is a Fish? by Lola M. Schaefer. I do this to hook the kids and to get them tied to the lesson.

As i read the text, I stop on a few pages and ask questions. I stop to ask the kids what each body part does for the fish and how that relates to humans.

Procedure for questioning:

  • read page
  • ask question while having kids act out thinking
  • call on random students to answer

I follow this procedure because when I ask the question first, ALL the kids need to think about it before I call on someone to answer.

If I call on a child and then ask the question, I am only asking one student and the rest are disengage. This causes two problems 1)only that one student is engaging and learning and 2) disengagement leads to classroom management issues.

Once I finish the text, we do a quick oral wrap up.


15 minutes

I call the kids one table at a time to go sit with their hands in their laps one table at a time. The kids are told to keep their hands in their laps until they are asked to do something. They may only use their eyes at first.

Once the kids are seated at the tables I have them use their eyes to observe the fish. I have them take turns sharing one thing that catches their eye. Each student has a sticker on their name tag that designates who will speak when I set the timer. The first to speak is the medium-high kids. They have a whale sticker on their name tags. So all the "whales" speak first. I set the timer for 30 seconds and ask the "whales" to tell their table partners one thing the notice about the fish. I do this for each person at the table.

To assign kids a sticker, I sort them in a four quadrant grid according to academic ability. I NEVER tell the kids what group they are in or what the stickers represent. The groups are fluid so the kids can move around in them as they improve or get challenged. I re-evaluate the groups every 4 weeks.

After the visual observation, I have each child put on gloves and we examine the parts of the fish using tweezers and toothpicks.  The kids examine one part of the fish at a time and I explain what it is and how it works as they examine it. I then give them each 30 seconds to speak to their table partners about each part they experience. 

We explore:




lateral line



I have them do this activity so they can see close up what they've been observing on the live fish. These fish are much larger and the parts are easy to see.

Check with your district to make sure there are no district rules against using the fish specimens in your classroom. Mine allows it as long as it is supervised and the kids are wearing gloves. Also, check with your building administration. One year my principal made me have the parents sign a permission slip for participation.


"Okay everyone, put your gloves on. The first thing we are going to examine on the fish is the scales. When I tell you to, you are going to touch the fish's 'skin' with your fingers. Then you will use a pair of tweezers to pull ONE scale off of the fish." I continue like this throughout the rest of the exploration. I have them touch the fish to feel the roughness of the scales before removing one.


10 minutes

To evaluate the learning from this lesson, I have the kids complete a take home book about fish anatomy. It is created at a kindergarten level and they love taking it home to share with their families.

I have the kids stay at their tables and I have the helper of the day help me pass out the take home books. I then go through the book one page at a time. I roam the room while the kids complete each page. I only allow one minute per page for the sake of time. Once we have started each page and used our one minute per page, if there is extra time left, they are invited to go back to unfinished pages and complete them.


5 minutes

The elaboration of this lesson is completed in partnership with the school art teacher. She actually has them make a "stuffed" 3D model of a fish in art class. I just coordinate with her two weeks in advance to set the lesson up to where it coincides with the teaching of this lesson. She usually does it the week following the teaching of this lesson.

I have her do this with the kids to reinforce what they've learned about the anatomy of a fish. The 3D model allows them to relive the exploration portion of this lesson with their families at a later time.