Features of Fish!

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SWBAT describe basic needs and features of fish.

Big Idea

Fish live in water and have scales, gills and fins.


Fish have very unique features unlike most other animals. Although they have a backbone, like mammals, and have gills, like some juvenile amphibians, and are cold-blooded, like reptiles, they have lots of differences, too. The most obvious one is that they live in water! In this lesson, students will explore the features of fish and learn about their basic needs. This aligns to Essential Standard 1.L.1.1, by exploring the basic needs of animals including air, water, food, space, and shelter. It also aligns to 1.L.2.2, 'summarize the basic needs of animals for energy and growth'. To discuss energy and growth, it is important to discuss the life cycle of animals although it is not explicit in the standards. However, the focus is on basic needs in this lesson. Click here to hear why I teach Essential Standards.

During this lesson, students are recognizing similarities across the class of animals, which supports the cross cutting concept "patterns". The fish I chose for this lesson share similar features and patterns of behavior. One of these is their predatory nature for survival, which we discuss at the end of the lesson.

The Science and Engineering Practices that this lesson aligns to are 2 and 8. For SP2, students create models, including diagrams and drawings for K-2 students, based on evidence. For SP8, students are communicating and sharing their knowledge and information during the wrap up of the lesson.

I also post an essential question for each lesson on the board, open my lesson with it, and close my lesson by students developing the answer to the question. This is a requirement of my county but it also helps to keep me focused on the objectives throughout the lesson and it provides a great introduction and closing for students. Today, the guiding question is, "What are the basic needs of fish? How do they help fish grow and change?"


*Enough Information cards so each student has a choice between at least 2-3

*1 Fact Sheet per student

*Black, blue, and brown construction paper for the backgrounds

*Crayons, colored pencils, glue, scissors

*5 popsicle sticks, labeled with air, food, water, shelter, space.


For more teacher information about different kinds of fish in this class:







Warm Up

10 minutes

For our warm up today, we look together at this website as an introduction. As we go through together, reading and talking about the pictures, I ask the students to look for ways that fish satisfy their basic needs. We have learned about 4 other animal classes at this point in the unit, so my students are very familiar with basic needs. I write a few notes on the board to give students a visual reminder of the information about fish, which they will use later in the lesson to complete their own Fact Sheet about a different fish. When we finish, we quickly look for any missing information on this page which is more directed towards the basic needs.


30 minutes

This lesson aims to have students recognize the diversity within the fish class. In my reptile lesson, students chose a reptile to learn about. This time, I chose the fish because I want students to notice how all of these fish are in the same class, but are very different! To really engage my students in active building of knowledge today, they will construct a model of one type of fish habitat. Through this process, my goal is for students to notice that not all fish just live 'under water', but that their habitats and shelters are different, too! I say,

"Today you are going to use your labeling skills and your knowledge of basic needs of fish and work by yourself today to create a diagram of a fish habitat. First, you will select your fish and read a little bit about it. Next, you will complete your Fact Sheet about your fish. You can use some of the information we wrote together on the board as you need it. Then, you will create a background to look like a place where your fish would live. This is one way to do it".

Because my students do need some guidance when creating their own models, I show them how to use one piece of construction paper as a background and how to cut a second piece to make either water, sand for the ocean floor, or black rocks. This also eliminates a lot of time spent coloring the background, and it makes the finished product more representative of the environment. Then, I say,

"After that, you will add 5 labels, one for each of the basic needs. For that part, let me show you an easy way to do the labels on your picture".

I show them how to use the pre-printed address labels, write the information, peel them off and stick them on a picture. I add an arrow and show the students how the labels are more clear when you trace the arrow with a black marker. 

As the students start to gather their materials, I quickly walk around and show each student 2 fish picture/information cards and let them each choose one. I do not have the resources to print enough of these in color for every student to have a choice of 6, so this way I just randomly have them in pile and they get the choice of the next 2!

As the students work, I help at different tables and if students ask more clarifying questions that I may not know the answer to, I use the Internet and help them to do some research to answer their questions.          

Watch my student explain his model!

Wrap Up

10 minutes

After about 20 minutes, I say,

"Boys and girls, you have about 2 minutes to finish your work for today. Then we will meet on the carpet and share what we learned about our species of fish".

When the students meet me on the carpet, I ask for volunteers to share first. I say,

"I wrote each of the 5 basic needs on a popsicle stick. You can pick one and we'll see if you can tell everybody how your fish satisfies that need! Who wants to try?"

This makes the conversation more exciting in order to engage students that may have been too shy to share otherwise. After several students share, I say,

"I noticed a pattern in your answers today. Did anyone else notice a pattern?"

I guide students towards the realization that most of the fish that we studied today are predatory animals, live in water, and share some similar features. This supports the cross cutting concept "patterns" because students are observing and identifying patterns in the natural world through media and texts.

"We only have one more animal class to learn about! Can you remember which one it is? That's right! Arthropods! We will learn all about them tomorrow! Now, who can answer our guiding question for today, which was 'What are the basic needs of fish?' and 'What are the features of fish?'"

This is a quick way that I finish up the lesson each day and helps to clarify 'what' we learned today!