Educational ActivityOur Coral Reef Ecology Curriculum contains a variety of fun and engaging educational activities for students. Most require very few materials. Each activity is part of a unit in the curriculum and has a corresponding worksheet that contains instructions guiding you through the lesson.

The majority of these activities require some knowledge of the topic area. Therefore, we suggest that you watch the educational video (if available) and read the Background Information for the related unit before completing these activities.

We have chosen several lessons that are great for learning at home. Our activities were created for middle and high school students. Some lessons are appropriate for elementary students; however, they may need modification(s). We have made suggestions where possible.


Unit 1: Ecology

Lesson 1: Factors of the Reef
Discover the different abiotic (non-living) and biotic (living) factors present in a coral reef ecosystem. Then use your prior knowledge to make observations and inferences about these factors.
Grade Level: K-12. Elementary students may need additional help making inferences.  
Lesson 2: Backyard Ecosystem
Do you want to learn outside? This activity is a great way to be in nature while studying your local ecosystem. Grab something to draw with and if you want, bring binoculars, a magnifying glass, and/or a camera to help document your findings. Sketch the ecosystem and tally the different organisms that you see. Next, you will document the various abiotic (non-living) and biotic (living) factors in your ecosystem and keep a tally of the number of each living organism that you see. Then you will make observations and inferences about your ecosystem. Finally, you will use the data that you collected to create a bar graph. It is suggested that you first complete Lesson 1: Factors of the Reef.
Grade Level: K-12. Younger elementary students may need additional help making inferences. They may also exclude creating the bar graph.


Unit 2: Classification

Lesson 1A: Classify This!
Every plant and animal can be classified by its shared characteristics. The science of classifying organisms is called taxonomy. Choose a plant or an animal and classify the organism by its eight taxonomic divisions (Domain, Kingdom, Phylum, Class, Order, Family, Genus, Species). Then, determine up to four characteristics that classify this organism to each division.
Grade Level: 6-12
Lesson 1B: Rules, Rules, Rules
We still use the same classification system established by Carl Linnaeus in 1735. Learn how to apply Linnaeus’ rules of binomial nomenclature to learn how to write a scientific name.
Grade Level: 6-12
Lesson 2: “Taxing” Corals
As a coral ecologist, you found some corals that have never been identified before. Using the photos that you took while scuba diving, you need to come up with a classification system for these newly discovered corals. Before conducting this lesson, read the Unit 3: Coral Anatomy Background Information.
Grade Level: 6-12
Lesson 3: In Light of New Evidence
Science is constantly changing. Like science, taxonomy evolves too. Sometimes organisms are reclassified because scientists have discovered new information. Investigate a species that has been reclassified and provide evidence for the change in its taxonomy.
Grade Level: 6-12

Lesson 4A: The Key to ID
Do you enjoy doing a bit of investigating? If so, we have a task for you. Scientists just returned from surveying a coral reef, and they need your help identifying sea stars that they photographed. Use a Dichotomous Key to identify these sea stars.
Grade Level: 9-12; This activity may be suitable for some middle school students.

Lesson 5: Cladograms 2
Cladograms group organisms together by their shared characters. In this investigation, you will need the internet to research the shared characters of different coral reef organisms. Draw a cladogram using the results from your research.
Grade Level: 6-12


Unit 3: Coral Anatomy

Lesson 1A: Interactive Coral Polyp
In this interactive online game, we bring the reef to you! You will investigate the structures and functions of a coral polyp. Click on the different body parts to see how it aids in the polyp’s survival.
Grade Level: K-12; Some of the structure names are difficult to pronounce. For help, see our vocabulary list that contains audio pronunciations. 

Lesson 1B Fitting the Function
Use this crossword puzzle to reinforce your knowledge of each coral structure and the function it performs. Before conducting this lesson, complete Lesson 1A: Interactive Coral Polyp.
Grade Level: 3-12

Lesson 2: Coral Polyp Eco-Art
Design and build a coral polyp. You can use a variety of materials to conduct this activity. We suggest using recyclables, but you can also use modeling clay. If you prefer to eat your creation, you can also use food. Make sure to conduct Lesson 1A: Interactive Coral Polyp first.
Grade Level: K-12

Lesson 3: Form Fits Function
Choose your favorite plant or animal. Use your creativity to draw or digitally create this organism. Label at least 20 structures and write the function of each structure that you labeled.
Grade Level: K-12; This activity can be simplified for younger students.


Unit 4: Coral Feeding

Lesson 1: It’s Tentacular
You and a partner will pretend to be coral polyps mimicking how corals feed. You will investigate which feeding strategy is the most beneficial. Make sure you choose something small and tasty to eat (50 pieces per person). We suggest cereal, but anything small and edible will work.
Grade Level: K-12; Parents will have to help younger elementary students calculate the coral’s success rate.

Lesson 3: Round and Round
Model the relationship of coral and zooxanthellae to illustrate the cyclical relationship between photosynthesis and cellular respiration. Use your inner artistic talents to create a poster or a 3-dimensional sculpture.
Grade Level: 5-12


Unit 5: Coral Reproduction

Lesson 2: Comic Clones
Do you like drawing cartoons? Then this activity is perfect for you! There are four methods of asexual reproduction that corals use to clone themselves. Use your imagination and artistic talent to create a cartoon strip illustrating a coral using one of these four cloning methods.
Grade Level: 5-12


Unit 6: Life Cycle

Lesson 1: Coming Full Circle
It’s time for arts and crafts! Grab a pair of scissors, a pencil, and colored pencils and/or markers. Create a story wheel to illustrate the life cycle of a coral. If you want to create your own story wheel template, use template 2 and the protractor. We love adding math into our activities!
Grade Level: 3-12; Some of the questions on the worksheet may be too advanced for younger students.

Lesson 2A: Dividing the Parts
Use this crossword puzzle to reinforce your knowledge of the parts of a chromosome and a cell during cell division.
Grade Level: 9-12

Lesson 2B: Label It!
Are you learning about the cell cycle? Use these diagrams to practice labeling the parts of a chromosome and a cell during cell division.
Grade Level: 9-12


Unit 8: Environmental Conditions

Lesson 2: Deep Conditions
You have been learning about shallow-water coral reefs throughout this course. There are deep-water corals too. Both types of corals live in different environmental conditions. Use the internet to research deep-water corals and then compare them to shallow-water corals. Make sure to read Unit 8: Environmental Conditions Background Information before you begin.
Grade Level: 5-12


Unit 10: Reef Types

Lesson 2: Reef Typing
Take a trip to French Polynesia to explore their coral reefs. During this research trip, you will classify the different types of coral reefs that are present. Let no stone be unturned.
Grade Level: 9-12; This activity may be appropriate for some middle school students.


Unit 11: Reef Zonation

Lesson 1: Modeling the Reef
“Let’s name the zones, the zones, the zones”…Coral reefs have different zonation patterns. Choose a coral reef from Appendix A or a coral reef of your own choosing. Build a model that illustrates the coral reef zones of the reef that you chose by building a shadowbox.
Grade Level: 6-12; Elementary students can build a shadowbox of a coral reef without illustrating all of the zones. Instead have them research the different organisms that live on a coral reef and include them in the shadowbox.

Lesson 2: GIS Mapping
Learn how to use our GIS maps, a tool used by scientists to aid in coral reef conservation. Explore the different tools and how they can be used to provide scientists with valuable information. Make sure to have a solid understanding of reef zonation before completing this activity. 
Grade Level: 9-12; This activity can be modified for middle school students.


Meet a Scientist

Lesson 1: Meet A Scientist
When you think of a scientist, what do you imagine? Draw what you think a scientist looks like. Afterwards, meet some of these fascinating people by watching five videos about our marine scientists.
Grade Level: K-12; Some elementary students will need additional assistance.


NOTE: When we suggest modifying an activity, in most cases, we would remove some or all of the questions that we ask students to answer on the worksheets. Many of these questions are too advanced for elementary and even some middle school students. Some of the questions may not be too advanced, but students may need additional assistance to complete them.