Aquarium Lesson Plan

Please note, this lesson plan was created by as a general guide and is not specific to any particular venue listed on our site.


• Did you know a sea cucumber can shoot its intestines at predators, and then regrow them, in order to avoid being eaten?

• An electric eel can produce 500 watts of electricity (that’s enough to light up 10 light bulbs) to frighten away predators.

• Dolphins sleep with one half of the brain and one eye open to watch for danger.

• No matter how many pieces you cut a sea sponge into each piece will continue living and growing.

• Ocean life can do amazing things to survive. As you visit an aquarium with your students, note the different ways animals defend themselves. Just like a squid, people wouldn’t bother you either if you squirted black ink in their face!

✓ Tell students the purpose and structure of the trip so they know what to expect.

✓ Conduct a lesson prior to the trip to allow students to assess prior knowledge of the location and learn a bit of background. This might include reviewing vocabulary, discussing students’ prior knowledge about marine life, or modeling how to observe exhibits.

Students act like scientists to observe marine life while focusing on habitat, survival, and defense mechanisms.

Students will observe marine animals and note the habitats and physical traits.

Students will identify traits used for survival and defense.

Students will understand the purpose for these survival and defense traits.

• Create an observation worksheet (Includes Exhibit Name, Name of Organism, Description of Defense/Survival Mechanism, Possible Predators, Description of Marine Habitat, Comments.)

• K-W-L Chart of Survival Mechanisms. (Tracks what a student knows (K), wants to know (W), and has learned (L) about a topic, can be used before, during, and after research)

• Worksheet for Drawings.

• Pencil and clipboard.

Survival               Defense                Habitat                Camouflage

Hook: Imagine you are the new kid in school. What would you do in order to make new friends and be successful in school? (Answers might include wearing certain clothes to fit in, find a cool kid to hang around with, stand up for yourself, join a club, or ask questions). Explain that these are survival methods, and all living animals develop these methods to survive.

Step 1: Explain to students that we will be observing marine animals in their habitats to discover what survival and defense mechanisms are used and why.

Step 2: Create a K-W-L chart to assess prior knowledge. Have students list examples of survival and defense mechanisms of marine animals they already know in the “Know” column. Ask students to include why these animals have certain survival mechanisms. If they don’t know, write the question in the “Want to Know” column.

Step 3: Distribute the Observation Worksheet. Explain that students will observe 5-10 marine animals. On their observation sheet, they will note the exhibit name, the animal, and describe the defense mechanisms. They will describe the habitat and infer the purpose of these defense systems, and draw a picture of their animal. **You may want to assign students 5 animals to observe or allow them to choose before they visit the aquarium.

Step 4: With younger students, you may need to model how to observe exhibits in the aquarium. Look carefully and slowly at all parts of the exhibit – animals, plants, rocks, sand. Notice the colors, textures, and amount of organisms in the exhibit, as well as what they are doing. Read the informational signs around the exhibit. Ask questions and make hypotheses. Focus on one animal and take descriptive notes. Distribute the Worksheet for Drawings.

Step 5: Allow students to move around the aquarium, observing and making notes and drawings.

Step 6: After viewing the exhibits, ask students to share their findings. What survival mechanisms did they learn about? Add these to the “Learn” column of the K-W-L chart.

Step 7: Discuss the following questions:

  • Why do animals have defense mechanisms?
  • How are an animal’s defense mechanisms related to the animal’s habitat?
  • How are an animal’s defense mechanisms related to possible predators?
  • Compare and contrast two animals’ defense mechanisms. What do you notice?
  • Which survival mechanisms do you think are most effective? Why?

• Watch short videos on marine animals. Have your students write down the names of any animals they saw during the field trip. Did they learn anything new about the any of the animals that was not taught during the aquarium visit?

• Create a slideshow of animal photos. Have students fold a piece of paper into three or more columns, labeling each a different animal classification (invertebrate, mammal, reptile, etc.). During the slideshow, students will categorize each animal they see from the slideshow in the corresponding classification column.

• Make marine crafts! Groups can create fish using pipe cleaners, make wrap bracelets with marine animal charms, or simply color in aquarium coloring pages using crayons or colored pencils.