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Fragile Reefs

Dive beneath the ocean surface to explore breathtakingly beautiful coral reefs and the thousands of species they shelter. Create a coral reef ecosystem in an undersea diorama.

  • Grade 4
    Grade 5
    Grade 6
  • Multiple Lesson Periods
  • Directions

    1. A coral reef resembles a large, busy city, with more species of sea creatures and plants than anywhere else in the ocean. Although a coral reef looks like a colorful rock formation on the sea floor, it’s really millions of tiny coral polyps living together in huge groups. Polyps are small, soft-bodied animals, about 1/4 inch wide. Some of them grow hard outer structures called exoskeletons. When the polyps die, they leave behind their exoskeletons. Live polyps attach themselves to the exoskeletons of dead polyps and so the reef builds. It takes about a year for a coral clump to grow outward 1 inch, so it takes a long time for a coral reef to form! There are about 230,000 square miles of coral reef in the world.
    2. Polyps need warm, shallow, sea water to grow, so coral reefs are often near land. There are three main types of reefs. A fringing reef is attached to the shore. An atoll is a ring of coral formed around a sunken volcano. A barrier reef has a channel of water between it and the shore. Although all types of coral polyps grow in similar ways, the many different polyps form more than 2,500 different kinds of coral! It may resemble tree branches, the human brain, tiny pipes, fans, feathers, lace, or mushrooms. It may be bright pink, glowing orange, rich purple, or brilliant yellow. The warm, sunlit water and many hiding places of a coral reef attract thousands of different animals. Students learn more about the creatures who live in a coral reef and then use their imagination to create their own diorama using ideas like these.
    3. Use Crayola® Scissors to cut paper to fit inside a recycled box. With Crayola Markers, create the shallow, light-reflecting water near a coral reef. Use Crayola Erasable Colored Pencils to draw small, brightly colored fish. Color with markers, cut out, and glue in several group formations, or schools, with Crayola School Glue. Glue the paper inside the shoe box, covering the sides, top, and bottom.
    4. Create a coral reef with Crayola Model Magic. Use the neon and white modeling compound to create spirals and folds. Imprint interesting textures into the modeling material with household items. Create layers of textured and sculpted coral. The compound will stick to itself when fresh from the pack or may be glued after air drying. Use markers to create brightly colored shrimp, sea horses, or other tiny creatures. Cut out and glue to the coral. Add larger sea animals, such as angel fish or an octopus, to your seascape. Glue them around the edges of the box to add more depth to the diorama.
    5. Students discuss with classmates and their families how coral reefs are in danger today due to overfishing, tourist activity, pollution, and global warming. Decide, as a group, on a possible course of action to prevent the loss of this very valuable habitat.
  • Standards

    LA: Read with sufficient accuracy and fluency to support comprehension.

    LA: Write informative/explanatory texts to examine a topic and convey ideas, concepts, and information through the selection, organization, and analysis of relevant content.

    LA: Demonstrate command of the conventions of standard English capitalization, punctuation, and spelling when writing.

    LA: Engage effectively in a range of collaborative discussions with diverse partners on grade level topics and texts, building on others' ideas and expressing their own clearly.

    SCI: Ask questions about the natural and human-built worlds.

    SCI: Offer causal explanations appropriate to level of scientific knowledge.

    SCI: Construct drawings or diagrams as representations of events or systems.

    SS: Use appropriate resources, data sources, and geographic tools to generate, manipulate, and interpret information.

    SS: Examine the interaction of human beings and their physical environment, the use of land, building of cities, and ecosystem changes in selected locales and regions.

    VA: Intentionally take advantage of the qualities and characteristics of art media, techniques, and processes to enhance communication of experiences and ideas.

    VA: Select and use the qualities of structures and functions of art to improve communication of ideas.

  • Adaptations

    Possible classroom resources include: At Home in the Coral Reef by Katy Muzik; Coral Reef Hideaway: The Story of a Clown Anemonefish by Doe Boyle

    Working in small groups, students research how coral reefs form, where they are located, and what plant and animal species find shelter in these reefs. Students prepare their research for sharing with classmates in an electronic format.

    Individual students take digital photographs of their coral reef dioramas, upload the photos to a class computer, and attach an audio file describing the reef for sharing with classmates.

    Using a world map, students locate The Great Barrier Reef. This 1,260 mile reef is home to many species of fish, plants, and coral. Students investigate the types of animals and fish that live there. Organize research into an electronic format for sharing.


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  • Creativity.
  • Capacity.
  • Collaboration.
  • Change.
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