Skip Discover Education Main Navigation
Skip Discover Education Main Navigation

Coral ReefsCoral-Reefs

  • Subject:
  • |
  • Grade(s): 6-8
  • |
  • Duration: Two class periods

Lesson Plan Sections


Students will understand the following:
1. The animals that live in a coral reef are uniquely suited to their environment.


For this lesson, you will need:
Computer with Internet access
Illustrated books and articles about the plants and animals that inhabit coral reefs
Paper, stapler, and art materials for creating books
Published nonfiction and fiction books on science topics for young children


1. Let students know that they are going to work individually or in groups to write and illustrate short books that explain to younger children how the animals that inhabit coral reefs are uniquely suited to their environment.
2. Before beginning work on their books, have students conduct research on the types of organisms that live in the reefs. They may use the materials you have provided, encyclopedias, books and periodicals from the library, or the Internet. Students should focus on finding out how specific animals that live in the reefs are adapted to their environments. (Adaptations may include camouflage, symbiosis, defenses, hunting strategies, and so on.)
3. Allow students to choose whether they will work on their books individually or in small groups. They should begin by deciding whether they will write nonfiction books that present information in a lively and interesting way or fictional stories about life in coral reefs. Remind students that even if they choose fiction, their stories should communicate sound scientific information to readers.
4. Before students begin their own books, give them the opportunity to look over several published children's nonfiction and fiction books on science topics.
5. Have students write rough drafts of their books; then revise, edit, and proofread what they have written. If they wish, they can give their drafts to other students for peer review before revising, editing, and proofreading.
6. Have students rewrite their texts, planning how much text should appear on each page in order to leave room for illustrations. Students may handwrite or use a computer.
7. Finally, students can add illustrations. Suggest that they may want to draw their illustrations on separate paper and then cut and paste the pictures into the book.
8. When the illustrations are completed, students can staple the pages together to make booklets.
9. If possible, arrange for your students to read their books to younger children and observe the children's reactions. They might prepare some questions to ask the children in order to determine whether the books succeeded in communicating information about coral reefs.

Back to Top


Adaptations for Older Students:
Older students might complete a bibliography for their books, listing sources they used. Children who read the books might want to look at the sources to find more information.

Back to Top

Discussion Questions

1. Explain how and why different animals in a coral reef ecosystem depend on each other. To help understand the interdependencies in coral reefs, think about relationships between species in an ecosystem with which you may be more familiar, such as the rain forest.
2. Hypothesize what the Red Sea would look like today if it had never been connected to the Indian Ocean.
3. Hypothesize the reasons why life in the Red Sea can be so abundant while the land surrounding the sea is so barren.
4. Describe the types of adaptations you think coral reef animals might have. In what ways might fish have adapted to be able to survive life in a coral reef?
5. Describe the effects that you think the Ice Age may have had on the Red Sea. Hypothesize the effects of another ice age happening in the future. Hypothesize the effects of global warming.
6. The rift between Arabia and Africa is growing larger—about 3 inches per year. Hypothesize how this expansion of the Red Sea might affect life in the sea over the next millennium.

Back to Top


You can evaluate your students on their children's books using the following three-point rubric:
  • Three points: plentiful, accurate information; clear, well-organized writing; imaginative, entertaining presentation; detailed, carefully executed illustrations
  • Two points: more research needed; clearly written; adequate presentation; accurate illustrations
  • One point: few facts; writing sometimes unclear; adequate but less-than-lively presentation; illustrations lacking in detailYou can ask your students to contribute to the assessment rubric by determining how many facts should be presented and what would constitute a lively and interesting presentation for young children.

Back to Top


Research Expedition to the Red Sea
Invite students to imagine that they are going to the Red Sea to study a particular species that lives in the sea's coral reefs. Begin by having them research the types of organisms that live in the Red Sea. Then ask each student to choose one species that particularly interests him or her. Suggest that each student write a list of research questions he or she will attempt to answer on the expedition. (Questions might be about the hunting behavior, reproductive stages, territory, life cycle, and so on.) Each student should also write a list or paragraph describing the experimental methods and the tools he or she will use to study the organisms.

Design for a Coral Reef Exhibit
Ask students to imagine that they have been asked to design a coral reef exhibit for a new aquarium. Invite them to research different types of animals and plants that live in a typical coral reef ecosystem and contribute what they have learned to a class list of organisms that live in coral reefs. Next, divide the class into small groups to design the exhibit on paper. Ask each group to create a mural on which the coral reef exhibit could be based. Instruct students to include in their murals a wide variety of organisms from the class list and to give each organism in the mural a number. Students should write a key with the numbers and names of each animal and plant as well as a brief description of any interesting adaptations or behaviors. Ask students to write captions that could be included in the exhibit explaining the ways in which the animals interact with and depend on the coral.

Back to Top

Suggested Readings

Rhythm of the Reef
Rick Sammon. Voyageur Press, 1995.
A day in the life of a coral reef, this book begins its 24-hour visit with the Red Sea's Anemone City as the underwater world awakens to feed.

The Enchanted Braid: Coming to Terms with Nature on the Coral Reef
Osha Gray Davidson. John Wiley & Sons, 1998.
This book explores how the key to preserving the world's reefs is knowledge of their complex nature.

Back to Top


Let's Find Out Site
A "Knowledge Adventure" site with basic encyclopedia information about coral reefs. Some animal links are included.

Palau - Paradise of the Pacific
Classroom resources; wonderful pictures. Sponsored by PBS and Reader's Digest.

Reef Life
Specific information about coral reefs, including formation, habitat, marine life, and types of coral reefs. Includes a bibliography and access to additional sites.

Sea World's Coral and Coral Reefs Page
Information about coral and coral reefs. Access to Sea World's education pages.

Coral Reef Ecology Page
An index of information about coral reefs.

Back to Top


Click on any of the vocabulary words below to hear them pronounced and used in a sentence.

speaker    atoll
Definition: A coral island consisting of a reef surrounding a lagoon.
Context: A coral atoll is a small island made of coral.

speaker    ecosystem
Definition: The complex of a community of organisms and its environment functioning as an ecological unit.
Context: The coral reef ecosystem is the combination of all forms of life in the coral reef; they all interact with and depend upon each other in various ways.

speaker    lagoon
Definition: A shallow sound, channel, or pond near or communicating with a larger body of water.
Context: A coral atoll surrounds a lagoon, which may contain its own water life.

speaker    larva
Definition: The early form of an animal that at birth or hatching is fundamentally unlike its parent and must metamorphose before assuming the adult characteristics.
Context: When fish eggs hatch, larvae emerge from the shells, eventually to develop into mature fish.

speaker    mangrove
Definition: Any of a genus of tropical maritime trees or shrubs that send out many prop roots and form dense masses important in coastal land building.
Context: Mangrove trees can often be seen on the shorelines of tropical or subtropical coasts, including the Red Sea.

speaker    plankton
Definition: The passively floating or weakly swimming usually minute animal and plant life of a body of water.
Context: Plankton are the microscopic organisms that many sea creatures eat.

Back to Top


This lesson plan may be used to address the academic standards listed below. These standards are drawn from Content Knowledge: A Compendium of Standards and Benchmarks for K-12 Education: 2nd Edition and have been provided courtesy of theMid-continent Research for Education and Learningin Aurora, Colorado.
Grade level: 6-8
Subject area: life science
Knows about the diversity and unity that characterize life.
Knows that animals and plants have a great variety of body plans and internal structures that serve specific functions for survival (e.g., digestive structures in vertebrates, invertebrates, unicellular organisms, and plants).

Grade level: 6-8, 9-12
Subject area: life science
Understands how species depend on one another and on the environment for survival.
(6-8): Knows ways in which species interact and depend on one another in an ecosystem (e.g., producer/consumer, predator/prey, parasite/host, relationships that are mutually beneficial or competitive).

(6-8): Knows that all individuals of a species that occur together at a given place and time make up a population and that all populations living together and the physical factors with which they interact compose an ecosystem.

(6-8): Knows relationships that exist among organisms in food chains and food webs.

(9-12): Knows how the interrelationships and interdependencies among organisms generate stable ecosystems that fluctuate around a state of rough equilibrium for hundreds or thousands of years (e.g., growth of a population is held in check by environmental factors such as depletion of food or nesting sites or increased loss due to larger numbers of predators or parasites).

Grade level: 6-8, 9-12
Subject area: life science
Understands the cycling of matter and flow of energy through the living environment.
(6-8): Knows how matter is recycled within ecosystems (e.g., matter is transferred from one organism to another repeatedly and between organisms and their physical environment; the total amount of matter remains constant, even though its form and location change).

(9-12): Knows how the amount of life an environment can support is limited by the availability of matter and energy and the ability of the ecosystem to recycle materials.

Back to Top


Betsy Hedberg, former middle school teacher and current freelance curriculum writer and consultant.

Back to Top