Alaska Sea Grant

Grade 1 - Plants and Animals of Seas and Rivers

A 6-8 Week Unit for Primary Level

Essential Question:

  • What kinds of plants and animals live in or near the water?

Enduring Understandings:

  • Plants and animals can be sorted into groups based on different characteristics.

  • People use the plants and animals of the seas and rivers in different ways.

Ocean Literacy Principle Addressed:

  • The ocean supports a great diversity of life and ecosystems.
  • The ocean and humans are inextricably linked.

This unit is designed for First Grade, but could be adapted to other primary grades. Students discover the wide variety of living things that are found in and near the water, through investigations and games in the classroom and active observation outdoors. They practice science skills of noticing details, comparing, sorting, measuring, questioning, recording, and communicating. Science notebooks are used throughout the unit to help students understand and organize information, and many activities are integrated with math, language arts, art, and social studies.

Investigation 1

Investigation 1: Notice the Plants and Animals

In this 6-8 day introductory investigation, students begin to notice and discover the aquatic plants and animals that live near them, looking at their environment from both broad and close-up viewpoints. Exploration in classroom centers continues throughout the unit.

What plants and animals live in the environment around our school?
In Activity 1A Around Our School, children take a walk around or near the schoolyard and begin to observe, wonder, and ask questions about aquatic life.

What’s happening in one small square, near or in the water?
In Activity 1B One Small Square, students practice looking closely as they examine and discover what is happening in one small square outdoor plot near their school.

How do scientists and subsistence users discover aquatic plants and animals?
In Activity 1C Biologist and Subsistence Backpacks, students learn about the roles of marine biologists and subsistence users and the tools that can help them to make observations.

What do you notice?
In Activity 1D Alaska Seas and Watersheds Discovery Centers, students ask and answer questions of their own as they continue to explore and discover aquatic life through a variety of learning centers set up in their classroom.

Investigation 2

Investigation 2: Plant and Animal Characteristics

In this 8-11 day investigation, children begin to identify features of specific plants and animals, and to sort them into groups. They begin to learn vocabulary and grasp concepts of sorting as they describe and sort shells. They are introduced to marine invertebrates, see how they are grouped by their characteristics, and practice observing and describing characteristics of specific animals. Finally, a board game is used to review and reinforce what they have learned.

What characteristics of shells can we notice?
In Activity 2A: Shells: Take a Closer Look students observe and compare shells and then choose one shell to describe in detail with words and measurements. They share information and try to find the unique shells described by their classmates.

How can we group shells by their properties?
In Activity 2B: Sorting Shells, students describe the properties of shells and use those characteristics in various ways as they get a beginning introduction to Venn diagrams.

What are the unique characteristics of the different groups of marine or freshwater invertebrates?
In Activity 2C: Let’s Meet the Invertebrates, students learn about groups of invertebrates such as Mollusks, Echinoderms, and Crustaceans and describe the features of individual species (clams, sea stars, crabs) that belong to each group. They draw pictures and organize their pictures and knowledge into a class chart, and practice identifying groups and species as they play a math game.

What characteristics make this animal unique?
In Activity 2D Creature Features Class Book, each child focuses on one of the animals they have learned about and describes its features by drawing and writing to make a page for a class book.

What do we know about the characteristics of aquatic plants and animals?
In Activity 2E: “What Do You Know” Game, students play a board game to answer questions about plant and animal characteristics, groups, and uses, as they also practice addition skills.

Investigation 3

Investigation 3: Plant and Animal Experts

Plant and Animal Experts In this 9-12 day investigation, children continue to learn about the wide variety of aquatic plants and animals in their region. Each child then chooses a special plant or animal to research, depict, and share with the class. They learn more about their special species and others as they explore life cycles and tide-related behaviors, and end the investigation by making and sharing plant and animal riddles.

How do we show what we know about a plant or animal?
In Activity 3A: ABC Sea/River Book students draw and label pages for an alphabet book of aquatic life in their locale. They write sentences to describe the plant or animal and its uses.

How can we find out more about one plant or animal?
In Activity 3B: Plant or Animal Research and Sculptures, each child chooses an aquatic plant or animal that interests them, and uses books, posters, pictures, guests, and the internet to find basic information about it. They make large paper sculptures to show the details of their plant or animal, and share their research with the class.

What are the life cycles of local animals?
In Activity 3C, students learn about how specific animals grow and develop as they make life-cycle wheels. They consider the life cycles of their special species and others in follow-up discussion and homework.

What different things do marine animals do at high tide and low tide?
In Activity 3D: High-Tide, Low-Tide Game, children dramatize the movements of barnacles, limpets, and other animals at high tide and at low tide. They consider how the tides influence the movement of some of the special animals that they researched, and describe high- and low-tide behaviors in their science notebooks.

How do we identify animals based on their characteristics?
In Activity 3E: Aquatic Animal or Plant Riddle, students create riddles to clearly describe a specific plant or animal so that their classmates and other can guess and learn about them. The riddles are displayed and shared.

Investigation 4

Investigation 4: Field Trip

How can we find the plants and animals in our beach or river environment?
This 3-day investigation includes a 1-3 hour field trip. Students make predictions about where they will find plants and animals and go to a field site to explore and test their predictions. After having time to explore, students conduct a detailed investigation of “one small square” at the field site. Back in the classroom, they share their findings and then make a detailed representation of their research “square” using drawings, notes, and labels.

Investigation 5

Investigation 5: What Have We Learned
(2 class periods plus 1-2 hours for Sharing/Celebration)

How do we share information?
In this investigation, children will reflect on what they have learned as they complete the OWL chart that they began in Investigation 1. They will plan ways to share their new knowledge with the whole school and/or community and prepare for a Sea/River Celebration. After learning and practicing ways to present information, they will display and present their work to others. This investigation extends over 3 or 4 class periods, and culminates with a long afternoon or evening celebration.

Jennifer Thompson, Kindergarten Teacher, Juneau
Chris Thomas, Retired K-1 Teacher, Juneau
Stephanie Hoag, Curriculum Consultant, Juneau
Marla Brownlee, Sea Grant

With special thanks to Dayna Focht of Juneau for ideas and activities.

Alaska Sea Grant University of Alaska Fairbanks Alaska Department of Education and Early Development NOAA