Alaska Sea Grant

Teacher Background

Teacher Background – Plants and Animals of Seas and Rivers

Investigation 1: Notice the Plants and Animals

Activity 1A: Around Our School
Enlist the help of local naturalists to develop knowledge of plants and animals around the school environment. Prior to taking children outside, preview the area and have ideas about what they can discover. Plants and animals discovered on this walk are not necessarily the aquatic life forms that they will focus on during the remainder of the unit, but this initial activity is important to support observation skills and to begin to understand how plants and animals can be sorted and how they are used by people. Sharing the Joy of Nature with Children by Joseph Cornell has ideas for focus games or initial nature walks.

Activity 1C: Biologist and Subsistence Backpacks
Connect the “Backpack” lesson to children’s prior experiences with using science tools and/or hunting and gathering.

Read about subsistence in Alaska:
Alaska’s Subsistence Fisheries
AK Dept. of fish and Game Division of Subsistence

Investigation 2: Plant and Animal Characteristics
Peer interaction and sharing are important. Students learn from each other and need time to listen to each other and work together.

Activity 2A: Shells: Take a Closer Look.
For the “Measuring Shells” activity in investigation 2A, use concepts of “size” or “space covered” rather than area, to be mathematically correct.

Activity 2B: Sorting Shells
Accept and include different ways to sort the shells. Children may have unique categories that we might not have imagined. Be open to new ideas.

Activity 2C: Let’s Meet the Invertebrates
Detailed information about common Alaska marine invertebrates.
Detailed information about common freshwater invertebrates, amphibians, and mammals.

Activity 2D: Creature Features Class Book
Put the Creature Feature book together in published form and share it with other classes or parents. Bind the pages together with a spiral binder or three rings. Laminating the cover and/or pages will make it last longer and create a special book for the classroom.

Activity 2E: “What Do You Know” Game
Add to the cards based on things your class has learned, and customize the game board to fit your needs.

Investigation 3: Plant and Animal Experts
Activity 3A: ABC Sea/River Book
Examples of sentence frames to include on the student pages for the ABC book:

Basic information:

The _________________ is ____________________. ( an animal or a plant)     

It lives in (on) _____________________________________.

It eats ___________________________________________.


We use ______________ to feed our families.

We eat _______________ because they taste good.

I put ______________ on my garden to fertilize it.

You may want to decide on a couple of sentences that each student will have on their page, and allow them to come up with others specific to their plant or animal.

ABC examples for Southeast Alaska. Some will also be appropriate for other areas:

A –anemone, abalone

B – barnacle, blenny, bivalve

C – crab, clam, cockle, chiton

D – dall porpoise, dulse

E – eel, echinoderm

F – fish

G – gumboot,

H – hermit crab

I – isopod, invertebrate

J – jellyfish

K – kelp, king crab

L – limpet, (sea) lettuce

M – moon snail, mussel

N - nudibranch

O – octopus, oyster, otter

P – periwinkle, phytoplankton

Q -

R – ribbon worm

S – seaweed, sea cucumber, snail, squid, shrimp, sculpin

T – tidepool sculpin

U - urchin

V - vertebrate

W- whale, whelk, worm

X -


Z - zooplankton

Again, put the book together in published form and share it with other classes or parents. Bind the pages together with a spiral binder or three rings. Laminating the cover and/or pages will make it last longer and create a special book for the classroom.

Activity 3B: Plant or Animal Research
It is important to have enough and appropriate resources. Non-fiction books, ZooBooks, and pamphlets from the Alaska Department of Fish And Game all provide potential pictures and information to inform young scientists.

The sculptures may take 3-4 days to complete depending on the details, size and use of paints or markers. Letting paper dry between project times will assist the sculpture to stay intact. Smaller sculptures could be made using half sheet sized paper with more attention to detail in the drawing.

Activity 3C: Life Cycle Wheels
Help students connect their new learning with previous experiences they may have with life cycles. They may have experience with butterflies or salmon, and most will have observed siblings, grandparents, and other family members.   

Students may have learned that plants and animals have an ‘adult’ stage when they did their animal research project. This will have provided some initial thinking about how an animal or plant changes as it grows.

Activity 3D: High-Tide, Low-Tide Game
Use the information from the Meet the Invertebrates lesson. This game assists children in learning more about those creatures: how they move, what they get from high or low tide and how they survive. This is an active game that encourages children to move, supporting those who learn best through using their body ( kinesthetically).

Activity 3E: Marine/Freshwater Animal or Plant Riddle
Information from students’ animal research will be important to the development of the riddle. Paying attention to characteristics and specific traits of plants and animals will enable children to create logical riddles. It’s helpful to have information on local plants and animals so children can create riddles including number of legs, antennae, habitat, life cycle, etc.

Investigation 4: Field Trip Session
A previous visit to the field session site is strongly suggested. Local knowledge of plants and animals is important for this investigation. Field guides for the local area can help you develop knowledge, as will local naturalists and scientists.  Scientists from local government agencies are often eager to help with education projects. 

Every previous field session will build experience and understanding of how to more successfully explore during this extended session. Children will have had many scientific conversations to support their use of “claims and evidence”, use of science notebooks for documentation and team building experiences to make this session useful to them. They are no longer “practicing” to be scientists; they are biologists in the field gathering important data and documenting their findings in a scientific notebook.

It’s important to craft this lesson to best match the local environment. Understand and decide what information can be gathered for physical evidence, and what information needs to be acquired before or after the trip through field guides, local scientists and/or Native culture bearers or elders.

Investigation 5: Sharing What We Know
Take note of students’ questions and desires for more information and research. The celebration will be a good time to enlist parents, community members, and other guests to assist students to continue their quest for more information.

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