Lesson Plans: Grades K-2

Under the Deep Blue Sea

Created September 27, 2010


The Lesson


Under the Deep Blue Sea: Barnacles

Rocks at low tide showing barnacles and sea anemones, Point Grenville, Washington. American Environmental Photographs Collection, Department of Special Collections, University of Chicago Library

Credit: Courtesy of the American Memory Collection.

Take your students on an underwater exploration of the sea to inspire their creativity and teach them about the ocean and the many life forms that make their homes in its mysterious depths. Students will learn about the ocean and the creatures that live there, listen to stories and poems with oceanic settings, conduct research about oceanic life forms, and write their own stories and poems about the sea.

This lesson gives students the opportunity to explore oceans and ocean life. After locating the earth's major oceans on a world map, students will "dive underwater" to discover the plants and animals that live in the sea. Students will listen to stories and poems with oceanic settings and learn about the forms of sea life featured in each. They can add their own artwork and text about ocean animals and plants to a cut-away ocean display. Finally, students will engage in various forms of creative writing about the ocean and ocean life.

Guiding Questions

What is an ocean? What do we imagine when we think about the ocean? What are the names of the major oceans of the world, and where are they located? How is the ocean represented in stories and poems? What kinds of plants and animals live in the ocean, and what can we learn about them? How can we use what we have learned to create our own poems and stories about the ocean?

Learning Objectives

Depending on the activities chosen, students will be able to do the following:

  • describe the ocean based on information presented in class
  • learn how many oceans there are, where they are located on a world map, and why they are often considered one big ocean
  • recall information they learned while listening to stories and poems with oceanic settings
  • research various forms of sea life, and learn about one in enough detail to share their information with the class
  • understand the elements of poems and stories written about the ocean

Preparation Instructions

This lesson requires you to access various Web pages through EDSITEment-reviewed sites. You may share these pages with your students at individual computer stations or by assigning small groups to share a number of computers; by means of computer-projected images displayed to the whole class; or by printing out the images and distributing copies of them to students.

You will also need to have on hand at least two picture books to share with students--one for the "Sharing Ocean Experiences" activity and another for the "Introducing Ocean Literature" activity. Suggested titles are provided at relevant points in the lesson, as well as in the Resource List at the end of the lesson.

In addition, you will need access to a variety of research materials for the "Researching Ocean Life" activity. For Internet research, you should acquaint yourself ahead of time with the EDSITEment-reviewed site, Treasures@Sea, which provides links to other useful sites. For print materials, refer to the "Resource List" at the end of the lesson plan.

As you review materials, you will note that there are differing opinions about the number of oceans in the world. It is generally recognized that there are four: Atlantic, Pacific, Indian, and Arctic. Others say there is a fifth ocean, the Southern or Antarctic, which lies south of the Atlantic, Pacific, and Indian Oceans, linking them together. Your students should recognize that, since all of these bodies of water of the world are connected, they make up one global ocean.

Lesson Activities

Activity 1. Oceans and Ocean Life

Ask for volunteers to explain what an ocean is. Have students who have been to the ocean describe what they have experienced there to the class. Use the following chart with the five sensory headings: See, Hear, Touch, Taste, and Smell, which you can complete online or download and print out for classroom use. As students recall what they know about the ocean, write down their descriptive words and phrases next to the sensory headings. Ask for students' help in deciding which category is appropriate for each experience, and whether an experience belongs to more than one category. Ask students why they chose a particular category.


Next, read aloud a story with an ocean setting. The Magic School Bus on the Ocean Floor by Joanna Cole or A Swim Through the Sea by Kristin Joy Pratt are good options. (See the Resources tab for other suggested titles.) When the story is over, ask the students to think of new words or concepts from the book that describe the setting where the story took place or where the main character lived. Add each of these to the sensory lists.

Point out to students that some of the words on their list describe life in the ocean, where the main character(s) of the story live, and some of them describe life near the ocean, where people can live or visit. Have students identify which words belong in each category. At the top of the chart, write the word "In" in blue marker (to symbolize water) and the word "Near" in green marker (to symbolize land). Then have children take turns using the blue marker to circle words that pertain to life in the ocean and the green marker to circle words that pertain to life near the ocean.

Invite 2nd-grade students to create their own haiku-like poems about the ocean or animals living in the ocean, using words and images from the lists above. (See the EDSITEment lesson Play with Words: Rhyme & Verse for further information about haiku and other types of poetry.) You might want to do this activity in conjunction with the "Speaking of the Sea" activity described below. Kindergarten and 1st-grade teachers can do this activity as a whole class project, modeling for the children how to create a haiku. As you go through each line, encourage students to participate by adding words from the sensory list you created earlier.

The first line of the poem should include two words or phrases about the ocean or animal, the second line should include three words or phrases, and the third line should include two words or phrases. Older students may wish to follow the true haiku form by counting syllables rather than words: five syllables in the first line, seven syllables in the second line, and five syllables in the third line. Younger students who are writing their own poems may use inventive spelling or dictate their poem to the teacher or a classroom aide. Have each student copy his or her poem onto a piece of sturdy paper so that it can be displayed in the classroom, and have each student recite his or her poem to the rest of the class. Teachers who do this as a whole-class activity can invite students to copy the poem onto a large poster board and have them decorate the poster. Then, they can display it on a bulletin board outside the classroom for other students to see.

Activity 2. Exploring the Ocean (optional)

Ask students how many oceans there are in the world. Draw a question mark in the center of the chalkboard and write their response around it:


Next, ask students if they know the names of any oceans. Write their answers on the chalkboard. Explain that most people agree that there are four major oceans: the Pacific Ocean, the Atlantic Ocean, the Arctic Ocean, and the Indian Ocean. Point out that others say there is a fifth ocean, the Southern or Antarctic, which lies south of the Atlantic, Pacific, and Indian Oceans, linking them together. You can also emphasize that, while we think of these bodies of water as separate oceans, they are all connected and make up one global ocean.

Show the students a world map, accessible through the EDSITEment-reviewed National Geographic Society's Xpeditions Website. Select the "Atlas" icon from the main site page. A printable map of the world will appear, which you can further customize by adjusting the selection options.

Ask students to look at the map and describe how the oceans are separated from one another. While students might suggest that land divides the oceans, guide them to realize that the oceans of the world are really one big ocean with pieces of land dividing it into different parts.

Give each student a printout of the world map that you have just studied together. To reinforce the idea that the oceans are connected to each other, challenge students to color in all of the watery parts of the map without lifting their blue crayons from the page. Encourage students to use other colors to fill in the various landmasses. Ask students to create ocean travel routes, demonstrating how a boat could travel to every continent without ever crossing any land.


Activity 3. Introducing Ocean Literature

This activity serves as a brief introduction to the sea animals featured in children's literature. In subsequent activities, students will research these and other animals as well as listen to and read other selections from ocean-related literature and write original poems and stories with ocean themes.

Suggestion 1: Picture Books
Begin by reading aloud a picture book with an ocean setting, such as A House for Hermit Crab by Eric Carle, or The Twelve Days of Summer by Elizabeth Lee McDonald. (See the Resource tab for other suggested titles.)

Ask students to listen for names of animals and plants they have never heard of before, and instruct them to raise their hands whenever a new animal or plant is mentioned. Then compile a list of new vocabulary words:

A House for Hermit Crab:

  • hermit crab
  • sea anemone
  • starfish
  • coral
  • snail
  • sea urchin
  • seaweed
  • lantern fish
  • sponge
  • barnacle
  • clown fish
  • sand dollar
  • electric eel

The Twelve Days of Summer:

  • sea anemone
  • pelican
  • jellyfish
  • piper
  • flying fish
  • squid
  • starfish
  • crab
  • seal
  • dolphin
  • gull

If time permits, read more than one story so that students can compare the information presented in each. Record the information on a piece of chart paper for reference in subsequent activities.

Suggestion 2: Rhymes:
You can also use nursery rhymes to bring the world of the sea to your students. For online sea-related nursery rhymes, see "Little Drops of Water, Little Grains of Sand, Make the Mighty Ocean and the Pleasant Land" from Mama Lisa's Nursery Rhymes , "My Bonnie Lies Over the Ocean" on HPD's Nursery Rhymes Page, or "The Owl and the Pussycat." These selections are linked from the EDSITEment-reviewed website Internet Public Library.

While reading these rhymes aloud or having students take turns reading them aloud, encourage them to think about ways they can creatively act out the rhymes to emphasize the feeling of the sea. For example, you or your students may choose to read the rhymes in a voice that dips low and then squeaks high, in order to make the listener think about rolling waves. Another idea is to use hand and eye motions.

Activity 4. Creating an Ocean Display (optional)

This activity can be used to complement the "Researching Ocean Life" activity below. By creating an ocean display, students will learn more about what the ocean looks like and about the animals and plants that live in or near the sea. You can use the display to further acquaint students with the ocean by showing them what the ocean floor looks like as it extends from the shoreline, and as a background for presenting various items from the projects and activities in this lesson. This display can be used with older students to explain terms that apply to the ocean floor.

Creating a Cut-Away View of the Ocean Floor
Cover a large bulletin board with light blue or white craft paper. Then draw the cut-away view of the ocean floor as follows:

1. Place a brown marker about two-thirds of the way up on the left-hand side of the display.

2. Draw a horizontal line beginning at this point. Slope your line down slightly. This will serve as your shoreline and continental shelf (where the ocean floor is closest to the shoreline).

3. After drawing your shelf, sharply dip your marker down so the resulting line is practically vertical. This line will represent an ocean slope.

4. Then, as your slope line dips below the display's halfway point, flatten your line out horizontally to form a level ocean plain (the widest, flattest part of the ocean floor).

5. Continue the plain line for a foot or two across the display, then angle your marker up sharply to draw a steep, craggy mountain peak called a mid-ocean ridge.

6. Draw the mid-ocean ridge so it peaks above the plain line and below the continental shelf. Then pull your marker line down at a sharp angle to form the other steep side of the mountain.

7. At the foot of the mountain, draw a sharp, narrow valley, called an ocean trench.

8. Finish your ocean floor by moving your line up to create another slope and another continental shelf on the other side of the display.

9. Use a blue marker to draw the waterline from shore to shore. (Your mid-ocean ridge should not extend above your water line.)

10. Print the names of each of the parts of the ocean floor (shoreline, continental shelf, slope, plain, mid-ocean ridge, and trench) on a separate index card. Help students attach these labels to the display. Have students use watercolors to paint the ocean floor brown and the water blue. Students may also glue fiberfill cloud wisps in the sky above the ocean and draw tiny sailboats on the water's surface.

Activity 5. Researching Ocean Life

Tell students that they are going to become oceanographers--people who study and share information about the ocean. (Background information about oceanographers can be found through a link on the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration.)

The students' first job as oceanographers is to draw pictures of animals that live in or near the ocean. Have students choose animals on which they would like to become experts. For inspiration, revisit the list of animals featured in the books you shared in previous activities. For research information, see the lists of print and Internet resources at the end of the lesson plan.

Supply students with paper and have them make preliminary tracings or sketches of their animals. When the students are satisfied, provide them with a piece of white oak tag so they can make full-color drawings of their animals. Have students cut out their drawings and add them to the ocean display. Afterward, have students write or dictate information about their drawings. Label each finished drawing with an index card bearing the animal's name as well as details related to the animal's size, color, markings, and other physical features.

Remind students that part of an oceanographer's job is to do research and to teach other people about the ocean. Oceanographers share what they have discovered on their own as well what other oceanographers have discovered.

You can find interesting facts about the ocean for your students, or guide them to do simple online research themselves, by visiting the EDSITEment-reviewed Treasures@Sea website. At the site, select "Book Activities." By clicking on the title of a particular book, students can learn about some of the sea animals featured in the story. For example, The Rainbow Fish page provides a link to information about starfish, while the Humphrey the Lost Whale page links to information about humpback whales. 

To guide students' research, help them answer the following questions about their animals:

KindergartenGrade 1Grade 2
    • What's your animal's name?

    • How big or small is it?

    • Does it live in the ocean or near the ocean?

  • What are interesting facts about your animal?

    • What is your animal's name?

    • How big or small is it?

    • Does it live in the ocean or near the ocean?

    • In what part(s) of the world is your animal found?

    • What does your animal eat?

  • What are interesting facts about your animal?
    • What is your animal's name?

    • How big or small is it?

    • Does it live in the ocean or near the ocean?

    • In what part(s) of the world is your animal found?

  • What does your animal eat?
  • How deep under the water does it live?
  • What special things does your animal do to survive?

Have students write or dictate answers to the questions above and help them organize their sentences in paragraph form. Encourage students to supply as much detail as possible. Students might pretend to be reporters interviewing their sea animal. Ask them what questions they would ask their animal if it could talk, and let them use their research to develop responses. Students can present their interviews in question and answer format and can draw pictures to illustrate their interviews. You may display the finished interviews around the edge of your ocean display, or compile them in a student magazine that can be copied and distributed to students and their families.

Set aside class time for students to share what they have learned about their ocean animal. Have them prepare a riddle about the animal as a way of introducing it to the rest of the class (e.g., "I have five arms but no fingers. What am I?"). Or have students prepare acrostic poems by printing their animal's name vertically on a piece of paper and then using each letter of that name to begin a word or sentence about the animal.

Additional Activity for Researching Ocean Life

If time permits, repeat the activity by having each student choose an ocean plant to research. Have them cut plant shapes from craft paper. Add the plants to the ocean display so that the foliage camouflages the animals. You may use this as an opportunity to discuss camouflage and other ways ocean animals protect themselves.

Activity 6. Speaking of the Sea

In this section of the lesson, students have the opportunity to create original poems -- either individually or as a class -- about ocean life. The ocean has inspired writers for centuries, and many poems have been written about the sea and the animals that live there. Read aloud a selection of published poems. (For suggestions, see the list of poetry collections and online nursery rhymes under the Resources tab.) You may wish to choose poems about some of the animals that were researched in the previous activity, or invite students to browse through the collections in small groups and have them select the poems they would like to hear. (For a related lesson about poetry, see the EDSITEment lesson Play with Words: Rhyme & Verse.)

As students listen to each poem, discuss the techniques the poet uses to create images of ocean life. What animal is the poem about? How does the poet describe the animal and where it lives? What kinds of details does the poet include about the animal? Does the poem include action? Is it funny? Sad? Try to choose a wide array of poems so that students can see the range of stylistic possibilities. Discuss with students the similarities and differences among the poems.

Next, have 2nd-grade students work individually or in pairs to create their own poems about ocean life. Encourage them to use some of the resources listed at the end of the lesson as they research facts for their poems. Kindergarten and 1st-grade students can create the poem as a class.

After giving students the opportunity to practice reading their poem at home or in class, have each child recite his or her poem to the rest of the class (kindergarteners and 1st graders can recite the poem as a choral reading). You might wish to invite parents or other classes to the poetry presentation and use this as an opportunity for students to share the other work they have created as part of this unit.

Extending The Lesson

Remind students of the stories you read in the Sharing Ocean Experiences and Introducing Ocean Literature sections of the lesson, and tell them that they are now going to write their own ocean stories. Begin by inviting students to recall all of the words they have learned about the ocean and about the animals and plants that live there. Have them use the vocabulary words generated in the previous activities as they write their short stories.

Before students begin writing, help them determine the main characters, settings, and plots for their stories. What sea animal would they like to write about? Where does this animal live, and what is it like there? What adventures or problems might this animal have? How does the animal solve the problem? Encourage students to draw upon the knowledge they gained in the Researching Ocean Life activity as they plan their stories. After students complete their first drafts, have them share their work in small groups. Have them give one another suggestions for ways to include more ocean-related vocabulary and ideas.

Younger students will need more teacher support to write stories. Kindergarteners and young 1st graders may want to dictate their stories to the teacher or teacher's aide.

When students have completed their final drafts, compile them in a class anthology to be shared with families and friends.

Resource List

The following is a list of published texts that may be used in teaching this unit:

Picture Books

  • A Swim Through the Sea, written and illustrated by Kristin Joy Pratt (Dawn Publications, 1994)
  • Very Last First Time, written by Jan Andrews, illustrated by Ian Wallace (Atheneum, 1985)
  • Marina, written and illustrated by Ludwig Bemelmans (Harper & Row, 1962)
  • A House for Hermit Crab, written and illustrated by Eric Carle (Simon & Schuster, 1988)
  • One Lonely Seahorse, written by Saxton Freymann, illustrated by Joost Elffers (Arthur A. Levine Books, 2000)
  • Where Will You Swim Tonight?, written by Milly Jane Limmer, illustrated by Helena Clare Pittman (Albert Whitman & Company, 1991)
  • Sea Squares, written by Joy N. Hulme, illustrated by Carol Schwartz (Hyperion Books for Children, 1991)
  • Swimmy, written and illustrated by Leo Lionni (Random House, 1968)
  • The Rainbow Fish, written and illustrated by Marcus Pfister (North South Books, Inc., 1992)
  • Into the A, B, Sea: An Ocean Alphabet, written by Deborah Lee Rose, illustrated by Steve Jenkins (Scholastic Press, 2000)
  • Across the Big Blue Sea: An Ocean Picture Book, written and illustrated by Jakki Wood (National Geographic Society, 1998)

Poetry Collections

  • In the Swim, by David Florian (Voyager Books, 1997): This is an illustrated collection of brief, often humorous poems featuring sea creatures such as catfish, salmon, piranhas, eel, sawfish, sea horses, whales, starfish, flounder, sharks, flying fish, jellyfish, and more.
  • My First Oxford Book of Poems, edited by J. Foster (Oxford University Press, 2000): The section of this anthology entitled "Beside the Sea" includes an array of ocean-related verses by classic and contemporary poets.
  • The Oxford Book of Animal Poems, edited by Michael Harrison and Christopher Stuart-Clark (Oxford University Press, 1992): This anthology includes poems about octopi, skates, sharks, sea lions, seals, dolphins, whales, penguins, and seahawks.
  • Poetry for Young People: Lewis Carroll, edited by Edward Mendelsohn (Sterling Publishing Company, 2000): This collection of Carroll's verses includes "The Mock Turtle's Song" from Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, as well as an earlier version of the poem, which could serve as inspiration for students' own whimsical poems about sea life.
  • The Random House Book of Poetry for Children, edited by Jack Prelutsky (Random House, 1983): This anthology includes poems about seals, codfish, flying fish, sea gulls, and sandpipers, as well as other poems about the seashore in general.
  • Sailing Days: Stories and Poems about Sailors and the Sea, edited by A. McKay (ACC Children's Classics, 1998): Although not specifically about sea animals, the stories and poems in this collection could provide interesting opportunities for extending the unit into a broader range of ocean-related literature.

Online Nursery Rhymes

Research Books

  • Animals on the Seashore (Octopus Publishing Group, Ltd., 2001)
  • Draw 50 Sharks, Whales, and Other Sea Creatures, by Lee J. Ames (Doubleday, 1989)
  • The Magic School Bus on the Ocean Floor, by Joanna Cole (Scholastic, Inc., 1992)
  • The Aquarium Take-Along Book, by Sheldon L. Gerstenfeld (Penguin Putnam, 1994)
  • Exploring the Deep, Dark Sea, by Gail Gibbons (Little, Brown, & Co., 1999)
  • World Water Watch, by M. Koch (Greenwillow Books, 1993)
  • Beneath Blue Waters: Meetings with Remarkable Sea Creatures, by Deborah Kovacs and Kate Madin (Viking, 1996)
  • Sea Creatures Do Amazing Things, by Arthur Myers (Random House, 1981)
  • Shark in the Sea, by Joanne Ryder (Morrow Junior Books, 1997)
  • Night of Ghosts and Hermits: Nocturnal Life on the Seashore, by Mary Stolz (Harcourt Brace Jovanovich Publishers, 1985)

Material List
Sharing Ocean Experiences and Introducing Ocean Literature:
chart paper

Cut-Away Ocean Display:-+
chart paper
drawing or tracing paper
oak tag
colored pencils
markers or crayons
construction paper

Selected EDSITEment Websites

The Basics

Time Required

4-6 class periods

Subject Areas
  • History and Social Studies
  • Art and Culture > Medium > Visual Arts
  • History and Social Studies > People > Other
  • History and Social Studies > U.S. History
  • Art and Culture
  • Map Skills
  • Oral presentation skills
  • Visual analysis
  • Vocabulary
  • Writing



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