Shedd: The World's Aquarium logo

Lesson Plans
Explorer's Guide
The Exterior of John G. Shedd Aquarium

Lesson Plan search results for all ages:
Grades: 9,10,11,12
The world is full of problems to solve; from social concerns like homelessness and poverty to environmental concerns like pollution and endangered wildlife. Learn more about what you can do with your students.

Grades: 6,7,8
This three part lesson introduces students to ethograms and allows them to put them to use as they explore Shedd's animal collection.

Grades: 6,7,8
This lesson is to introduce students to and give them a working knowledge of scientific sketching. It begins with students gaining an understanding about the importance of sketching and what makes a good scientific drawing. It follows up with putting their new skills to use during their visit to Shedd Aquarium.

Grades: pre-K,K,1,2
This three part lesson allows students to explore Shedd's animal collection while using numbers, letters, shapes, or colors. Students will begin to recognize features of animals that are similar and different and let them begin to verbalize their observations.

Grades: pre-K,K,1,2
Prepare your students for their visit to the aquarium by introducing them to aquatic plants! Using drawings, paintings, and pressed aquatic plants students will explore aquatic habitats!

Grades: 3,4,5
Observational skills are a tool that every good scientist has learned to master. Students will use this tool to connect to animals at the Shedd Aquarium to their adaptations. Students will follow up with creative ways to express their observations.

Grades: 5,6,7,8
Students will explore the Amazon Rising exhibit through math and science! This three part lesson allows students to build on prior math knowledge and incorporate into the amazing animals of the Amazon.

Grades: 6,7,8,9,10
This three part lesson begins by introducing your students to taxonomy and the idea of classifying animals. It will follow up at the Shedd Aquarium where the students will critically observe Shedd's diverse animals collection and conclude when students will analyze the data they collected during their visit to create dichotomous keys.

Grades: 9,10,11,12
Scientific names give insight into characteristics of many animals. These lessons will introduce students to the idea of binomial nomenclature and help them determine how common and scientific names are connected.

Grades: pre-K,K,1,2,3
Animals throughout the aquarium are going unseen. This series of lesson plans introduces your students to all of the amazing animals at Shedd that camouflage. They will use thier scientific observation skills to find all of the animals they many can't find throughout the aquarium and understand why camouflage is so important to so many animals.

Grades: 3,4,5
Ethograms are an important scientific tool when studying animal behavior. Through these lessons, students will learn how to create ethograms and how to use them to document behavior in Shedd animals.

Grades: pre-K,K,1,2
Students will begin to study how animals come in all different colors. They will then be challenged to complete a BINGO board of colors by looking for animals that match/closely match the colors in each space while at the Aquarium and learn how to organize and display thier data in creative ways.

Grades: 9,10,11,12
Ecology is the study of an environment and how the different organisms interact with one another. It also focuses on how energy moves through the system. In this activity, students will choose a Shedd animal to study and determine how it is an integral part of its environment.

Grades: pre-K,K,1,2
While visiting the Aquarium, students will begin to recongnize features of the Earth's many features. They will collect and organize data and then, back in the classroom, they will complete an art project.

Grades: pre-K,K,1,2
While visiting the Aquarium, students will begin to discover the importance of camouflage and the role color plays in an animal's environment. Students will collect data and then bring their findings back to class and create visual representations of them for all to see.

Grades: pre-K,K,1,2
In these lessons, students will gain an understanding of how different animals move in different ways. They will be challenged to observe animals at the aquarium and then take back to school what they learned and practice looking for similar movements in animals that live near you.

Grades: All
This is a link to the NOAA Ocean Explorer web site. The site offers education materials for teachers including interactives, lesson plans, full ocean curriculum, professional development opportunities, updates from the field, and information about scientists and education teams at sea.

Grades: All
Looking for something simple your students can on thier field trip at the aquarium? Use these scavenger like maps to help them explore many different animals around the aquarium!

Interactive search results for all ages:
Grades: 3
Build a Fish by choosing a body, mouth, and color/pattern, then release it into the reef! You can drive your fish around the reef in search of food and to evade predators. Can your fish find enough food without being eaten?

Grades: K
Help Squish the Fish travel out across the reef to find his lunch. He needs to find friends who will help him hide from his nemesis, BigTooth Blob. Learn about shape, color, and behavioral adaptations for survival.

Grades: 6
Some strange things are happening on Apo Island, in the Philippines. Investigate the clues and try to solve the mystery! Learn about shark biodiversity.

Grades: 9
You are a reporter for an international newspaper assigned to investigate the sea horse situation. You can travel to the Philippines and see seahorses and their habitat, interview local people, scientists, fishermen, traders, medicine users, and do library research for documents and statistics. Then write a balanced editorial that takes a point of view, respectfully and accurately represents the opposing or alternative attitudes.

Grades: K
Plisplás el Pez presenta formas en que los animales usan el camuflaje y los mecanismos de defensa corporales y de conducta para evitar ser devorados por sus depredadores. Ayuda a Plisplás a escapar de Don Dientón. Aprende cómo la forma, color o conducta de los animales les ayudan a sobrevivir.

Grades: 3
Los peces siempre tienen que encontrar comida y refugio para no ser devorados. Cada pez ha desarrollado adaptaciones especiales que lo ayudan a vivir en su hábitat. En el juego, tu objetivo es diseñar un pez con las adaptaciones correctas para sobrevivir.

Grades: 4
There are a thousand stories on the amazing reef, each more incredible than the last. Stories of life, friendship, hunger and survival. Which story will you tell?

In this movie-making interactive, you can make an animated film about life on a coral reef. Choose an exciting story, cast colorful characters, and animate the movie yourself. Then add music and titles to complete your movie. You can even keep it by downloading it to your own computer.

Fact Sheet search results:
The alligator pipefish sucks up prey like a vacuum with its long straw-like mouth. The jaws are permanently locked together in this tube-like formation and this creature has no teeth. Slurping up tiny animals and plants with a force so strong, prey doesn’t have a chance to escape. The alligator pipefish’s feeding mechanism can be so loud that it can be heard from far away.

Anemone clownfish make their home inside the dangerous stinging tentacles of anemones. Newborn fish cover themselves with an anemone’s slimy mucus coating. This protects the clownfish against the anemone’s deadly sting, which paralyzes most other small fish.

If attacked by a predator that grabs hold of a claw or leg, the porcelain crab can cast off the limb then slip away before the attacker realizes the rest of it is gone. But why would it want to lose such a valuable part of its body? This strategy helps to keep the crab from getting an infection in an open wound where the predator would have bit it. Releasing the limb from where it connects to the body, the crab then seals off the area. Eventually, the porcelain crab will regrow or regenerate the leg or claw.

Bicolor fairy basslets live together in a large group. They will work together to protect themselves. If a fish aggressively approaches them, all the basslets will mob the fish, attacking it from every angle. They rarely kill the attacker, but they do scare it off.

Bicolor parrotfish sleep in slimy bubbles. Before going to sleep in a reef hole, this parrotfish spins a cocoon around its body. The slimy bubble hides the fish’s scent. This protects the parrotfish from nighttime predators like moray eels, which hunt by their sense of smell.

A small group of blacktip reef sharks often hunt down schools of fish together. They work together to corral the fish into a tight ball, and then attack the trapped prey. This feeding frenzy often results in the blacktips leaping out of the water to catch the prey that are trying to escape.

The blue spot stingray is appropriately named. Its covering of bright blue spots warns predators about the dangers of two venomous tail spines or stingers. The tail of this fierce ray is so long, it can jab at pesky creatures from over head and well in front of its face.

These corals get their name from their strange similarity to the human brain with their maze-like grooved surface. This pattern is actually made of tiny animals called coral polyps. Thousands of polyps make up the entire coral colony or coral head.

In most animals, all members of the same species are similar in shape, color, size and texture. But that’s not the case in these Acropora corals. Dramatic changes in colony form are seen within a single species.

Anemonefish live inside the tentacles of the bulb anemone. If the anemone isn’t housing a fish, the bulb on the tip of this anemone will disappear. This may be a signal to the fish that there isn’t anyone living there.

Appearing to be a delicate creature, the nautilus is a brutal predator. Using 90 arms, the nautilus snatches up a shrimp or crab, passes its prey to its mouth, and crushes the crustacean’s shell with its beak. Nautilus will travel up to 1,500 feet each night to feed.

If one of their arms or part of their body gets bit off, they can regenerate or regrow it. As long as they don’t lose the central disc or the middle of their body, they can regenerate just about anything.

Equipped with powerful jaws and sharp teeth, triggerfish make noisy meals of hard-shelled reef creatures. These mighty jaws chew through just about anything they grab.

Apo Island is a small island located in the central region of the Philippines. It is a relatively flat island made of volcanic rock. The beautiful beaches are covered in white sand. There is one hill which reaches about 670 feet (200 m) high located at the northern end of the island. Most of the villagers live on the southern part of the island where it is flat. About 1,000 people live on Apo Island. There is a dive shop, two small hotels, a restaurant, a community store, a community center, and a grammar school. There aren’t any cars on the island and electricity is only available for three hours per night by generator. Beyond the village is a lush mangrove forest and shallow lagoon and coral reefs surround the island.

A small, but ferocious shark, the cookie cutter sinks its teeth into prey much larger than itself. This shark appropriately gets its name by biting perfectly circular plugs of flesh from its prey—much like an actual cookie cutter.

Coral reefs are one of the most complex and colorful tropical ecosystems. Coral, a tiny animal that spends its life rooted in one place, is the foundation of this ecosystem. It builds the reef that supports the rich sea life around the shore. These massive reefs are home to as many different animals as the rain forests.

Crown of thorns sea stars only eat corals. After covering its prey, this sea star pushes out its stomach through its mouth. Strong stomach acids breakdown the coral polyps, and then small hairs collect the gooey food and carry it inside. Once it is done eating, the sea star pulls the stomach back into its body and leaves behind a white coral skeleton.

In the inky darkness of night, dragon morays sniff out their prey. This fish has an excellent sense of smell. Hanging out in a reef cave, the dragon moray eel waits for a fish or octopus to swim by. Lunging out at the prey, this moray expands it mouth wide open to fit even the largest of animals. Razor-sharp backward pointing teeth trap the prey in the dragon moray’s mouth, making it impossible for the prey to escape.

Emperor angelfish completely change their colors and patterns from when they are young to when they reach adulthood. Since adults are territorial, this change is thought to allow juveniles to enter adult territories without being chased out. Juveniles eat different food than adults and wouldn’t be competing for the same food source within the territory.

Fire coral gets its name for a good reason. It is not a diver’s best friend. Brushing up against fire coral causes a lot of pain. Tiny barbs in the coral get launched into anything that touches fire coral and they cause a short term intense burning. Some people and animals are more sensitive to the effects of the stinging cells of this coral.

Bacteria that live in a sac under the eyes make the flashlightfish glow. This bright light attracts tiny prey, helps them communicate with other flashlightfish, attracts mates, and the blinking confuses predators.

Sitting completely still among colorful corals and sponges, a frogfish patiently waits for prey to approach. Wiggling a small fish-shaped lure that hangs off a ‘fishing pole’ from its forehead, the frogfish attracts curious creatures into its striking zone. Before they even know it, the prey is swallowed by the well camouflaged frogfish.

The giant clam houses billions of tiny algae under its skin. In exchange for a safe home, the algae uses the energy from the sun to consume the clam’s waste and turn it into food for its host.

Juvenile golden trevally swim in the blind spot of large ferocious sharks. Here they are provided with protection from predators and they often get a free meal too, eating lost scraps. They will also swim in front of huge harmless creatures—like whale sharks and manta rays—getting pushed along as the large creature propels itself forward.

Lean, fast and powerful, great barracudas sometimes team up to herd a school of fish into shallow water and trap them. Once their last meal has been fully digested, the barracudas will attack the confined animals.

Sporting splotchy skin, the Japanese wobbegong shark blends in with the reef corals, rocks and sand. Lying on the ocean bottom, this shark goes unnoticed by it prey. As an unsuspecting fish swims on by, the Japanese wobbegong jumps up and gulps down the creature before it can escape.

Leather corals are made of tiny glass-like shards. Not only do they support the coral, but they also act as a form of protection. If a fish or other creature tries to eat the coral, it will cut up its entire mouth and digestive system.

Butterflyfish confuse predators by disguising their eye. A dark eye band covers the eye, hiding it from sight. On the tail they sport a large dark false eyespot. This makes the predator think they are looking at a larger animal than the butterflyfish.

The longspine urchin is as dangerous as it looks. The little round pin cushion-like body is guarded by over foot long sharp spines. Equipped with tiny barbs on the ends, the spines get stuck under the skin of any brave predators willing to take their chance at an attack. Once poked by a longspine urchin spine, it can only be surgically removed.

Like all other habitats on Earth, the reef is connected to other systems. One of its closest neighbors are mangroves. These habitats exchange a variety of living and non-living elements. Animals leave these areas to go to the reef to seek food, shelter and places to breed. Water quality, which is crucial to all animals, is regulated by these habitats. Reef animals sometimes journey to mangroves in search of prey. Animals ready to lay eggs seek out safe places in the reef and mangroves.

Napoleon wrasse eat a variety of toxic reef creatures, many of them with sharp spines. The poison doesn’t make it sick and the spines don’t hurt it. Its massive lips of this magnificent creature absorb the prickles of their bristly meals.

The oceanic seahorse, like all seahorses, reproduces differently than any other fish. Instead of the female bearing the young, it’s the male. Male seahorses carry their young in a pouch on the front of their body until the young hatch. These young seahorses are miniature replicas of their adult parents.

Don’t be fooled by the beauty and grace of the Pacific sea nettle. Its golden bell and long undulating red tentacles are equipped with thousands of painful stinging cells called nematocysts. The nematocysts lodge tiny paralyzing barbs into prey, making it impossible for escape. Long white oral arms hanging from the center of the bell begin digestion as they transport the prey to the nettle’s mouth.

The peacock flounder changes its color and the pattern on its skin to exactly match the sea floor. One of the eyes recognizes the pattern of its surroundings. If this eye is covered by sand, the peacock flounder can’t camouflage itself. Each eye can move independently, seeing forward and back at the same time.

When threatened, the polkadot boxfish releases poisonous mucus from its skin. Its skin is body armor—hard scales that are fused together and give this fish a rigid shell. The polkadot boxfish needs this protection because it is a very slow swimmer.

Porcupinefish suck up water to scare predators. The thick, leathery skin of porcupinefish is covered by scales that have been modified into spines. They are extended when the porcupinefish gulps down water to puff out and sticks a hungry predator.

Feasting on a variety of fish, especially small sharks and rays, sea turtles, crabs and lobsters, the Queensland grouper can slurp up these animals so fast you can't even see it happen. It just looks like the prey just disappears.

Pouncing on its prey, the reef octopus stretches out its body and smothers its favorite food, a crab. If the crab is feisty, the octopus will inject it with a poisonous saliva that will weaken or even kill the animal, making it easier to eat. Using a beak-like jaw, the reef octopus crunches on the crab.

Scalloped hammerhead sharks have a T-shaped head with the eyes and nostrils located at the ends of the T-shape. Moving its head side to side while swimming allows the 14 foot scalloped hammerhead to scan all around and almost behind itself.

The scarlet cleaner shrimp has an exoskeleton or hard shell that it periodically molts or sheds as it grows. This exoskeleton encases, protects and supports the shrimp’s soft body. Getting ready to molt, the animal produces a new soft exoskeleton and then climbs out of the old one. The shrimp’s body swells up to make the new soft shell expand. After it hardens, the shrimp pumps out all the excess water and will eventually grow into this new larger shell.

The scrawled filefish has two switchblades on each side of its tail. If a predator threatens, this filefish will lash out to counterattack. This form of protection is important since the scrawled filefish is a slow swimmer.

Like all other habitats on Earth, the reef is connected to other systems. One of its closest neighbors is seagrass beds. This habitat exchanges a variety of living and non-living elements. Animals leave these areas to go to the reef to seek food, shelter and places to breed. Water quality, which is crucial to all animals, is regulated by these habitats. Reef animals sometimes journey to seagrass beds in search of prey. Animals ready to lay eggs seek out safe places in the reef and seagrass beds.

To blend in with their surroundings, sergeant majors change their color, darkening or lightening their body. In a dark environment, these fish can actually turn completely black, hiding the five black bars on their side which give them their name.

During the winter storms, which bring about quick currents and dangerous waves in shallow waters, juvenile spiny lobsters leave and travel over 30 miles (19 km) to the deeper reef habitats where they will live for their adult life. When migrating or moving to another area, they will line up, touching their antennae to the tail of the lobster in front of them. As many as 100,000 lobsters will get in this line, which is thought to look like one long eel or snake. If a brave animal dares to attack, the lobsters gather in a circle with their tail pointing inward, displaying all of their spines outward.

Looking in different directions at the same time, the spiny seahorse, just like all seahorses, can move each eye independently. One eye looks left while the other eye looks right. This unique ability allows the seahorse to look for enemies in front, behind, and on all sides. These eyes are so finely tuned, the spiny seahorse can easily spot its tiny, almost microscopic, prey floating in the water.

From far away, colonies of garden eels look like a field of swaying seagrass. Moving closer, the ‘seagrass’ often disappears. There may be hundreds and even thousands of eels living together in a colony.

Learn about the cultural and physical geography of this island archipelago in the Pacific Ocean.

When baby thresher sharks are developing inside the mother, the larger, stronger offspring will actually eat their smaller, weaker siblings. Adult threshers swat and stun their prey with an eight-foot long tail.

Looking like it needs braces, twinspot wrasses have a pair of teeth that stick out of their mouth. These shovel into the sand, uncovering their prey hiding underneath. Twinspot wrasses have large molar-like teeth in their throat called pharyngeal teeth. These teeth crush up the hard-shelled animals they eat like shrimp, clams, crabs, snails and urchins.

Whale sharks are not only the biggest shark, but the biggest fish in the world. This shark can weigh as much as a large school bus. However, this shark isn’t one of the most ferocious—it doesn’t even chase down its prey.

Most sharks need to swim in order to breathe. Sluggish whitetip reef sharks spend much of their day resting on the bottom. So how do they breathe? While taking it easy, these sharks pump water across their gills.

The yellow watchman goby and the blind shrimp are roommates. Protecting the shrimp, the yellow watchman goby sits outside their home keeping a lookout while the shrimp bulldozes a larger space inside—and even does the cleaning.

Between the spines on the fins of the zebra lionfish is a transparent film. If the prey tries to escape when cornered, it may not see the film and swim right into it. When the prey bounces off, the lionfish captures the animal and gulps it down.

Unlike most other fish, moray eels don’t have scales. So to protect themselves against scrapes and parasites, they ooze a slimy coating of mucus over their thick-skinned bodies.

Although it is almost 12 feet long, the zebra shark isn’t a swift swimmer. Instead of chasing after prey, this shark squirms its way into reef holes and crevices, making it impossible for the trapped target to escape.

Teacher Backgrounder results:
Click on the links below Amazon worksheets and rubrics

Click on the link below for the Aquatic Characteristics Teacher Backgrounder

Animals throughout the aquarium are going unseen. Go on an exploration around the aquarium to see if you can find some of our best camouflaged animals hiding in their exhibits.

Click on the link below for the Camouflage Sheet

Click on the link below for the Color Sheet

This is an example for teachers to use and hand out to thier students.

Print this page and cut out each section. Then paste each section on an individual note card. Place each note card at the correlating activity center. These notecards will act as directions for the lesson.

This is a template to goes along with the Ethogram lesson plans.

Click on the link below for a PDF of the Ethogram Worksheet


Click on the link below for the worksheet to go along with the lesson plan

Click on the link below for the Habitat Sheet

Click on the link below for the Movement Sheet

Click on the link below for the student worksheet.

Click on the link below for the Observing an Animal Worksheet

Nothing lives in isolation. On a coral reef, each plant and animal is part of an incredibly complex system that has evolved over millions of years.

Click on the link below for the full version of the Science Notebook. You can use your print options to print only the pages you would like your students to use for these lessons.

Sharks' remarkable electromagnetic sensors

Click on the links below to access the worksheet, teacher key and translation list that go along with this lesson.

Outside Resource results for all ages:
The Shark Watchers's Guide.
Grades: 3, 4, 5
By Guido Dingerkus. New York: Julian Messner, 1985.

Shark: Eyewitness Books
Grades: 3,4,5
By Miranda MacQuitty. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1992.

Zoobooks 2: Sharks
Grades: 3,4,5
By John Bonnett Wexo. San Diego: Wildlife Education, Ltd., 1983.

The Jaws of Death: Shark as Predator, Man as Prey
Grades: 3,4,5
By Xavier Maniguet. New York: Sheridan House,1991.

Resources for Environmental Educators
Grades: Teacher
Listings of environmental materials, meetings, jobs, and other portals for environmental educators.
North American Association of Environmental Educators

Grades: Teacher
EE-Link is a database of environmental education resources and information targeted to K-12 educators. It is a project of the North American Association for Environmental Education, funded through the US EPA-funded Environmental Education and Training Partnership.
North American Association for Environmental Education

Investigating and Evaluating Environmental Issues and Actions: Skill Development Program
Grades: Teacher
Manual for helping students carry out environmentla projects.
Authors: Hungerford, Harold; Ralph Litherland; R. Ben Peyton; John Ramsey; and Trudi Volk. Publisher: Champaign, IL: Stipes, 1996. Teacher Edition ISBN 0-87563-650-0 Student Edition ISBN 0-87563-875-9

Squish Coloring Pages (5-page PDF)
Grades: pre-K,K,1,2
Coloring book of Squish, Big Tooth Blob, and the coral reef. This is the large version: one page with Squish and Big Tooth, and four full pages of reef illustrations.

Squish Coloring Pages (3 page PDF)
Grades: pre-K,K,1,2
Coloring book of Squish, Big Tooth Blob, and the coral reef. This is the small version: one page with Squish and Big Tooth, and two pages, each with two reef illustrations.

Sharks: The Perfect Predators
Grades: All
Hall, Howard. San Luis Obispo, California: Blake Publishing, 1990.

Sharks: The Super Fish
Grades: All
Sattler, Helen Roney. New York: William Morrow & Company, 1986.

Hammerhead Sharks
Grades: All
Welsbacher, Anne. Minneapolis: Capstone Press, 1995.

The Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Fishes, Whales, and Dolphins.
Grades: Teacher
New York: Alfred A Knopf, 1983.

Something Fishy
Grades: 3,4,5,6
Lesson plan for grades 3-6.
John G. Shedd Aquarium

Paginas por color (Squish coloring pages-5 page PDF)
Grades: K,1,2
Coloring book of Squish, Big Tooth Blob, and the coral reef. This is the large version: one page with Squish and Big Tooth, and four full pages of reef illustrations.

Paginas por color (Squish coloring pages -3page PDF)
Grades: K,1,2
Coloring book of Squish, Big Tooth Blob, and the coral reef. This is the small version: one page with Squish and Big Tooth, and two pages, each with two reef illustrations.

Ocean Explorer
Grades: All
This web site offers teachers an innovative way to engage students in ocean learning by offering real-time access to NOAA’s at sea scientists and education teams. It allows students to explore ocean science through videos, images and interactive materials related to the ocean and NOAA’s The site also includes education materials for teachers including interactives, lesson plans, full ocean curriculum, professional development opportunities, updates from the field, and information about scientists and education teams at sea.

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