Fish Friday and Dancing Turtles – My Sealife Topic Ideas

We do so much these days to try and engage our learners within our classrooms, to create content that is inspiring. But what about finding inspiring content for us. Teachers need to be inspired to go on to create great learning opportunities. We mustn’t forget about finding content that inspires us too. With the summer fast concluding concluded I feel energised, excited and inspired to begin our sealife topic. Here is a bunch of my ideas.

When you begin digging into this topic area you soon realise that there is SO much good content, resources and ways to work with it that maybe everyone should be doing it. I can’t wait to get my snorkel on! If you have been following me on Twitter then you have probably been awash with my notes about it all.

Endless Ocean

This is one of the major elements of our unit, and I suppose you might say that the topic is lead by using this game on the Wii. I already know games based learning is a powerful way to engage learners. Innovative work by teachers in Scotland continues to inspire me and I hope that our unit will measure up to their great work.

It is a very open ended game, allowing the player (a diver) to just swim around and explore the reefs, lagoons and open waters on offer. I love the fact that we don’t know what we might found in the murky depths. I began making notes as to the types of fish we discovered. But you know, I think the engagement and hook will be in those moments when suddenly, unexpectedly,  someone finds a lion fish or a hammer-head shark. I recall these same moments of shared discovery when we played Myst, and it produces a great community of use in the classroom.

I want our play and our learning to have that edge. To emerge gradually as the map does in the game, I know which direction we are heading but what we find there is an unknown.

Steve Bunce has already used the game with classes and suggested I use a carousel of activities so that smaller groups can use the game on a more intimate level. There also has to be some time when we are sharing the discovery and exploration as a whole class. I will be planning the first week of work to include small groups working on the game and four other independent activities related to our topic.

Marine Guide

We will use the game throughout the whole course of the 7 week topic and most importantly find out more about the species we catalogue in the game. As you discover a creature you are given it’s name and a snippet of information about it, this is then recorded in the game’s Marine Guide.

I am going to ask our kids to do something similar. A drawing, habitat, size, food – all entered into a small paper book. I want to keep it simple so we can update them quickly as we discover different creatures. I would like the children to explore some online resources to help them learn more about the different species. This ties in with the non-fiction strand of the literacy strategy.

There seems to be quite a considerable number of species to find and I am not expecting the children to amass information on all of them. Perhaps on occasion they can choose from a handful of species we have found to record and then there may be those that we all need to record. I will see how things pan out.

Fish Friday

This idea is very much from my RANDOM pile but I think it could work really well. John Davitt has created something called the Learning Event Generator that randomly selects a topic and a way to show it. For example: DO “How to make an omelette” AS “a play by play sports commentary”. The AS list is over 200 ideas strong and I would highly recommend it whilst you are planning.

So take a big list of the species we have discovered and an edited (can we really do that in the classroom, with these kids) list of the outcomes and you get…

Show me what you have learned about the SWORDFISH as a FINGER PUPPET SHOW.
Show me what you have learned about the LUMINESCENT SEA SLUG as a T-SHIRT DESIGN.

I would break the two parts up. Give the kids, in small groups, the species name and 10 minutes to gather what they already know and more. And then reveal their way of showing their learning and 25-20 minutes to work on it. I think it is going to be fun and will challenge our classes in different ways.

And that’s my idea for Fish Friday.

Scuba Diving

As you can tell from the game you take the part of a scuba diver. Apart from actually diving in the local pool I wanted the classes to better understand what scuba equipment is all about. I am hoping to arrange with the local scuba diving club to bring a whole load of gear into school so that the children can not only handle it but get to chat to real scuba divers. Maybe they can have a go on Endless Ocean with us too and tell us how realistic it is!

Google Earth > Ocean Layer

Google Earth never ceases to amaze me and before researching into this topic I didn’t look too far into what was on offer in the Ocean layer. It will prove to be a highly valuable resource for our children, helping them better understand the actual information geography of different aspects of the topic. But as we have seen in the past, Google Earth will just be one way for children to “find out”, others will prefer reference books or websites. The important thing is that the choice is there.

Here is a list of some of the features in the layer, plus my notes.

  • National Geographic comprehension quiz – would be good as a paired reading task.
  • Animal Tracking – would help to illustrate some shark and whale behaviour.
  • ARKive layer – lovely resource of endangered marine life shown in context.
  • Using different layers of info for reading text – perhaps creating a few quiz questions of our own.
  • Expedition Tracking – active expeditions are shown, such as Roz Savage the ocean rower.
  • Shipwreck sites
  • Fishing stocks and UK fish factfiles – would be useful to explore some species native to our waters. Tie this in with the work on persuasive writing and sustainability of fish stocks.
  • Dive and Surf Spots – adding Panoramio layer to show diving pictures.

There is so much here to consider (there are many more layers I have not referenced) but just knowing that we can direct children to a high quality resource like this is great. Disappointingly most of the embedded video which helps depict the variety of life uses YouTube which is blocked in our Nottinghamshire LA. A prime example of why it shouldn’t be. Although the placemarks in the ARKive layer also use YouTube video, on their own site the video is hosted, and it is a vast collection of images and video too.

Augmented Reality

Augmented reality (AR) is the combination of 3D models, a webcam (if on a desktop or laptop), AR software and a printed symbol. The screen will show what is visible through your camera. The camera tracks the symbol you have printed off and then places the chosen 3D model on that position. Turn the printed symbol and you turn the 3D model.

This is a screen shot of me impaled by the Sydney Tower.

Impaled by the Sydney Tower

Whilst exploring the topic I saw a tweet about the 3D Top Trumps that have been released. I wish there was a Sealife set to buy! I have played a bit with augmented reality (AR) with our classes last year. It has huge potential for learning. I used the AR Media Plugin for Sketchup and Google Earth to support some of our work on India.  Small groups looked at the Taj Mahal in 3D and it helped them get a better idea about the structure of the building.

For our Sealife topic I want the children to explore different 3D models of tropical fish and other creatures from the oceans. I discovered an amazing set of 3D artwork by Max Grueter in the Sketchup 3D Warehouse and in his collection he has some divers too with some lovely depictions of older diving suits. Just looking at the models in 3D is limited in it’s use, it will be engaging I know that – but I want the children to perhaps answer questions and engage more with what is displayed.

I am thinking through and developing some AR Comprehension Cards. Combining text, the 3D model and then questions to challenge the children too. Will be a great way to engage those reluctant readers and to look at reading comprehension in a different, augmented way!

Finding Nemo

This film could be used on it’s own as a central part to a sealife topic but we are going to concentrate on the more open, interactive Endless Ocean to guide us. But we will be using the film to explore some of the PSHCE issues uncovered within it: families, loss, friendship and growing up. I know the children will enjoy it and it is another way of engaging them with their learning.

If you have a copy of the DVD you will know that the bonus disc has some great resources that could be used in the classroom, such as the short film about the coral reef with Jean Michel Cousteau. I like Mr Ray’s Encyclopedia which gives a short narrated film clip about a handful of species from the film. I would use this in a notetaking exercise with the kids, or perhaps in 2s or 3s for a quiz.

My Planning

For what it is worth I have published some of my more detailed thoughts about the literacy involved in the unit in this Google Doc. Let me know what you think. I have thought about the ways I would like to engage the children with the topic and then looked at the Primary Strategy references. If I followed the strategy verbatim we wouldn’t cover information text (Year 4 unit) but I want the children to create exactly that sort of thing, so it’s included.

What you see in the planning is medium term and there every idea I had about the different literacy work. With only 7 weeks we will not cover everything nor do I expect to.


Since being in school I have discovered lots of books that we already have that will support our work and these (with the help of many people’s suggestions on Twitter) will also help supplement the work we do.

If you get a chance to look at the Dan Yaccarino book you will probably realise why that one gets a special mention from me. There is only a few sample images online of the picture book but I love the tantalising glimpse of the artwork it is made up of.

I contacted Dan about the artwork, which he said was done using stencils and an airbrush, to see how we might recreate some of it in the classroom. Layered tissue paper might work well and I expect we will spend a lovely afternoon very soon with copies of the book in hand and our creative hats on!


From the Expedition layer in Google Earth I discovered the ongoing coverage of the ocean rower Roz Savage. This is an ideal example for the children to keep tabs on throughout the next few weeks as she makes progress across the Pacific. The Roz Tracker is a lovely example of real time mapping and social media which gives a great insight into the conditions onboard and the state of mind of Roz.

The RozTracker is an interactive map that you can use to track Roz’s progress across the Pacific, and see exactly where she was when she posted various social media.

One of my favourite Tweets from Roz says so much.

surrounded by sharky feeding frenzies. not the day to take a swim.

It would be good to spend some time with the children doing a couple of things purely based on this short message:

  • Find out what type of sharks might be there based upon her location, the fact there are many and their behaviour.
  • Based upon that information try and work out what type of shark she may be referring to. Send her a Tweet explaining what we found out. Are we right? Does she know?
  • Learn what sort of food the sharks may be feeding on and draw up some food chain information. Why might it be described as a frenzy?
  • Use this as a starting point for some descriptive fiction.
  • Explore newspaper coverage of shark attacks.

A fine example of how social media can put are classrooms in touching distance of people doing remarkable things.

Another fantastic resource that I discovered via Twitter is Tour de Turtles. The site tracks 11 sea turtles as they begin their migratory journey. Each turtle has a name and is depicted as a contestant in a race, competing with each other. The turtles are being tracked with GPS and you can look at a map showing their ongoing progress.

There is loads of information about the 11 different causes that the turtles each represent – each one impacts on the lives of the turtles in some way. For example there is poor old Chica who is struggling in last place at the moment and according to her map is not entirely sure which way she is going! The cause that Chica represents is “Sea Level & Temperature Rise from Climate Change” and you can even watch a pre-race interview with each turtle and then live footage of them setting off too.

A lovely site that holds stacks of information for the children to explore, the opportunity to raise awareness of real issues affecting these creatures and big slice of fun and humour to engage young learners. We will definitely be checking in with the turtles. I expect I will ask the children to adopt one of the 11 for the next 7 weeks and see how things work out, encouraging them to learn more about them and keep tabs on their progress.

That just about wraps up some of my thinking for this next half term and as I said at the outset I am excited to get underway with it all. Just to finish you could always record your own dancing turtle like I have done. I know that after all the 7 weeks of hard work the dancing turtle will probably be the one thing the kids remember most!


  1. Great ideas here – I’m working on some planning at the moment with a class I work with. We have practical questions – how and when is the game used – attached to IWB, TV ??? How often do they dive? Just in pairs? Whole class dives?

    Thanks, James

  2. Hi Tom,

    Great post. We’ve also been working with Endless Ocean on the Wii with primary schools. It started as activity days in June/July with Year 6 and Year 2 and now taking it forward to embed in 4 primaries. Starting with one school doing activity weeks based around the game for each year group. Margaret Cassidy and the teachers in Stirling were really helpful in terms of sharing resources – as is this blog! – we ought to keep in touch – I’m happy to share resources and what has / has not worked for us. Also looking at Wii games in Literacy (early stages!). There’s more info/photos/films on our site.

  3. Thanks for the comment Steve and for the suggestion of wireless headphones and using them for diver signals, that would be a great way to work with it.

    I had a look at your Little Big Planet – UNDER WATER! it looks like fun – have you played LBP with kids before or classes?

  4. A tremendous summary of ideas which sounds very exciting! Your new class will be totally immersed!

    The 3D Top trumps look great and are something that the children can simply go out and buy – not requiring expensive ICT equipment, other than a webcam; this can strengthen home-school links. (Since your link on Twitter, I’ve ordered a set for myself).

    Did you mention wireless headphones before? The children playing the game could use either wireless headphones or even cheap wired ones with an extension. This could then help them to develop the use of sign language or diving signs to communicate. Another advantage could be the game sounds would not distract the other pupils.

    Looking forward to hearing how it develops.

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