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Lesson Plan

Ancient Creature of the Deep

Course, Subject

Biology/Living Environment, Math, Science & Technology

Grade Levels

Commencement, 9th Grade, 10th Grade


To compare and classify a "living fossil," the coelacanth, in relation to a moray eel and a bull shark.

Content Provider



2 days (Two 40-minute class periods)


  • Copy of the "Fish Anatomy" student handout
  • Computer with internet access and printers
  • Article:"Other Fish in the Sea"
    PDF Student Handout
    HTML Student Handout
  • Description

    This activity will have students learn about fossils and the evolution that certain species have taken over thousands of years. The students will compare the coelacanth to an eel, and a shark. They will be able to see the similarities and differences in all three creatures' anatomy. The students will also research other ancient fish and do a jigsaw so that every student learns about the different fish. This activity involves student research using the internet to find resources.


    NOVA - Ancient Creature of the Deep


    Day 1:

    1. Review with students the meaning of the phrase "living fossil" (an organism with a basic body design that has remained unchanged for millions of years). Tell students that they will be comparing a living fossil, the coelacanth, with moray eels and bull sharks.
    2. Organize students into groups and provide each group with a copy of the "Fish Anatomy" student handout.
    3. Review with students the descriptions of fish anatomical structures on the student handout. Explain that these descriptions only represent a few of the different features of fishes.
    4. Have students use additional resources to find more information about coelacanths, eels, and sharks. Ask students to research the skeletal types of each fish, its body covering, how the fish stays buoyant, and whether it bears live young. Then have them draw and label the body parts of each fish.
    5. After students label all the fish body parts, review their answers (see Activity Answer).
    6. Ask students if they think the coelacanth is more closely related to the eel or the shark, and have them explain their reasoning. List the reasons supporting each choice on the board. Then have a discussion to try to reach a consensus.
    7. As an extension, have students research the characteristics of other living fossils, such as the horseshoe crab or the Ginkgo tree. What makes these organisms distinctive? What might have enabled them to remain unchanged for so long?

    Day 2:
    1. This will be a jigsaw activity
    2. Have students read "Other Fish in the Sea" by Lexi Crock.
    3. Assign each student 1 of the 8 fish to research using the internet. The students should only be given about 15 minutes to research their fish.
    4. Groups should already be made so that there is one group of 8 students, each student should have researched a different fish.
    5. Once the time is up, students should get together in their groups and share their information. All students should have information about all 8 fish by the end of the class.
    6. A quiz made by the teacher can be given on Day 3 to check and make sure that all the students have all the information that they needed.


    For homework after Day 2, students should be assigned a paper, 1-2 pages, discussing evolution and why it is important for species to change, or not change over time. In their paper, students should use examples from the jig-saw and the worksheets to help them along. You can give the students 2-3 days to complete this paper and grade it based upon your own grading scale.

    Students should also be assessed based on the worksheet they turn in on Day 1 and the jigsaw from Day 2. After this activity is over, the teacher should make a short quiz for the students to take on the jigsaw. This will make the students accountable for getting all the important information that they need to fill in on the jigsaw. The students can be graded on the quiz with a graded procedure decided by the teacher.

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