Rainbow Reef: Exploring Aquatic Diversity

Rainbow Reef aquarium may look like just a home for a myriad of exotic fish, but there are over 65 different organisms living within the coral wonder. Using methods of scientific inquiry, students sort, observe, and analyze data to understand and appreciate the diversity of aquatic life in the National Museum of Play's salt-water aquaria.

Lesson extensions for before or after your visit

The following activities are designed for your class to enjoy before or after your museum visit. Familiarizing students with the lesson concepts can enrich your museum experience.

What makes a fish a fish?

Divide students into groups of five or six. Give each group 10 minutes to discuss the following question: What makes a fish a fish?

Guidelines for the discussion:

  • Everyone in the group may contribute either by listening or sharing ideas.
  • Each answer suggested must be either agreed or disagreed upon by the whole group.
  • When the discussion has concluded, ask each group to present what they believe makes a fish a fish.
  • Teachers may want to do a practice discussion with the entire class prior to this activity so students understand the concept. Other possible topics: How do fish breathe? How do fish swim?

Drawing on memory KWL

The following drawing activity allows students to discuss what they already know about fish and to develop their own questions about what they would like to know. It is recommended that this activity be completed over two or three days.


  1. Give each student a pencil and plain piece of paper. Ask students to draw a fish.
  2. Instruct students to label any parts of their fish that they know and explain the function of each part. (For example the eye allows the fish to see predators and find food, the fin allows the fish to swim.)
  3. Encourage students to share and discuss their drawing with a partner.

Want to Know

  1. Have each student ask at least one question about a fish’s anatomy that they are curious about.
  2. Provide photographs (not drawings) of different types of fish (from the library or Internet) for students. Have each student select a photograph. Ask students to use their image to create another detailed drawing.


Ask each student to circle the parts of the fish on their new drawing that they have learned about. If the question remains unanswered, encourage students to research the answer.

For other ideas visit: