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ACTIVITY: Exploring Coral Reef Habitats

NGSS Science and Engineering Practices:

NGSS Crosscutting Concepts:

The activity below draws from the content in the page Adaptations in the Shoreline Habitat.


Coral reefs can be variable in shape and size! 



Guiding Questions:








Activity Questions:


Further Investigations:











<p>Fig. 1. ʻOpihi latching tightly onto the rock at low tide in Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument.</p>


ʻOpihi are very difficult to peel off the rocks on the rocky shoreline.


  1. In what ways are ʻopihi adapted to live on a rocky coastline?
  2. What other creatures live well on a rocky coastline?
  3. What creatures live well on a sandy beach?
  4. What creatures live well in a wetland?

Guiding Question:

  1. What features make organisms suited for their specific environments?


Explore organism adaptations by connecting creatures with the specific shoreline habitat that they live. Then, create your own unique creature and determine how it would survive in each shoreline ecosystems. 


  • Student worksheet and teacher guide (attached below):

    This teacher guide follows the procedure written here and in the student worksheet with additional instructions and guidelines. We highly recommend starting this activity by introducing the Phenomenon, Inquiry, and Guiding Questions from the top of this webpage.

  • Shoreline printout (attached below):
  • Creature card printout (attached below):
  • Coloring tools (markers, crayons, or colored pencils)
  • Scissors
  • Glue
  • Optional: Supplies so students can create a 3D model of their new organism, rather than just drawing it. (i.e. clay or silly puddy, cardboard and glueor tape, misc. other household supplies to build a creature)

Teacher recomendations:

  • The shoreline printouts can be enlarged to be used as a class. Or multiple smaller copies can be handed out for students to use in groups or for each individual. 
  • Print and laminate the shoreline habitat cards so that they can be reused.
  • Students will design a creature that can live in one or more of the shoreline habitats. As suggested in the materials list, they can create a 3D model of this organism rather than just drawing/coloring it. 


  1. Follow along with the procedure on your worksheet to explore creatures that live in the shoreline habitats.

Match the creatures and shorelines!

  1. Cut out the creature image cards on the dotted line.
  2. Color in the creature cards. While you are coloring, observe features and adaptations of the creature that give hints to where it lives.
  3. Cut out the description cards on the dotted line.
  4. Read the descriptions and try and match them with the creatures you colored in.
  5. Check with your teacher to be sure the creatures match the right description. Glue the description to the back of the creature image.
  6. Lay the creature cards on the desk in front of you.
  7. Lay out the images of the three types of coastlines (rocky shoreline, sandy shoreline, and wetland).
  8. Read the descriptions on the back of 
  9. Using clues from the description, match the creatures with the shoreline habitat where you think they may live. 

Create your own creature!

  1. Pick one of the three shoreline habitats to design a creature that survives well there. It can be a bird, crab, plant, tree, fish, or something totally unique.
  2. Draw your creature. 
    Note: Get creative! Be sure to think about how your creature needs to have unique structures that allow it to survive there.
  3. Label the features that allow it to survive in the habitat you chose. Think about the conditions and exposure in itʻs environment (salt, wind, waves, sun).
  4. Invent a descriptive name for your new species and label your diagram; For example, “Umbrella Crab."
  5. Optional: Now that youʻve designed a new creature, build a 3D model of it out of materials from around the house or classroom (clay or silly puddy, cardboard, construction paper, or a combination of all).

Activity Questions:

  1. List the creatures that survived well in the three shoreline habitats:
    1. Rocky shoreline:
    2. Sandy shoreline:
    3. Wetland shoreline:
  2. Pick one of the creatures listed in number 1 and describe how it might live in the other two shoreline habitats. Would it survive well, not so well, or not at all? Explain.
Exploring Our Fluid Earth, a product of the Curriculum Research & Development Group (CRDG), College of Education. University of Hawaii, 2011. This document may be freely reproduced and distributed for non-profit educational purposes.