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Something Fishy: Life Cycle of a Salmon Lesson Plan

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Lesson Plan #: AELP-ANM0204
Source: School Library Media Activities Monthly (June 1994, p. 20-23)

Grade Levels: 3, 4, 5


  • Science/Animals
  • Information Literacy

Library Media Skills Objectives:

The student will select and use manual and automated versions of general and specialized encyclopedias to gather information about salmon.
The students will use alphabetical order to locate information on salmon in the appropriate volume of a print encyclopedia.
The student will use guide words, headings, and subheadings to locate information about salmon in a print encyclopedia.
The students will use appropriate search strategies and terms in an automated encyclopedia to locate information on salmon.
The student will use call numbers to locate nonfiction materials about salmon.

Curriculum (subject area) Objectives:

The student will summarize a science-related article from an encyclopedia and draw appropriate conclusions based on the information presented.
The student will take relevant notes on a specific science topic (salmon).
The student will draw a simplified diagram to illustrate the life cycle of a fish (salmon).
The student will describe a fish (characteristics of the salmon) and its habitats.

General and specialized (wildlife) sets of encyclopedias
An overhead projector, screen, and transparencies
Visual organizer for students to organize facts (see example)
Professional Resource

Van Dyk, Jere. Long Journey of the Pacific Salmon. National Geographic, July 1990, pp. 2-37.

Books (Fiction)

Hayes, Will. About the Biggest Salmon. Melmont, 1961.
Karlins, Mark. Salmon Moon. Simon & Schuster, 1993.
Murphy, Claire. The Prince and the Salmon People. Rizzoli, 1993.
Parker, Dorothy. Liam’s Catch. Viking, 1972.
Wakeland, Marcia. The Big Fish: An Alaskan Fairy Tale. Misty Mountain, 1993.
Waterton, Betty. A Salmon for Simon. Firefly Books, 1991.

Books (Nonfiction)

Ade, Robin. The Trout and Salmon Handbook. Facts on File, 1989.
Caras, Roger A. Sockeye: The Life of a Pacific Salmon. Dial Press, 1975.
Cone, Molly. Come Back, Salmon: How a Group of Dedicated Kids Adopted a Stream and Brought It Back to Life. Sierra Club Books, 1992.
Field, Nancy. Discovering Salmon. Dog-Eared Publications, 1984.
Glimmerveen, Ulco. Leaper: The Amazing Life of the Salmon. Scholastic, 1991.
Guiberson, Brenda. Salmon Story. Holt, 1993.
Haig-Brown, Roderick. Silver: The Life Story of an Atlantic Salmon. Lyons, 1989.
Hogan, Paula. The Salmon. Raintree, 1984.
Lavies, Bianca. The Atlantic Salmon. Dutton, 1992.
The Life Cycle of the Salmon. Pacific Science Center, 1988.
Phleger, Frederick. Red Tag Comes Back. HarperCollins, 1961.
Sakurai, Atsushi. Salmon. Knopf, 1984.
Salmon of Alaska. Alaska Sea Grant Program, 1978.
Schemenauer, Elma. Salmon. Grolier, 1985.

Nonprint Materials

Buffalo, Blood, Salmon, and Roots. Native American Public Broadcasting, 1976. (videocassette).
Dennis: Salmon Fisher. Cypress, 1979. (filmstrip/cassette).
The First Salmon Feast of the Celilo Indians. Oregon Historical Society, 1955. (16mm film).
Growing Salmon. GPN, 1983. (videocassette).
The Last Salmon Feast of the Celilo Indians. Oregon Historical Society, 1955. (16mm film).
The Life Cycle of a Salmon, Parts 1 & 2. Imperial Film, 1971. (16mm film).
The Life Cycle of the Salmon. California Redwood Association, 1975. (16mm film).
The Life of the Sockeye Salmon. Journal Films, 1977. (videocassette).
The Long Journey. Landmark Films, 1991. (videocassette).
The Man Who Digs for Fish. National Film Board of Canada, 1979. (16mm film).
Michigan’s Silver and Gold: The Coho Salmon Story. Perennial Education, 1970. (16mm film).
The Micmacs: Their Seasonal Life. McIntyre Educational Media, 1975. (filmstrip/cassette).
River of No Return: Lower Salmon Gorge. DelRoby Film, 1977. (16mm film).
A River: Its Fish and Man. Educational Materials, 1979. (filmstrip/cassette)
Salmon Catch to Can. U. S. Dept. of Commerce, 1964. (16mm film).
A Salmon for Simon. Weston Woods, 1980. (filmstrip/cassette).
Salmon Life Cycle. Av-Ed Films, 1975. (16mm film)
Salmon: Life Cycle of the Sockeye. Hoefler Productions, 1971. (videocassette).
Salmon on the Run. Ambrose Video, 1983. (16mm film).
Salmon Run. Doubleday Multimedia, 1967. (film cartridge).
Science and the Salmon Fishery. National Science Foundation, 1975. (16mm film).
Sockeye Salmon. CTV Television Network, 1972. (videocassette).
The Story of Atlantic Salmon. McIntyre Educational Media, 1975. (filmstrip/cassette).
The Story of Pacific Salmon. McIntyre Educational Media, 1975. (filmstrip/cassette).
Take a Can of Salmon. U. S. Dept. of Commerce, 1960. (16mm film).
Tragedy of the Red Salmon. Churchill Films, 1975. (videocassette).
Art supplies: posterboard, construction paper, crayons, markers, scissors, and a laminator.

Instructional Roles:

Either the science teacher or library media specialist or the two together may use this activity. As the teacher emphasizes the scientific content, the library media specialist may focus on student information and research skills.

Activity and Procedures for Completion:

Begin with a fiction story about the big one that got away or about salmon. A Salmon for Simon by Betty Waterton tells about the summer when Simon, a Canadian Indian, fished for salmon without catching a single fish all season and September was drawing near. One afternoon, Simon tried fishing patiently once more, but he still didn’t have any luck. At last he decided to dig some clams. Suddenly, a great bald eagle, flying overhead, accidentally dropped a fish it was carrying in its talons right into Simon’s clam hole. It was a salmon, still alive. Here was the fish Simon had longed to catch, the most beautiful fish in the world, shining like silver. As he watched it, Simon decided the salmon was too beautiful to die. He dug a channel to the edge of the sea, where the rising tide would reach it. As the salmon swam free, it flipped its tail as if to say Thank you. Ann Blades, the illustrator of this picture book, won the Canada Council’s Children’s Literature Prize for the watercolor paintings that illustrate this simple and tender story. Several other stories are also effective. Liam’s Catch by Dorothy Parker is the story of a young Irish boy who loved to go down to the river and watch his grandfather and his cousins net the big salmon for which the River Nore is famous. The Great Fish, written and illustrated by Peter Parnall, is the retelling of a Native American fable. Charlie, a young Indian boy, had heard many tales from his grandfather, William Three Feathers, but there has always been one folktale that’s his favorite. It tells how the silver salmon, the King of the Fish, saved the Indian tribe from starvation.
After reading or telling one of these stories aloud to the class, ask questions about fishing, salmon, etc. Have any of the students ever caught a fish? What kind of fish was it? Where did they go fishing? Do the students like to eat fish? What is their favorite kind? Has anyone in the class ever tasted salmon before?
Next, explain the assignment to the class. The students will research salmon to learn about habitat and characteristics. They will compose a brief paragraph on the fish. Afterwards, the class will submit facts and the accompanyng paragraph to the teacher for evaluation.
Project overhead transparencies of the form students will use to compile facts. Review the basic reference sources that are available to the students as they work on their project: print and automated general and specialized encyclopedias and nonfiction books. Review terms that students should use in searching for information. Discuss the Dewey Decimal Classification numbers of materials that may be useful and review the location of the Dewey section with a map of the library media center. Discuss the characteristics of salmon that the students must research: physical description, habitat, diet, reproduction, predators, and habits. Students must also research the life cycle of salmon from birth to death.
As a final activity, students will use their notes to create a game that depicts the life cycle of the salmon. Student groups will design a game board (see sample) based on facts about salmon, their migration patterns, etc.
The students may decorate their original game boards with colorful illustrations and laminate them. Game markers may be cut from construction paper to resemble miniature salmon. Dice, a spinner, or scoring cards may be used to advance players around the board. The first fish to reach the finish square wins the game. The groups may exchange their games with each other and play them.


Each student will use a print or automated encyclopedia and/or nonfiction book to identify at least six characteristics of a salmon’s life cycle, summarize the scientific facts in a brief descriptive paragraph, and construct a game board based on the life cycle of the salmon.


Students may use the pattern ot sew cloth models of salmon. Students can cut out the pattern of the salmon from two pieces of cotton, polyester, or felt. The fabric may be stitched or glued together, leaving a small opening for the stuffing. Fabric paints can be used to enhance the salmon’s appearance. The completed fish make great mobiles to suspend from the ceiling of the classroom or library media center.

Something Fishy: Life Cycle of a Salmon

Directions: Read information about salmon and their life cycle.
Use this note sheet to record important characteristics. Salmon


Sample Instructions for Game Board:

  • Start. You are a salmon fry hatched from eggs in a gravel nest.
  • It’s night and the darkness hides you. Swim ahead two spaces.
  • Gulp! You ate some fat water fleas. You are growing. Swim ahead one space.
  • You are now a fingerling. You can travel during the day. Swim ahead one space.
  • You reach the ocean. Move two spaces forward.
  • Beware of the blue heron! Move back two spaces.
  • There are lots of herring to eat. Move ahead one space.
  • Look out! There’s an osprey hunting. Move back one space.
  • You caught a small squid. Move ahead two spaces.
  • There’s a fishing boat after you. Lose one turn.
  • Beware of the killer whale! Move back one space.
  • You’re ready to head back to the river. Rest here for one turn.
  • Eat lots of smelt fish for your last meal. Move ahead three spaces.
  • Gasp! Muddy water and pollution! People are building their homes right on the river. Move back one space.
  • Beware of a Native American fisherman. Move back two spaces to avoid his drift net.
  • The river’s current is weak. Swim easily ahead one space.
  • There’s a dam ahead. Swim ahead one space on the fish ladder.
  • Bears fishing! Lose one turn.
  • Finish. Congratulations! You made it home. Make a gravel nest, lay your eggs, and cover them with gravel. Your eggs are safe and now it’s time for you to die. Your body will be food for other animals so that they can live. Some of your children will make the same journey!

These integrated lesson plans and suggestions for teaching library and information skills in connection with various classroom subject areas are provided by LMS Associates and were originally published in School Library Media Activities Monthly. Lessons may be used for the non-commercial purpose of education. All materials are held in copyright by LMS Associates for the magazine, School Library Media Activities Monthly. For more information, contact, LMS Associates; 17 E. Henrietta Street; Baltimore, MD 21230 410-685-8621.