Gone Fishing! Fish Lesson Plan Ideas -Elementary -Middle School

Fish Lesson Plan Ideas

Submitted by: Fran Legman

Fish have positive symbolism in all world cultures. Reel in some good ideas!
2 Liter Bottle Fish

Fran did this project with third grade, using recycled two liter soda bottles. The children cut tails, drew patterns with Sharpies on the outside and then colored in the inside with Gel Pens.. The tails are then stapled, and they strung up using a string attached to a bead inside the bottle. Most people think they look like stained glass. Fran got this idea from the NJAE conference.


See Dazzling Pop Bottle Butterflies - pdf PDF file


Submitted by Carol O'Neil
Oceanscape Sculpture

Carol is doing a Fish Theme this year with her students. Here students cleverly created ocean scapes from the nylon stocking/wire sculpture lesson. Paper sculpture fish were added - paper fish - tissue paper fish - painted fish - and all sorts of extras. The only requirement was that sculpture must have one fish.


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Submitted by Linda Eastman
Fish from Recycled Materials

Students created a number of different sea creatures from a collection of recycled materials. Linda provided some of the materials and students brought in the rest.

See Lesson Plan


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Something fishy is going on here! Is this a creature straight out of Spongebob Square Pants? Only the child who made this sculpture knows for sure!


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Submitted by Carol O'Neil
Lesson Plan: Fish of your Dreams - Imaginary Fish
Grade Level: third grade - adaptable to all grade levels What makes fish "tick"? What is going on inside that fish? What if?...

Carol did these with third graders as a Sketchbooks. assignment. She was trying to tie in the fish theme, texture and have fun. Students were required to do a Crow Quill Pens. and India ink. drawing: fill the page, of a fish, with at least one eye, tail, fins and scales then add whatever they could invent.  This is a lesson she got from Emphasis Art years ago and adapted. See what kind of fish your students can invent? Tie in Louis Renard..

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Submitted by Linda Erling-Baker
Golden Fish Treasures - Ceramic Fish
Grade level: Elementary through Middle School

Linda did these metallic painted fish with 7th graders. After studying the movement of fish and making sketches. Student selected their best drawing to be made in Moist Clay.. Slabs were rolled out and fish drawing used as pattern. After cutting, students pressed in textures. Fish body may be humped up over a newspaper hump for more of a relief effect. Two body sections may be fused together to make a 3-D sculpture. The mouth should be open or a hole cut in back to allow air to escape.  Fish are a symbol of wealth in Chinese culture and a golden fish is good luck. - See Ceramic Fish Lesson Plan

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Submitted by Denise Pannell
Ceramic Fish Bowl
Grade Level: Elementary on up

Example is fourth grade. Students study fish. Draw fish from photograph or from life. Body should be large enough to shape. Cut fish from clay slab and drape over bowl (using a paper of plastic wrap separator) - or drape over plaster hump. Fish could also be made by draping slab inside a bowl shape. Texture and add relief details. Glazes. after bisque firing. Fish bowls could be made with Air-Dry Clay., or Polymer Clay. (bake polymer clay on foil to hold shape)


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Marcia Lavery's 6th grade students made these fanciful Paper Mache. fish as props for a school play. Students drew a fish shape on a piece of cardboard and cut it out. Then taped newspapers to the cardboard on both sides to puff it out. No newspapers were added to puff out the fins. At this point, they inserted the Dowel Rod. underneath the newspaper and taped it really well with Masking Tape.. Then, added paper mache, putting extra layers around the dowel rod. They painted with Tempera Paint. when dry. Some students used Paint Markers. to add embellishments. Gloss varnish. finished them off. You could substitute Acrylic Paint.. These fish are quite large - but you can make them any size. This lesson can be done with upper elementary and middle school.


Relief Sculpture Paper Mache from L. Peterson: With recycled cardboard, I had the kids draw fish outlines, a bit bigger than the size of their forearms. Real or imaginary were ok. One side of the cardboard stays flat, while they build up the other side with wadded newspaper, leaving the fin and tail areas clean and flat. They resemble meatloaf with fins at this stage. Just enough tape to hold the newspaper in place and then they started Paper Mache. covering, 5 layers at least for strength.  Any lumps smoothed down with the wet, glued paper and they had to wrap over the edge of the cardboard body about an inch so there were no holes or gaps.  When they had a smooth, dry half fish, we cut cardboard fins to stick out (the ones behind the gills) and built eyes, gills and any other body decorations. Cover with enough papier mache to strengthen them and let dry the final time. Because the original cardboard cut out was the shape of a fish, not a single student "lost" their design while building. We painted the bodies with Tempera Paint., first adding a graded color change across the whole body and then adding specific and patterned details on top. Self adhesive hangers went on back when done, though the cardboard base is strong enough to have a hole nailed through and fish line or wire strung through the hole.  Some students did a double layer body outline for extra strength and some used flat wood Popsicle sticks. glued on behind delicate fins so they wouldn't bend. Note: Wire could be taped to fins to give some movement. Wrapping fins in Aluminum Foil. would prevent any unwanted warping and would help bend fins and tails into a desirable pose.


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Michael Gerrish's Room became a fanciful aquarium filled with huge paper mache fish. "Nemo" was easy to find. See the size compared to the student hand. Newspaper were used to from the fish body and cardboard for fins and tail. Eyes were built up with carryout beverage containers. The yellow fish used brown grocery bags. The bag was stuffed the the opening stapled over. Cardboard tails and fins added along with eyes formed from the beverage containers -and layer of paper mache added. Fish can be painted with Tempera Paint. or Acrylic Paint.. Tissue paper. collaged also makes a nice finish. These lessons can be done with upper elementary and middle school.


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Heidi Bess Kincaid did these fun Paper Mache. fish with her 7th grade students. This was a great tie in with science. Forms were started with a balloon with cardboard tail and fins added and more paper maché. Thick Pipe Cleaners. shape the mouths and Glitter. embellishments were added. Click green and blue fish to see details. The science teacher takes part in what is called the "Jason Project" (www.jasonproject.org) and they were studying water environments last year. They also participate in a quilt square exchange each year also.


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Marianne Galyk's students added their name to these patterned fish done in Crow Quill Pens. and India ink. (or Sharpie Fine Point Markers.). 5th graders designed a fish, adding their first name in block letters to the design. They then filled ever part of the fish (except their name) with a variety of patterns. Make these any size from 9" x 12" to 18" x 24" (23 x 30.5 cm to 46 x 61 cm). For extra fun, make two (mirror) image, glue together and stuff. See more on Marianne's Artsonia site. This project is good for grades three through six. Kathleen Arola is using it with 2nd and 3rd graders. See one very creative approach. You can see that Kathleen's students were up for the challenge - finished 2nd grade work. Adapt Kathleen's Rubric to your needs.


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Submitted by Jill Day - Stuffed Patterned Fish

Jill had her 4th grade students make patterned fish on white butcher paper. They used Permanent Markers. to decorate both sides. The two sides were sewn and stuffed with newspapers - then seam was stitched closed. These were hanging in her room for quite some time when it occurred to her that what they needed was some color. Outside they went and each received a light dusting of spray paint. Just what they needed! See group hanging in her room.

Alternate idea - Fish Pillows. Draw with Permanent Markers. (or fabric markers) on muslin fabric.. Mist with liquid dyes. (in spray bottles). Sew and stuff with Polyfill. batting - stitch seam closed.


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Marianne Galyk did these trophy fish with fourth graders. Two fish were make (mirror images) colored with markers and glued together - stuffed then seam glued. These fish had to communicate something about the student - a different kind of portrait - and have a surreal element. Marianne got this idea; They were given the challenge to create a rare trophy fish that was based on another animal or object, but still retained fish-like characteristics (gills, fins, an eye, etc.). They were colored with markers and stuffed with paper after having been glued around the edges. from Arts & Activities. or School Arts..


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Larry Prescott's Students made texture creatures - a lesson on visual texture. Fish are one of their animal choices. From Larry: This one was done with 5th grade kids. The concept of texture was reinforced through classroom discussion and examples of both tactile and visual texture in the room. Discussion was steered toward the variety of textures in the room and how we feel more comfortable in a room with at least some contrast in texture. We imagined settings with just one texture and speculated on how we would feel in such an environment. We looked at examples of 2D art and discussed, using "tactile" adjectives, how certain areas of the work would actually feel if we could reach into the picture plan. I used the cover story of Arts & Activities, December 2002, "Texture Adds Interest to your Art" to show great examples of visual texture in print. (This article would be great for 3D work) Discussion culminated with Dürer's "Rhinoceros." I told students Dürer had never seen a Rhinoceros, but he relied upon a description to draw the beast. We talked about what kind of description words may have been heard by Dürer. It was now time to have students create their own "mythical beast" using 5-6 different areas of texture. I began to also add the idea of value, but found that it was better to just concentrate on the idea of texture with 5th graders. We used Oak Tag board. with Sharpie Fine Point Markers. for the project.

The patterned colored creatures were an outgrowth of this project. I taught this lesson to all 300 plus 5th grade students at our school. I varied the project for the second half of the students. The above introduction was the same, but I emphasized pattern. The kids then used Crayola AquaMarkers. to embellish with color.  Students cut their creature out and we taped all 155 creatures to the hallway wall. The display of color and creations were wonderful. Aboriginal art would be a nice addition to this lesson as would the art of Norval Morriseau..


From Carol O'Neil: I did an imaginary fish lesson with the third grade. I was trying to tie in the fish theme, texture and have fun. They were required to do a Crow Quill Pens. and India ink. drawing: Fill the page with a fish, with at least one eye, tail, fins and scales then add whatever they could invent. This is a lesson I got from Emphasis Art years ago. Students really enjoyed it.


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Denise Pannell's fifth grade students made Soft-Kut Printing Blocks. relief prints. Emphasis was on observation - positive and negative shape - pattern. A good size to work with is 6" by 9" or 5" x 7 "(15 x 23 cm or 12.7 x 17.7 cm). This unit integrated science. Sometime, It might be fun to do these Agam style. This would require that students make four prints from their plates. Students would frame their best print the trade two other prints with two different classmates. A long paper would be folded |_|_|_|_|_|_|_| .The prints would be cut into one inch strips (after numbering strips on back) and glued onto the paper frame....with the student's own print on the bottom. Another popular approach is to print four different color combinations and glue all four prints on a larger board Warhol style. One other idea is to cut some prints apart and glue back together again like a puzzle - combining two or more prints to give the appearance of a multi color print. Fish from one print - seaweed from another and the background for another print. Student would save their best print for framing and cut up the prints that were less successful.  Link to Fish Prints below.


See Denise Pannell's Silk Painting Fish Lesson - done with fifth graders.


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Cathy Gaul's third graders made these color fish paintings using Watercolor Paint. mixed with Acrylic Gloss Medium.. Students outline with black glue (or outline with Sharpie Fine Point Markers. as these) - allow that to dry - then paint with a limited color palette. Cathy uses the 8 color pans of Prang Watercolor Pan Sets. - have the students fill the little square or oval colors with clean water and let them sit for about 5 minutes to really soften up. This is great if the pans are partly used already. They get small paper cups with about a teaspoon of Mod Podge. or Acrylic Gloss Medium., and then get a big brush full of a color and mix it in. Then they use this paint. It goes on milky and dries shiny and vibrant, almost like a gel. Looks like a stained glass fish when dry. Draw the fish (or anything) in Drawing Pencils., paint it with the mixed watercolor, let it dry and outline with black Sharpie Fine Point Markers.. The fish were cut out and glued to fadeless paper and given a decorative paper border.

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Tracy Albert's second graders made ceramic fish. A slab of Moist Clay. was rolled around a rolled up newspaper form. Slab was pinched to form back fin (dorsal) and tails and fins added. Ball of clay formed eyes. Students put Glazes. on these after firing. Underglazes. could also be used. Another option is to use watercolors and Acrylic Gloss Medium.. See Model Magic. alternative below. Follow basic procedure for the air dry fish. You can remove newspaper before firing (any remaining newspaper will burn out in Kiln.). Students love calling these "taco fish" because they stuff it like a taco. They do leave the paper in - it all burns out safely.

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Tracy Albert's (left) first graders love the book The Rainbow Fish. by Marcus Pfister. Swimmy by Leo Lioni. is another great book to use with elementary student. Her first gradeers made their own rainbow fish using crayon resist technique with watercolors. They embellished with glitter.


Lin Altman's (right) Rainbow fish lesson used bold Colored Markers. and Metallic Foil Paper.. Whatever the medium. Rainbow fish is a hit with kindergarten through second grade.


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Tracy Albert (left). Metallic Oil Pastels. and Construction Paper Crayons. make a spectacular fish on black paper. First grade. These can be done with Elmer's Glue. outline on the black paper.

Tracy Albert (right) Tissue paper. and fanciful patterns done with AquaMarkers. - 4th grade Japanese Fish Kites. Fish are stuffed with newspapers to hold shape and have a 4" wide (10 cm) strip of Construction Paper. inserted in the mouth. I insert a 4" wide (10 cm) strip of Construction Paper. in the mouth... about 18" (46 cm) long. Tracy did this step - she rolls it up and it self adjusts to the opening then she stapled it in for the students and punched 2 holes for the string.


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Gina Grant's first graders had been doing a lot on it in their classroom and had  gone to the aquarium. I talked to them about the colours of sea water (so many of them still said 'blue'). Luckily I had photos and magazine shots that seemed to show differently as well as some art posters showing water by artists. I would put out several colours of paint on their tables, warm and cold blues, different types of greens, purples (whatever I had that would be appropriate) and got them to smear the paint onto the paper.


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Rebecca Engleman's second graders loved looking at Paul Klee's Goldfish. painting. The students made their own goldfish images using crayon resist. Color heavy with Crayons. - then paint over with black Watercolor Paint. or thinned black Tempera Paint.. Another fun Goldfish lesson is crayon or Oil Pastels. etchings. Color heavy with crayon - then paint over with India ink. thinned slightly (so crayon will show through) and scratch off ink to reveal the fish and other images in composition.

Oh, they loved this part after they got over the shock of being allowed to be messy. Often they would sit frozen until I had come up and did one for them and then wipe my hand on my art smock. After they put their work into the drying racks, they let me know about different types of fish and sea life that they knew about and would then draw these using different types of pastels. If there was enough time they would cut these out as well as they could. Next lesson they tear their paper up into long strips, the tear giving the paper nice bits of white 'wavey' bits and then glue onto  another piece of paper and put in their creature. This was put onto another sheet of paper, preferably blue, so they could then break out of the confines of the picture, using torn tissue paper to simulate sea week for example, maybe adding more fish drawn directly onto their work. Sometimes I would have brightly coloured strips of Drawing Paper. that they could bend into reeds, and also they could use rubbing plates to create rocks. I would encourage them to overlap some of these elements to create depth. Students decorated the mat border with other sea creatures.


Gina Grant's Charcoal Shells-  I have a large jar of Seashells.. I have brainstorming sessions whereby individuals describe in words the shell (round, rough, smooth, patterns, etc.) and then they use some newspaper to get used to using the Charcoal. before they create their own observational  drawing of a particular shell. I show them how to use one finger for rubbing along the line rather than across the line so they don't 'rub out' their lines. Usually I have one bright spark who will say something like "That makes it look real" so then we can go on about 3 dimensionality for a bit.

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Susan form Long Island - Fish Using Air Dry Clay, Model Magic or Sculpey (polymer clay) Grade level: Grades 2 through 8


Crayola White Model Magic. (or Air-Dry Clay.), newspaper, Masking Tape., variety of "texturing" items such as paper clips, (paper clips impressions look great for scales), Scratchboard Tool Kit. - the kind you use for Scratch Art, Clay Modeling Tools., pictures of fish. Optional if you want a stand on which to display each fish: 2x4 wood cut into 6" long pieces, wooden dowels in varying lengths.

Begin with a wad of newspaper about the size of your fist. Use lots of masking tape to secure the oval shape.  Cut up the Model Magic and give each student a piece that is large enough to fit around the armature after it has been flattened.

Instruct the students to flatten their piece of clay like a pancake (rolling pins could be used). Place the wad of newspaper in the middle and roll the Model Magic all around the newspaper wad, careful to seam on the bottom of the "fish" and leave one end of the oval shape open, for the mouth. Next, discuss the parts of the fish (for the little ones) and demonstrate ways to pull the Model Magic from the smooth oval shape to form fins, tail, gills, etc. (If student do not finish fish in one class period - wrap tightly in plastic to prevent drying.)

Give a little additional clay for the eyes, or if they need more for fins, etc. Some kids rolled a coil and added it around the open end to emphasize the mouth.  I showed them how to add a small ball of Model magic on each side of the fish's head for the bulgy eyes.

I emphasized form and texture and got some really innovative fish! This takes 3- 40 min. sessions; one for the armature, 2nd for the Model Magic and 3rd for the painting. Painting: Options are Watercolor Paint., Tempera Paint. or Acrylic Paint.. Acrylic has a nice sheen when dry and the temperas are bright, too. Water colors work, but not as bright. Art of a cart teachers who don't want to use paint can opt to use markers to color.

Optional stands:

Drill a hole on the bottom of the finished fish. Insert a dowel. Drill a hole in a 2x4 (5 x 10 cm) piece of wood-about 6" (15 cm) in length for the stand and insert the other end of the dowel. I varied the height and the fish made a gorgeous display on the counter in the front office and in our display case. ~ Susan on Long Island


Wire Fish Sculpture (upper elementary through middle school)

Lesson Plans for Fish:

Fish Prints Links:

Pangnirtung Community prints:
http://www.inuit.com/InuitGraphics/pangnirtung/png1.htm [Archive]
I don't know anything about the Pangnirtung Community. The chalk stencil prints are interesting too. Chalk stencil printing is a good lesson for high school -- and easy for younger kids, too.

Fish Woodcut:

Fish woodcut - O Ward Hunt:
http://www.swanseaheritage.net/article/full.asp?ARTICLE_ID=915 [Archive]
http://www.swanseaheritage.net/article/gat.asp?ARTICLE_ID=915 [Archive]

The engravings from the Renaissance are interesting too:
http://www.spamula.net/blog/archives/000265.html [Archive]
Dover has a big book of animal engravings
And Medieval:

MC Escher (there are more by Escher)
http://www.geocities.com/soho/museum/3828/fish.html [Archive]

Here are some very realistic multicolor wooducts: Wolfgang Tambour
http://members.surfeu.at/wtambour/pages/page01.html [Archive]

Big Eye block print:
Goat Fish:
from Catch of the Day - these are good for middlers.

Those fanciful prints from the 17th century are neat too (lithographs I
believe). Louis Renard. (1678 - 1746)

From a post by Ellen Sears:
"During the Age of Enlightenment a new interest in scientific inquiry based on direct observation and reason. Renard's work is clouded by embellishment, exaggeration, and outright falsification.... the brief descriptive remarks are nothing more than falsifications."



We are asked to believe that the spiny lobster lives in the mountains, hates snakes, climbs trees, likes to eat fruit and lays red-spotted blue eggs as large as those of a pigeon." Or the walking fish - "I kept it alive for three days in my house; it followed me everywhere with great familiarity, much lie a little dog."
http://www.artexpression.com/byartist/Louis_Renard.htm [Archive]

Drawn from the Deep - some cool images
The Fish in Science, Art, and the Imagination

You might also show The Golden Fish by Paul Klee and Fish Magic. (prints available online).



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