Lesson Plans

Exploring rock pools – lesson plan

by Fellowship Agency May 4, 2017

The equipment for this lesson can also be used to explore rock pools and discover the plants and animals living along a rocky shore. This lesson plan will how you how. The rock pool activity can be carried out by a class of school children lead by a teacher. It is suitable for use by primary pupils.

You will need (for a class of 30):

  • Pond nets x10
  • Observation trays x10
  • Spoons x30
  • Observation dishes x30
  • Magnifying glasses x20
  • ID guide x11
  • Universal tubes with lids x15
  • Gratnells SmartCase x5
  • A rocky shore with plenty of safe, accessible rock pools
  • Seashore code

This package ensures optimum use of the equipment by the teacher and enables them to achieve the best possible learning outcomes for their pupils.

Exploring rock pools primary national curriculum links

KS1 Working scientifically
Year 1 Animals, including humans
Year 2 Living things and their habitats
Year 2 Animals, including humans
Lower KS2 Working scientifically
Year 3 Animals, including humans
Year 4 Living things and their habitats
Year 4 Animals, including humans
Upper KS2 Working scientifically
Year 5 Living things and their habitats
Year 6 Living things and their habitats
Year 6 Evolution and inheritance

Seashore safety

Always note the tide times, check the weather conditions, carry out a preliminary site visit and conduct a site-specific risk assessment prior to any coastal field trip. The RNLI has a selection of free to download activity sheets and lesson plans on beach signs and dangers. Always go rock pooling on a falling tide, 1-2 hours before the low tide is best.
A copy of the Wildlife Trust’s Coastline Code can be found at the end of this lesson plan and is a nice colouring activity prior to any beach visit.

Lesson plan

Exploring Rock Pools Lesson Plan – can be carried out within a 1-hour lesson (excluding preparation).


  • Well in advance of your trip, print and laminate Wildlife Watch Rockpool Detective, Shoreline Detective and Seabird spotter sheets or select or design a recording sheet (examples shown at the end of this guide) suitable for the age and ability of your pupils.
  • Depending on how often you are able to visit the beach, you could expand the activity to investigate the effect of time of year/seasonal change, depth of sample or temperature of the water on the species found, or do a comparison of the species found in two different rock pools.
  • Ideally, the students should be familiar with the kit and techniques and have carried out pond dipping activities previously. Many of the techniques used are similar to those needed for exploring rock pools.
  • Students should be introduced to the Seashore Code.
  • Split the students into groups of three, two groups of three (totalling six students) share one SmartCase and should work on adjacent rock pools.
  • Choose a rock pool that is easy to access/observe by all students for your demonstration. On the edge of the rocky area is good if the site allows as the students can stand on the beach while you stand on the rocks to demonstrate.
  • When the students arrive at their rock pool, carrying their SmartCases and nets, they should place the nets next to the observation trays along with the observation dishes, plastic spoons and ID guide. If it is windy then keep the lids closed to prevent the ID guides from blowing away.
  • Stand between the students and the rock pool.

Introduction and demonstration (10 minutes)

Recall the Coastline Code. Set your working boundaries with football cones or other markers, agree on a muster point and ensure all students know what to do if they get into any difficulty.

Explain that they are going to explore the rock pools and identify the plants and animals living in them. Ask them these questions while on the beach or as part of your classroom work ahead of your outdoor session…

What is a habitat?

The place where an animal lives is known as a habitat, and different sorts of animals live in different habitats. Habitats can be very big, like the arctic habitats where polar bears live, or very small such as between two blades of grass where a money spider might make its web. Remember, a habitat is just the place where the animal lives. Your house is your habitat! The rock pool is a habitat.

The rock pools will be a habitat for many creatures. Can you think about what we might find?
Allow time for answers and then introduce the students to the identification guides/spotter sheets.

Older/higher ability students might consider how are these creatures are adapted to live in the rock pool? How do the conditions in the rock pool change over a day?
Gills, being happy living in salt water, allow the ability to move between rock pools or survive if the pool dries up completely, the ability to defend your space in the rock pool and compete for food are all examples of adaptations to life in the rock pool. A great set of BBC video clips on the secret life of rock pools looks at adaptations for rock pool survival.

Teacher demonstration

  • Approach the edge of a rock pool and run through the method;
  • Scoop some water up into your observation tray, a few centimetres is sufficient, and place it well away from the rock pool edge. There should be plenty of room to work and move around the edge without knocking into the tray or other equipment.
  • It is best to kneel, sit or crouch down safely and use your hands to collect creatures from the rock pool. If you do need to use the nets you must be careful not to damage to the rock pool environment.
  • Demonstrate how to dip with the nets and describe how they must stand sideways on to the rock pool with their knees bent or kneel down next to the rock pool.
  • Without moving closer to the rock pool, ask all the children to stand sideways on and bend their knees to practice the position. Don’t stand straight on to the rock pool, it is easier to lose balance and slip in this position
  • Dip the net just below the surface and avoid the rocks and sand at the bottom. Explain that they, if they get lots of sand by accident they should put it straight back in the rock pool and not put it in their observation trays as they wouldn’t be able to see any creatures and neither, will the other students in their group. It is important not to put the net in too deep.
  • Move the net in sweeps around the rock pool ‘jiggling’ it gently past seaweed (many creatures like to hide here), while describing to the students what you are doing. Explain to the students that the creatures are not usually swimming out in the open water in the middle of the pool so there is no need to lean out over the water.
  • Explain to the students not to remove the net from the water and spend time looking into it as any creatures in there may suffer from being out of the water. They should move the net away from the pool and promptly to an observation tray.
  • Empty your net out carefully by turning it inside out into the observation tray and put your net down. Tell the students they must now allow the water to go still, so moving creatures will be easy to spot.
  • If you find anything, scoop some water into one of the observation dishes and transfer the creature to the dish using the plastic spoon. Do this gently, don’t tip the creatures in from height in a ‘kamikaze dive’ as it may harm them.
  • Demonstrate the use of the ID guides or spotter sheets.
  • Tell them that any creatures they find should be identified and then recorded. Show them a data sheet or tick card and if necessary describe what they should write on it.
  • Optional – once identified, the creatures in the observation dishes could be emptied into a class/communal observation tray for reference by the teacher later.
  • Tell the students that they should not put their hands in their mouths during this activity.
  • If it is windy, they should leave the ID guides under the corner of the observation trays or in a closed SmartCase so they don’t blow away.

Activity (~30 minutes)

  • Select rock pools for the students that are shallow and have a clearly visible bottom. The students should not stand in the rock pools but they must be able to do so safely if they slip.
  • Working in groups of three to an observation tray, the students should show you the ‘sideways on knees bent’ position once more. They can take it in turns to approach the pond and do a sweep/jiggle with the net, once they have emptied the net into the tray the next student can take the net and repeat the process. The first student can start looking in the tray and separating and identifying the creatures while the other dips. Repeat again for the third student. They can also use their hands to collect creatures.
  • While the students are exploring, always stand facing them and the sea, i.e. never crouch down with your back to the water while looking into an observation tray. Move between the groups, checking on them as necessary. They should not be dipping for a second time until all the creatures in their trays have been separated and identified.
  • Approximately 80% of their time will be spent at the observation tray and only 20% by the rock pool.
  • Help to identify any creatures they find by encouraging them to find it on the ID guide themselves. They should complete their recording sheet (select recording method appropriate to the age and ability of the students) as they go along. If you are using a class observation tray, once the creatures are identified and recorded, they can transfer their creatures to the class observation tray.
  • After 20-30 minutes of work. Ask the students to ensure their nets are clean and not full of sand or seaweed. They should complete their final separation, ID and recording before carefully emptying their separation dishes back into their observation trays and placing their equipment back into their SmartCase.
  • The observation trays should be lowered into the rock pools and the contents allowed to ‘swim’ gently back into the rock pool with as little disturbance as possible.
  • Students should collect a small sample of rock pool water in the lidded tubes to take back to the classroom if you wish to carry out the follow up activity looking for microscopic sea life. Supervise them carefully while they do this. To increase your chances of collecting some plankton and other microorganisms, squeeze the water from seaweed into the tube or gently scrape the green or brown growth from the seaweed.

Review (~10 minutes)

  • If you have used one, gather the children around the class observation tray in a large circle on a flat area of the beach (use the end of one net to draw a circle in the sand to stop the children crowding in). Look at any interesting finds or good examples and test their identification skills/recollection, ask them if they can say how each creature is adapted to life in the rock pool.
  • Finally, empty the class observation try back into the pond carefully (you might want to take a picture of it first).


For older students, this is a great opportunity to carry out an investigation and work scientifically. One potential hypothesis is…
A shallow pool on the upper shore will have less life than a deeper pool on the middle or lower shore.
Can your students think of any other hypotheses to test?

Suggested follow up activities

Microscopic rock pool life

To observe rock pool creatures often found at the bottom of the food chain and too small to see with the naked eye, take the samples of seawater collected at the end of the activity and allow them to settle. Using your own microscopy equipment (not provided in the kit) use a plastic dropper to collect a small amount from the bottom of the tube and place it into the centre of a welled slide, add a coverslip and place under a microscope. Look out for algae, zooplankton (microscopic animal life) and phytoplankton (microscopic plant life).

Food chains/web

Initiate further discussions about rockpool food chains/webs now or as a follow up in a later lesson. Students could research what the residents eat, and what they are eaten by, identifying which creatures are carnivores, herbivores and omnivores. There is a Beachy Food Chains game by Scottish Natural Heritage you could play on the beach or back in your school grounds available to download.

Life cycles

Hermit crab, limpet and herring gull lifecycles could be further explored depending on which of these animals you find in and around your rock pool.

Make your own hermit crab shell

Hermit crabs usually live in the empty shells of dead snails. Sometimes they even fight another hermit crab and take their shell and swap between shells as they grow. Hermit crabs have been found living in other, rather strange, homes if they can’t find a nice shell. Could you make or find something that could be a good home for a hermit crab?

Recording Sheets

Example ID tick card – great for younger students – you could create your own with the creatures common to your rock pool and add pictures to aid identification/recording.

Example ID recording sheet – great for older students – you could create your own to obtain the data you need for post-activity analysis and development of specific numeracy skills or for follow up work on adaptation.

Further links and resources