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Connected Experience: Fish Family Identification


In this game, students will become familiar with fish shapes, learn that fish within a given taxonomic family have similar body shapes, and discuss how different body shapes enable fish to survive in their environments.


In this game, students will:
  1. become familiar with fish shapes.
  2. learn that fish within a given taxonomic family have similar body shapes.
  3. discuss how different body shapes enable fish to survive in their environments.


  • Fish Family Memory Card sets (one per student pair)
  • Fish Family Scavenger Hunt (one per student)
  • Fish Family Identification Chart


  • family: a group of genetically related organisms ranking above a genus and below an order
  • environment: the area in which something exists or lives


Before Your Visit


  1. Print Fish Family Memory Card sets for each pair of students.
  2. Cut along the dotted lines to make cards.


  1. Tell your students that they are going to play a memory game that will help them learn about the diversity of fish families by focusing on their shapes.
  2. Ask students to pay close attention to the fish’s overall body shape and the size, shape, and placement of body parts such as dorsal fins, pelvic fins, anal fins, tails, and mouths. Use the figure below to guide this discussion with your students.
  3. Divide your students into pairs. (Or, divide your students into groups of four and have them work in teams).
  4. Distribute a set of Fish Family Memory Cards to each group.
  5. Tell students to shuffle the cards and place them face-down in front of the group.
  6. Tell students to take turns flipping over two cards and trying to match them as pairs. If the cards match, the student gets to take that pair. If the cards do not match, the student returns the cards and it is the next student’s turn.
  7. The game ends when all the cards have been matched. The student or team of students with the most matched pairs wins the game.
  8. As a class, go through each of the ten cards, informing the students of the common names of the fish families. Use the Fish Family Identification Chart to guide you in creating your own chart on the board with the cards.
  9. Have your students work together or individually to do online research about the diversity of species within one of the fish families in this activity.


  • Why do families of fish have distinct body shapes? (Species within a family are genetically similar and have evolved over time to have characteristics that allow them to survive in their environment. One of those characteristics is body shape.)
  • How do different fish shapes help fish survive in different environments? (The variety of fish body shapes is mirrored by a variety of functions the shapes serve in different environments. Some fish such as stingrays have flattened bodies that help them blend into the sand. Some fish such as eels have extremely long and thin bodies that allow them to hide in the narrow crevices of coral reefs or burrow in the sand.)

At the Academy


  1. Print out a copy of the Fish Family Scavenger Hunt for each student.
  2. Have students bring along a light notebook to use as a writing surface. For pencils, consider carrying a class set in a closeable container. Your students will be happy to turn them back in upon completing the assignment so they can better enjoy the remainder of their museum visit.


  1. Tell your students that they will use what they learned from the memory game to identify fish at the Steinhart Aquarium.
  2. Have students follow the instructions on the scavenger hunt.


  • Broad, G. (2003). Fishes of the Philippines. UK: Anvil Publishing Inc.

California Content Standards

Grade Six

Life Sciences

  • 5c. Students know populations of organisms can be categorized by the functions they serve in an ecosystem.

Grade Seven

Life Sciences

  • 3a. Students know both genetic variation and environmental factors are causes of evolution and the diversity of organisms.



Coral reefs are among the most biologically diverse ecosystems on earth. The California Academy of Sciences’ coral reef exhibit focuses on the Philippines, an area known as the marine biodiversity center of the world. There is both immense biodiversity in the corals that make up the reefs and in the organisms that inhabit the reefs. Scientists estimate that there are about 2,500 species of fish in the coral reef, mangroves, and seagrass beds of the Philippines as compared to only about 500 species in the Caribbean.

With this immense diversity of fish, it is difficult to imagine that one could ever learn to identify specific fish. Looking at fish shapes is an easy way to identify a fish to the level of its taxonomic family. Families of fish tend to have similar body shapes, dorsal fin types, tails, mouth positions, and head features. Many of these characteristics have been selected for because they help fish survive in their particular habitat. Fish shape is therefore an interesting attribute to study because it allows one to identify a fish’s taxonomic family and explore the adaptations of specific fish families to their environments.


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