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Celebrate the Year of the Ocean

Eighteen activities for students to practice their math, geography, science, and language skills while learning about the world's oceans!

In a resolution adopted in 1994, the United Nations declared 1998 the Year of the Ocean. In accordance with the year's theme, "Our Common Heritage," the UN resolution noted that:

  • the oceans, seas, and coastal areas together form an essential component of the global life-support system.
  • oceans represent a significant source of food, energy, minerals, and usage with significant economic potential.
  • effective management of the uses and resources of oceans depend on improved access to information, public education, and scientific awareness.
  • an international effort to protect the marine environment will require an understanding of the interaction between oceans and people.

The purpose of adopting the resolution was to recognize the importance of Earth's oceans and their resources and to educate and encourage governments and individuals to accept responsibility for sustaining them. The following activities can help your students contribute to that effort.


  • Math. The United States (48 states and D.C.) has an area of about 3,100,00 square miles. Invite students to find out how large each of the four major oceans are and to determine how much larger each is than the United States. (Answers: Based on numbers from the World Almanac and Book of Facts, The Pacific Ocean is about 64,200,000 square miles in area, or about 21 times larger than the United States. The Atlantic Ocean is about 40,750,000 square miles in area, or about 11 times larger than the U.S. The Indian Ocean is about 28,300,000 square miles in area, or about 9 times larger than the U.S. The Arctic Ocean is about 5,500,000 square miles, or about 1.5 times larger than the U.S.)
  • More math --number sequence. Provide students with the following figures, which show the area of the world's 20 largest bodies of water. Invite students to put the list in order from largest to smallest. (Adapt list length to suit your grade.)
    Body of water Square miles   Body of water Square miles
    Andaman Sea 218,100   Indian Ocean 28,400,000
    Arctic Ocean 5,100,000   Mediterranean Sea 969,000
    Atlantic Ocean 33,400,000   North Sea 165,000
    Baltic Sea 147,000   Pacific Ocean 64,196,000
    Bering Sea 873,000   Persian Gulf 88,800
    Caribbean Sea 971,000   Red Sea 175,000
    East China Sea 257,000   Sea of Okhotsk 537,000
    Gulf of California 59,000   Sea of Japan 391,000
    Gulf of Mexico 582,000   South China Sea 1,148,000
    Hudson Bay 282,000   Yellow Sea 113,500


  • Geography. On a world map, find and mark with an X the locations of the 20 largest bodies of water on the list in the previous activity. (Or provide a blackline world map and students might color the bodies of water.)
  • Science (for younger students). Provide an explanation and diagram of a marine food web using Source 1 or Source 2. Have students learn about each organism's role in the web, and study the diagram. Arrange students into groups, provide them with paper, scissors, and crayons, and ask each group to make examples of one part of the food web. Create a bulletin board display of a marine food web and ask students to attach their creations to the appropriate area of the display.
  • Science (for older students). Have older students learn about Life Zones of the Ocean from Source 1 (scroll down to the marine life zones section) or Source 2. Help them create a mural showing the life zones of the ocean and attach appropriate representations of the marine food web to each section of the diagram.
  • Writing. Write a news story. Invite students to visit the Global Online Adventure Learning Site where they can find information about some current explorers and ongoing expeditions. Students can read about the first woman to solo circumnavigate the world, the first man to circumnavigate the world under oar power, and three young brothers on a two year exploration of the Pacific Ocean. Encourage students to write a newspaper story about one of the explorers featured at the site. Encourage students to include quotes about the motivations of each explorer as well as facts about the explorer and the expedition.
  • Graphing. Invite students to create a circle graph to illustrate the sources of ocean pollution. Those sources, according to 1990 data from UNEP (United Nations Environment Program) are as follows:

    Runoff and other pollutants from land 44 percent
    Airborne pollutants 33 percent
    Water transportation 12 percent
    Dumping of wastes in the ocean 10 percent
    Offshore oil rigs 1 percent


  • Hands-on science. Why doesn't salt water in the ocean freeze like fresh water does? A simple experiment will demonstrate this feature of salt water. Use two paper cups for the experiment. Pour water in each cup to fill it halfway. Measure a tablespoon of salt and add the salt to one of the cups. Label that cup "SALT WATER." Leave both cups in the freezer over night. Observe what happens. Why? Salt prevents (slows) water molecules from joining to form ice crystals. (You might use a third cup of water, like the other two except that you dissolved two tablespoons of salt in it. This will demonstrate that the more salt in the saltwater, the colder it will need to get for the water to freeze.)
  • Science and art. Have younger students research plants and animals that live in the ocean and create a pictionary of ocean life.
  • Science and language arts. Have older students write and illustrate a glossary of ocean terms.
  • Geography --the oceans. Create a trivia game. Arrange students into four groups and assign each group one of the four major oceans. Have students use Source 1, Source 2 or another resource to find important and interesting facts about that ocean and nearby coastal areas. Then provide each group with several index cards and have students write a trivia fact on each card. Collect and shuffle the cards and play a trivia game in which students must guess which ocean each of the facts is about.
  • Citizenship. Ask students to research online sites to learn some of the ways in which our oceans are threatened. Then have each student choose one threat and list two or more ways in which the threat can be avoided or minimized. Point out that their lists might include new laws, treaties, programs, or citizen action projects. Then encourage students to write a letter to appropriate politicians, organizations, or individuals outlining a plan for protecting the oceans against that threat.
  • Language arts. Encourage students to use National Geographic pirate resources to learn about real pirates of long ago and find out what life was like aboard a pirate ship. Then have students research classroom, library, or online resources to find out about the life of a real pirate. Ask them to write a story about one of the pirate's real or legendary adventures.
  • More math. Brainstorm with students a list of plants or animals that live in the ocean. Ask older students to select several plants or animals from the list and graph them according to size or weight. Have younger students categorize the plants, fish, or other sea animals according to size, shape, color, or other criteria.
  • Art. Research ocean-themed arts and crafts to try in the classroom.

    Article by Linda Starr
    Education World®   
    Copyright © Education World

    Updated 01/09/2013