Facts and Fishes: Focus Area 2 Science, Yr 7


These lessons focus on understanding new scientific evidence which suggests that fishes have the ability to feel both pleasure and pain. Students will also investigate the biology and behaviour of fishes, as well as look at how some fishes can be considered intelligent and self-aware. The learning sequence begins with unpacking the etymology of words, then moves to exploring a case study involving octopuses, and finishes with a written and oral reflection task.

Time and Structure

This Focus Area could take anywhere between 1-2 lessons or longer.
The lesson has been designed to be flexible, so that teachers may choose to alter or omit tasks to suit the needs of their students.


Mixed ability class with extension tasks.

Unit Focus

Question  whether our treatment of fishes reflects what we know about them.
Consider  the different views on this issue and decide for yourself where you stand.
Discuss  with your friends, family, classmates and teachers. Debating complex issues is healthy and helpful.

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Inquiry Questions

How do we know if a fish is conscious?
To what extent can fishes be likened to human beings?

Suggested Learning Activities


Cloze Passage

Teacher to distribute each student a Cloze Passage Worksheet on the sentience and biology of fishes. Once completed, ask for a volunteer to read out their response.

Answers for the Cloze Passage can be found on Page 5 of the Fact Sheet The Watery World of Fishes.


Read Pages 5-6 from The Watery World of Fishes.

Etymology Exploration

Create a Glossary

Using the Glossary provided in this unit – students read the definitions of the words in bold print from their Cloze Passage.

Ask students to create their own glossary of words and definitions they are unfamiliar with. They should include the remaining words from the cloze passage. Where possible, encourage students to write their own definitions of the words.

This may be a good opportunity to show students the Quizlet which also accompanies this unit of work. It’s particularly useful to differentiate learning within the class.

  1. Etymology – Students choose ONE of the words from their Glossary in order to research its etymology. Direct students to Online Etymology. Encourage them to experiment with how they input the word into the search bar – it may generate some interesting results.

For example:
– Vertebrates
– Vertebrate
– Vertebra


Date of Origin / Language of Orign 



Latin – vertebratus.

“joint or articulation of the body, joint of the spine.”


Early 15th Century

Perhaps from the Latin word vertere.

“to turn, bend.”“the spine as the ‘hinge’ of the body.”


Explanations taken from www.etymonline.com.

Optional Extension

Ask students to further investigate the Declaration on Consciousness put together by scientists at Cambridge University.

This is a challenging read for a Year 7 student, yet worthwhile for students of gifted ability or those who display a genuine interest in the area. 

Prompts for Research

  • Can you sum up the Declaration in less than 100 words?
  • Who else (aside from fishes) does the Declaration include?
  • What does this mean for Australia? There has been movement in the ACT (Australian Capital Territory) – can you find out more about this?


Facilitate a whole class discussion

What does it mean to be conscious?
(As human beings we associate consciousness as being in a state of awareness and being able to respond to things happening around us.)

From your reading of The Watery World of Fishes, in what ways can fishes be considered conscious animals?

Case Study – The Behaviour of Octopuses

Watch the Ted Ed Video: Why the Octopus Brain is so Extraordinary by Cláudio L. Guerra.

Ask students to jot down 3 interesting facts they learn from watching the video.


Watch the clip uninterrupted first. During the second viewing, students will make their notes.

Further Discussion

Although the biological structure of octopuses is very different to that of a human being – what sorts of things does the octopus in the video do which demonstrates that she is an extraordinary conscious animal?


Partner Up and Speak Up

For this task, use the Partner Up and Speak Up Worksheet with your students. Give students time to complete the Worksheet first. Then ask them to partner up with another student to share their thoughts verbally to one another on what they have learnt throughout this lesson/s.

To generate rich responses students must use the following points (from the Worksheet) to guide their oral response:

  • What are your Thoughts on the sentience, behaviours and consciousness of fishes?
  • Do you have any further Questions you would like to investigate?
  • Did you have any Epiphanies during the lesson/s?

Instruct students to use a countdown timer or stop watch and aim to speak for 2 minutes before swapping.



If you and your students enjoyed these activities, then please continue to work though the subsequent focus areas within the unit. Up next,  Myth Busting – Memory and Innovation.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

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