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Coral Polyp Model

Background / Concept

Coral polyps are one of the simplest animals on Earth yet when combined with other polyps the reefs that are created can be viewed from space.  In this activity, students will build the three basic parts of a coral polyp - tentacle, mouth, and skeleton.


By the end of this activity, students will have an understanding of the basic parts of a coral polyp, and when participating in the extension students will understand that coral reefs are made up of individual coral polyps.


Lesson Plan [PDF]

    • 16 fl oz, or 473mL, plastic cup
    • 12 fl oz, or 355mL, plastic cup
    • 1 ft2, or 30cm2, aluminum foil
    • 1 ruler, 12 inches long, or 30 cm long, approximately 1 inch or 4 cm wide.
    • marker for labeling the plastic
    • clear tape
    • coral polyp tentacles template (optional) [86KB PDF]


    What is a coral?


    1. Take the aluminum foil and divide it into three equal parts, which can be done by setting the ruler on the top and tearing the foil. 
    2. Using one-third of the foil set the ruler on the foil and fold the foil around the ruler until the ruler is covered with all of the foil. 
    3. Slide the ruler out from inside and press the aluminum flat. This should result in a foil that looks similar in width and length to the ruler. 
    4. Fold the newly shaped foil in half and feel free to round the edges. 
    5. Follow the same steps for the second and third pieces of aluminum. 
    6. Optionally use the coral polyp model template pdf to print tentacles perhaps on different colored papers.
    7. Optionally use different kinds of papers, such as tissue, and colors to create colorful works of art.
    8. Take the 12oz cup and label it the “gastrovasoular cavity.”
    9. Take the 16oz cup and label it the “skeleton.”
    10. Place the 12oz cup inside of the 16oz cup. 
    11. Take the two aluminum foils and place one on the top of the other to form an “X.”  Tape the aluminum foils together.  Label the foils the “tentacles.” 
    12. Place the aluminum foils on the top of the 16oz cup.
    13. Take multiple cups and place them next to each other to form a “reef.”


    The result of this activity shows the basic part of a coral polyp. When placing cups next to each other the result is a simulation of a coral colony.  

    Education Standards

    Working towards - Structure and Function in Living Systems (7th Grade)

    1. The anatomy and physiology of plants and animals illustrate the complementary nature of structure and function. As a basis for understanding this concept:
      1. Students know plants and animals have levels of organization for structure and function, including cells, tissues, organs, organ systems, and the whole organism.

    Students know organ systems function because of the contributions of individual organs, tissues, and cells. The failure of any part can affect the entire system.

           All content property of microdocs project.                                                                                                                          Last updated April 11, 2012.
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