Introduction—Beach Explorers

Summary: This topic guide features three beach activities from the Surfrider Foundation. The first two activities introduce students to the vastness of Earth’s oceans by way of exploring global geography and calculating percentages. Students share in small groups about what they know and enjoy about visiting beaches and shorelines near the ocean, lakes and rivers and discuss what they may find when they visit the beach.

In Activity 3, Beach in a Bucket, “students work in small cooperative groups to explore a sandy beach (or, for those who cannot or choose not to conduct this activity at the beach, a simulated sandy beach in a plastic tub). Through a sorting activity, they discover that biotic (once-living) objects found on the sandy beach can be grouped into those that represent: evidence of plant life, evidence of animal life, and evidence of humans. They discover the differences between once-living (biotic) and never-living (abiotic) objects. Also introduced in this activity is the concept that sand is made up of tiny bits of virtually everything that can be found on the beach.”

Activity 4 shows students the value of using a field notebook to record data, observations and ideas while exploring outside. Students construct a small notebook and record their thoughts and findings from the unit through pictures and writing.

Concepts to teach: Marine and coastal ecosystems, sandy beaches, interconnections, cycles, productivity


  • The world’s ocean covers most of our planet. Everywhere the ocean meets the land there is a shoreline or beach.
  • Objects found on the sandy beach can be grouped into evidence of: plant life, animal life, humans, and non-living material.
  • Sand is made up of tiny bits of everything that is found on the beach.

3.2L.1, 4.2L.1, 5.2L.1, 3.2E.1, 4.2E.1, 5.2E.1

Specific Objectives:

  1. Students understand that the world’s oceans cover approximately 70% of the earth’s surface.
  2. Students can give examples of several living and non-living materials that could be found on a beach.

Activity Links and Resources:

  • Beach Explorers—Unit 1 from the Surfrider Foundation educational unit “Beachology” is designed for grades K-5 and includes four activities: Blue Planet, Beach Blanket Brainstorm, Beach in a Bucket, and Making an Explorer’s Field Book.
    • Activities 1 and 2 are especially well-suited as introductory activities
  • See the Surveying the Shoreline topic guide in the “Estuaries” focus area.


  • Use a KWL chart as recommended in the lesson plan for sharing student ideas and addressing misconceptions.
  • Create sorted lists of living and non-living items found on a beach. Students will have to decide how to categorize biotic items that are no longer alive (for example, shells).
  • Have students group their wrack and debris findings into their own categories they make up. Alternatively students may group their items according to what ecosystem they came from: watershed (driftwood, terrestrial plants), estuary (crab molts, eelgrass), ocean (kelp, various shells), mystery (plastic, glass, trash).
  • Share student field books with the teacher and classmates.