Lesson Plan: What Do You Know About Horseshoe Crabs?

This lesson plan was developed by NSTA master teacher Laura Elkins through NSTA's partnership with NOAA.

Grade Level:

Subject Area:
Life Science

Standards Alignment-National Science Education Standards:

  • Life Science
    • Life Cycles of organisms:
      • Plants and animals have life cycles that include being born, developing into adults, reproducing, and eventually dying. The details of this life cycle are different for different organisms.

    • Characteristics of organisms
      • Each plant or animal has different structures that serve different functions in growth, survival, and reproduction. For example, humans have distinct body structures for walking, holding, seeing, and talking.

    • Interdependence of Organisms
      • Human destruction of habitats through direct harvesting, pollution, atmospheric changes, and other factors is threatening current global stability, and if not addressed, ecosystems will be irreversibly affected.

    • Diversity and Adaptation of Organisms
      • Extinction of a species occurs when the environment changes and the adaptive characteristics of a species are insufficient to allow its survival.

Time Required:
Two 45-minute class periods to create the learning tool. One period to evaluate another group's tool. (this could be homework depending on computer access at home)

Internet Resources:
The Horseshoe Crab: http://www.horseshoecrab.org
University of Delaware College of Marine and Earth Studies: http://www.ocean.udel.edu/horseshoecrab/

Lesson Goal:
The goal for this lesson is for students to learn more about the horseshoe crab as a valuable resource in an estuary.

Individual Learning Objectives:

  1. Students will create a “learning tool” based on information from a given Web site.
  2. Students will engage other learners through the product(s) they create.
  3. Students will answer basic questions on anatomy, uses of horseshoe crabs, natural history and conservation issues.
  4. Students will evaluate their product as well as those of their classmates.

Prerequisite Knowledge; Misconceptions/Preconceptions:

Estuaries are bodies of water and adjacent wetlands found in areas where rivers flow into much larger bodies of water. Most estuaries are formed when a river meets the sea, and the water in these estuaries is a mixture of fresh water and seawater.

Estuaries are some of the most biologically productive systems on Earth, and provide food, recreation, and economic opportunities to human communities, as well as habitats, food, and protected breeding areas for many other species. Because of these benefits, many human communities are located in or near estuaries; and as a result, many estuaries have been damaged by human activities. In addition, estuaries are exposed to a variety of natural disturbances including winds, waves, heavy rainfall, and severe storms.

Procedures/Instructional Strategy:

  1. Students will use one of the two Web sites on horseshoe crabs: The Horseshoe Crab, and University of Delaware College of Marine and Earth Studies.
  2. Divide the class into small groups of no more than three.
  3. Explain the assignment:
    • Using the information from the assigned Web site, each group will create a learning tool to accompany the site. This can be in the form of a worksheet, scavenger hunt, board game, computer quiz, or whatever creative "tool" the group can create.
    • Points will be given on the following criteria:
      • Engagement: (Does it engage the learner? Does it hold their interest?)
      • Content: (Does it cover the required areas - history, anatomy, life cycle, medical uses, importance in the food web, reasons for its decline)
      • Easy of use: (Are the directions clear? Is the information found on the Web site, but not directly pointed to?)
  1. Give the students two periods to research and put together their learning tool (this amount if time is negotiable since very complicated tools are being designed).
  2. Ask students to switch tools and evaluate tool using the given criteria.


Students will create a learning tool that addresses all the criteria for an effective learning tool about horseshoe crabs. They will evaluate other tools and receive feedback on their own tool. Students will also take a short quiz. Grading Criteria (suggested):

Engagement – 10 pts
Content – 30 pts
Easy of Use – 5 pts
Quiz – 15 pts


  • Students can create poems, tales or images that share their thoughts, feelings and visions about the horseshoe crab and why it should be respected and protected. They could also enter it into the contest that is listed on The Horseshoe Crab Web site (under teacher resources).
  • If you live near a spawning ground, plan a trip to help with the census of the horseshoe crabs.

Classroom Resources:
Computer access for students (group size will determine number of computers)

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