Pond study

To compare species living in two different habitats

Pond Study
Learning outcome

To identify species using a key and explain how they are adapted to their habitat.

  • For Key Stage 2
  • Duration 1 hour/extension 2 hours
Success criteria
  • I can suggest what I might expect to find in the ponds
  • I can safely use equipment to dip in different pond locations and observe the creatures closely
  • I can identify features of a creature to follow a branching key
  • I can identify ways in which pond creatures are adapted to their habitat


I can hypothesize why different pond habitats are better for different species.

Session plan

Introduction 25 minutes in classroom


  • Stubbington Ponds, there are seven on site, all man-made - why?
  • Natural & man-made ponds, what materials help a natural pond develop?
  • What will we need in our pond to survive – plants. What do they provide? Habitats, protection, food, areas for breeding, oxygen. Draw a pond on the board and add some plants. What creatures might we find in the pond? Examples could include the following:
  • Dragonflies/damselflies. Point out that these have a life cycle that involves a ‘metamorphosis’ or change. Show picture of a dragonfly nymph (young). Nymphs are carnivorous and it takes about three years from hatching to become an adult dragon fly. As the nymphs grow, they moult a layer of their exoskeleton (outside covering). The last time they do this, they’ll climb a read and emerge as an adult
  • Frogs. Discuss life cycle. Which stage will be occurring at the time of year you are dipping? Frogs don’t have gills but use lungs to breathe
  • Newts. Amphibians like frogs and toads. Look like reptiles but have smooth, slimy skin and lay eggs in the water
  • Water boatman. 1 pair of legs are like paddles, a good adaptation to movement in water
  • Fish. Stubbington ponds contain minnows and sticklebacks. They are similar in size but sticklebacks have small spikes along their back. Discuss camouflage, gills, large eyes on side of head as good adaptations
  • Pond skaters. Found on surface. Has sensitive hairs on legs to feel vibrations in the water (e.g. if another insect fall into the water which they can find and eat). They hibernate away from water in the winter and emerge in April
  • Pond snails. Part of the mollusc family (with soft body, no legs and shell produced by a mantle)
  • Caddis fly larvae. Explain that larvae means young. They are difficult to spot as these creatures make a home for themselves using leaves and their own saliva. Best to look for these when the toughs have been still for a while and the larvae start to move around – you can see the legs emerging from their leaf home
  • Water beetles. Tough exoskeleton to protect body. Male diving beetles have sucker pads on front legs. Legs are fringed to help swimming. Larvae similar to dragonfly; carnivorous and vicious
  • As each example is discussed, add its picture to the pond
  • As animals are elicited from children, discuss the different areas the pond creatures might be found in (e.g. snails around the edges, frogs sheltering under vegetation, pond skaters on the surface)
  • Equipment & safety – how to fill troughs, catch creatures. Make sure the children understand the need to use a figure of 8 when they are trying to catch creatures and the need to empty nets immediately to keep creatures unharmed. If a one hour session, show children how to transfer pond life from the trough to the pots
  • Collect equipment to take to the ponds: one white trough between two, one net per child. Children doing a one hour session will also have a pot, with magnifying glass, a spoon and a key per pair


Dipping (30mins with pond talk), suggested ponds: Windy pond and Murky Marsh.

Take children to see each of the ponds that will be dipped out (particularly important for extended pond sessions). At each pond, point out any specific safety points that the children should look out for.

Possible questions

  • What do you notice about the pond?
  • Does its name describe its location?
  • What would it be like for a creature living in this pond?
  • Is each pond different? Why? Will different number of pond creatures be found in different ponds?

Divide children into working groups (if working at more than one pond), they work in pairs within those groups. In an hour session, children will have keys, spoons and pots by the pond to help them identify creatures as they go.

After 15 mins pond dipping children will need to give their nets a clean at the pond.  For a one hour session, children should carefully empty their troughs back into the pond and give them a clean. Teachers will need to help with this at Murky Marsh. Before leaving the ponds children must have all their equipment ready to come back. For an extended session, ask one child in each pair to carry back their white trough and pond life to the classroom, the other child carrying the nets. Leave troughs in classroom to settle.

Break 15-20 minutes - Remember to wash hands

Pond Detectives

Identification using magnifiers, microscopes and keys

Choose from the following activities depending on age, ability and study focus of your class.

Observational Drawing

It can be useful to focus the children on one creature of their choice to help with identification later. Concentrate, to begin with, on an ‘observational drawing’ of one particular creature, this can be drawn onto their pond detective sheet. Each child will need to use a plastic spoon to place a creature into a magnifier pot, the smaller the pot the better, as the creature will not be able to move around too much when being studied.

Using Microscopes

Use the microscopes to allow children to look at their creature in more detail. Encourage children to add to their drawing: details such as hairs on legs, antennae, markings etc. Try to find out how the creature breathes – does it have gills? Does it come to the surface for air? Collect a bubble of air?

Creature’s Adaptations in a Pond Habitat

Using the reference books provided, children can look into the adaptations of the creatures they have found. These adaptations could be used to label a drawing of the creature they have studied, or to create a fact file.

Identification Keys

Explain to the children how to use the keys provided. The ‘Freshwater Creatures’ key is the simplest to use. The coloured ‘Pond Creatures’ key is very good, but more suitable for years 5/6. The ‘Bug Dials’ provide an alternative identification method.

Ask each child to identify their chosen creature, then with their partner, identify all the other creatures in their trough and record it on the ‘Pond Record Sheet’.


Collect and Analyse Group Data

Toward the end of the session, allow a couple of children from each pond work group to write up all the different animals found by their group on the board. If time allows, discuss findings and questions: which pond has most variety? Why? Which creature is most common? etc. Ask the children to think about why each of the ponds has each creature, did they discover anything about the creatures adaptations to help them to do this?

Finally (10 mins)

Return all creatures carefully to the correct pond

Ask two sensible children to rinse out used containers at the indoor sink (do not use detergent!). White troughs to be rinsed out at the outdoor sinks. Wipe down work surfaces in classroom.

Ensure all children go off and wash their hands!

Less able children

This can be a one hour session, with the keys being used at the pond. A variety of keys are provided to ensure that all children can access a key.

More able children

To carry out extension task and create detailed, labelled diagrams of their creatures and adaptations.

Previst activities

Using keys.

Follow up activities

  • Use information gathered in data handling
  • Create own keys
  • Dip in school pond and compare results
  • Survey a different habitat and compare adaptations of creatures found to those found at the ponds
Health and safety checks
  • Cuts need to be covered due to risk of infections i.e. Weil’s disease
  • Children must have a balanced stance, on the paving slabs, and not over reach to prevent falling in. At Murky Marsh, teachers to fill troughs before dipping
  • Children need to carry nets vertically to avoid hitting other children and catching nets in branches and brambles
  • Children need to be aware of who is around them when using the nets at the pond and ensure that their troughs are behind them but far enough that they won’t trip other up
  • Keep hands away from faces and wash thoroughly after session
  • There must be an adult supervising each pond used