Salmon jumping up stream

Based on the book by Bobbie Kalman

Adapted by Ms. Ellis


In the 2nd unit of the new Focus on K2 curriulum, students begin thinking about animals and their habitats . The major goal of this unit is to build academic vocabulary and to begin to interract with dense, non-ficiton text.  One whole week of the unit is dedicated to salmon.  

I chose this as the topic for this assignment because there is so much information in just one dense text, and it is very advanced for Kindergartners.  I hope that with this project, students will access the information more readily.  This way twe can interract with the text on the smartboard.

As much as possible, I included as multiple modalities--sound or video clips to activate prior knowledge and to create memorable experiences, visuals to help solidify vocabulary, and probing questions to be sure that students think while they are listening.

What are salmon?

Salmon are a type of fish.  Fish are vertebrates, which means they are bony fish with hard skeletons.  They are also cold-blooded, which means that their body temperature changes in the surroundings.  That means if the water is warm, the fish will be warm, and if the water is cold, the fish will be cold.

Salmon are special because they go through many changes over their lifetime and travel a great distance in order to lay eggs.  The following pages will explain the life cycle of salmon.

Freshwater and Saltwater

Different types of salmon live in different habitats.  Some salmon live in freshwater habitats like rivers and lakes.  Others live in saltwater habitats like oceans.  Usually, fish can only live in one specific habitat.  Salmon are different.   They live part of their lives in freshwater and part in saltwater.

Salmon cannot go directly from fresh to salt or salt to fresh.  They must first go through estuaries, which are places where rivers mix with oceans.  This means that the water is in between salty and fresh

Salmon Species

There are 8 main species of salmon--Atlantic, Chinook, Chum, Pink, Sockeye, Coho, Steelhead and Masu.  Each type has it's own specific habitat, but there are similar things that they need.

A Salmon's Body

A salmon is a great swimmer.  Their body is specially designed for life in the water.  They swim using their fins, but they have strong muscles that control the fins.  

Their gills allow them to breathe under water by taking oxygen out of the water.

Their body is covered by scales and mucus which protect it from scrapes and scratches and help it glide through the water.

A Salmon's Life Cycle

The life cycle  is the series of changes that a salmon goes through, from when it starts as an egg and then grows into an adult able to have it's own babies.  It goes through 7 different stages: eggs, alevinsfry, parr, smolts, fully grown and then mature .

Eggs and Embryos

A female salmon actually makes a special nest called a redd .  She uses her tail to dig a shallow hole in the stream bed so that the eggs blend in with the gravel and are hidden from predators.  The fresh water of the stream keeps the eggs cool and clean.

Inside the egg, the baby salmon grows as an embryo .  As it grows, you can begin to see two black eyes through the egg.  The embryo is usually inside the egg for 2 to 5 months.  While they grow, there are many dangers for the eggs.  Many animals like to eat them.


Salmon usually hatch from their eggs in early spring.  When they hatch, they don't look like adult salmon yet, so they are called alevins .  They are only about 1 inch long!  They do not have fins , so they cannot swim yet.  They can only use their tails to help them move short distances.  It is dangerous to be an alevin .  They have many predators.  

Alevins don't have to look for food yet.  They have a large yolk sac  in their stomach that contains all the food it needs to help it grow.  4 to 6 weeks later, the alevins have used up all the food in their yolk sac, and they have grown fins to be able to swim.  Now it is ready to leave the redd to look for their own food.


When the salmon have grown enough to leave the redd, they are called fry.  Now they have teeth, fins, and scales .  They need a lot of food to continue to grow.  They eat the tiny plants and animals that live in the water called plankton.  As they grow, they eat larger foods like insects and the eggs of other fish.

Many animals like to eat fry .  To stay safe, the fry stay in schools, or groups of hundreds of fry.


After a few months as a fry, the baby salmon become parr.  Now their bodies are covered with spots and dots that help them camouflage amongst the rocks and weeds.


When fry and parr are grown enough, they leave their freshwater habitat and begin to migrate to the ocean.  Before they can live entirely in the ocean, they must first spend a few weeks in an estuary to adjust to saltwater.  Now they are called smolts.  By now they are between 1 and 6 inches long, and thier bodies are a silver color so they can camouflage in the ocean waters.  

Life in the Ocean

After a few weeks in the estuary, the salmon has adjusted to living in salt water and is ready to live in the ocean.  Now it is no longer called a smolt, it is called a salmon.  

To help them survive, now their bodies camouflage to help them blend in with the ocean.  Their special camouflage is called countershading.  Their bellies are a white color so that they blend in with the surface when a predator looks up.   Their backs are dark colors, so they blend in with the bottom when a predator is above them.

Once they get to the ocean, salmon swim over 1,000 miles in order to find food.  They have many types of prey: herring, squid, and shellfish like shrimp.  With all that food, salmon quickly grow to their full size.

Traveling Upstream

Salmon live between 1 and 7 years in the ocean.  Then they are ready to mate.  To do this, they migrate back to where they were born.  This trip takes months and is called a salmon run.  

To begin their run, salmon first travel back to the SAME estuary they visited when they were young!  They can tell if it is the right one by the way it smells.  They stay in the estuary until their bodies have adjusted to freshwater .

To complete the salmon run, the fish must swim upstream , which means they must swim against the current which is very hard work.  Sometimes they even need to leap out of the water to go over rocks or logs in their way.  They can even jump UP waterfalls!


The salmon have now been alive for several years.  They grew up in a river, matured, went to an estuary, migrated to the ocean, and have now begun their journey back to where they were born.  They have been swimming upstream for weeks, trying to get back to the same place where they were born.

More dangers await them!  Predators have learned how to find salmon.  Bears wait for the salmon at the top of the waterfall, and catch them as they jump out of the water!

Ready to Spawn

Once the salmon have traveled back to where they were born, they go through their final change.  Their bodies turn bright colors in order to attract a mate .

Laying Eggs

Now that they are mature, the salmon are ready to mate.  First, the female salmon begins to dig a shallow redd with her tail.  Then she lays her eggs in the redd, and a male comes by and fertilizes the eggs.  

The female then covers the redd with a bit of gravel to protect the eggs from predators .  The female may then go on to make another redd .

Once the eggs have been laid and fertilized, the salmon are hungry and tired.  They have not eaten since they were in the ocean!  They stay near the redds to protect them for as long as they can, but soon they die.  Their bodies decay and add nutrients into the water, keeping it healthy for the eggs.

Their life is over and they have completed what they need to do.  They have laid eggs to help create more salmon in the future.

Aren't salmon cool?!



Salmon are endangered!  That means their numbers are decreasing, and soon there may not be any more salmon left!


Let's read to find out what is endangering the salmon, and what people are doing to try and help.


One major way that salmon are being endangered, is by overfishing.  Too many fish are being caught for people to eat and there are not enough young salmon being born.  The number of salmon is getting smaller and smaller.

Salmon Farm

Some people try to grow salmon in a farm for people to eat.  This means that salmon live in underwater cages.  But the salmon can get sick and spread disease, or they esacpe and can eat the alevins of wild salmon.

Dirty Water

People are also destroying the salmon's habitat.  When people cut down too many trees, too much soil and dirt goes into the river water, making it dirty.  The fry and alevins cannot survive in dirty water.  To make it worse, people are even polluting river water by throwing trash or dumping waste water into the river. This kills the baby salmon before they can mature .


As we heard earlier, salmon need to migrate upstream  in rivers in order to build their redd, and lay eggs.  Unfortunately, in many rivers, people are building dams to control the water.  This makes it so that salmon cannot swim upstream, and they are never able to lay their eggs.  That means fewer and fewer eggs are laid every year.


Fortunately, some people realize how serious the situation is for salmon.  They are working hard to try to protect salmon and their habitat .  They are trying to teach people about salmon, and to convince the government to make laws to protect both the fish, and their habitat.

Fish Ladder

One way engineers have tried to help salmon, is to create a way for the fish to get past the dams to swim upstream.  They have designed special "ladders" for salmon to swim up.  Unfortunately, not every salmon is strong enough to travel pu the ladders, so this strategy doesn't work for all salmon.  Other people are trying to stop people from building dams on the rivers at all.


Other people are trying to help the number of salmon by making safe places for salmon eggs to hatch.  These places are called hatcheries.  People watch over the salmon eggs, and release young salmon into the wild.  The problem with this is that they cannot release too many young into a habitat, because there will not be enough food for them to live.

That's it!  That's everything we are going to learn about salmon!

Now here are some questions for you to turn-and-talk about:

1) What are the 7 stages of a salmon's life?

2) Where are the different places that a salmon lives?

3) What types of changes does a salmon's body go through as it grows?

4) What are some of the problems facing salmon right now?

5) what are some of the things that people are trying to do to help?

6) Do you have any other ideas of what we can do to help?