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Movement: The dance of the rays

Spotted eagle ray swimming along ocean floor

Fun Fact

Weighing up to 230kg, spotted eagle rays do noisy belly flops for fun.


I used to live in Bermuda and dive regularly. When my colleagues sent me an article about Manta rays, it brought back so many memories. My connection with rays comes from watching the change of tide under Flatts bridge in Bermuda. As the water flowed under the bridge, a spotted eagle ray would sit in wait, its graceful ‘wings’ keeping beat with the current. It was waiting for its meal to be delivered by the current – better than Uber Eats!

Rays, including manta rays, stingrays and spotted eagle rays move in a particularly graceful way – a swirling dance I will never tire of. Immerse yourself in the children’s classic Commotion in the ocean and you too will fall in love with the movement of the oceans.


Commotion in the Ocean by Giles Andreae, illustrated by David Wojtowycz, models of sea creatures is you have them


How do we move through water?

Encourage the children to imagine that they are walking through water. To get the conversation started, you can ask questions: How do you move? What is different from the way you move on land? How can you move quicker? What stops you from moving quickly? Can you run when the water is up to your chest? How do you swim in water? Do keep your fingers close together or do you spread them? Why? Can you float?

How do the animals in the book move?

“The crab likes walking sideways… .” Why do the children think the crab walks sideways? Can they move like a crab and pretend to be a crab?
How do turtles move in the water? On land? You could read The smallest turtle by Lynley Dodd to find out more about turtles.

Can you move your hand like a jellyfish? Can you move like a shark? How do octopuses move? Do their arms help? How do dolphins move? What helps them swim fast? What shape are dolphins? Does this help them glide through the water? To broaden your research on dolphins, you could also look into how they communicate.

What’s the STEM?

Children investigate the differences between their bodies and that of sea creatures. The focus is on movement. Discussing how the children move on land and in the water is important as it helps them make the connection between the habitats that creatures live in, how they hunt for food and their bodies.

Observations, conclusions and extensions

You can take this provocation in many different directions. The book mentions the deep sea: Investigating how sea creatures from the deepest parts of the ocean have adapted to poor light might lead into an investigation of night creatures. Talking about walruses, penguins and polar bears might spark research into how animals adapted to the cold and what children can do to deal with the cold. Do they get goose bumps? What do they wear in cold weather? 

You could look into ancient marine reptiles together. Remember, if it’s not on land, it’s not a dinosaur! Or, look at which animals give birth to live babies and which lay eggs. Hint: it’s not just mammals that can give birth to live babies, most rays and sharks do too. You could research mammals and fish or explore Australia’s wonderful mammals. There are so many possibilities; just go with the flow and see where the children’s questions take you.

STEM language

Use your explorations to introduce this STEM vocabulary to the  children: adaptations, movement, habitat.

Teachers' lounge

Hayley Bates
Article author: Hayley Bates
National Certifications Coordinator

Hayley has an insatiable thirst for learning – about everything! Her sheer joy of discovery and passion for professional development makes her the perfect person to run the Little Scientist’s House Certification program.

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