Coral Cam Web Site

Bermuda Reef Diorama         Pat Pierce and Cheryl Schroeder 

OBJECTIVE:   By building a model of a Bermuda coral reef, you will gain a better
                              understanding of this vital ecosystem.  .

AGE GROUP:   This activity is geared towards student's aged six through eleven. 


Seeing something yourself is the very best way to experience it. The next best way to experience something is by looking at a model. In this activity you will make a model of a coral reef so that you can see for yourself all the organisms living in this ecosystem.


    Shoebox for each student                                        Tempera paints
    Crayola Modeling Compound                                  Paint brushes
    Crayola WetSet Clay                                              Scissors
    Coral Reef Organism Worksheet                             Plastic zippered bags
    Blue and Yellow Cellophane or Saran Wrap            Glue
    Monofilament Fishing Line or Wire  Markers           Tape
    Spatula                                                                   Pencil


1.Review the Bermuda Coral Reef website, paying special attention to the organisms (such as coral, fishes, algae, plankton, and other invertebrates) and the video of what the reefs look like. You have a list of organisms that are typically found on Bermuda's coral reefs. Select some of the organisms that look interesting to you from this list or from the website. You'll be making models of these for your diorama.

2.Either paint the inside of the shoebox blue or line it with blue paper. Make sure you glue the paper to the box if you decide to line it.

3.It's time to make models of the coral reef organisms. Most of the base of your coral reef will be made of the two kinds of brain coral. Choose at least four of the other corals and gorgonians, four kinds of fish, and any of the other organisms you would like on your coral reef.

4.Create your organisms from the Model Magic and WetSet clay. WetSet is a great medium for making the brain corals or some of the other larger corals. You can form the WetSet clay just like you would any other clay material. After making your brain coral large enough and the correct shape (round), use a sharp pencil point to make the surface patterns on the brain coral. Make the sea pens or sea whips by rolling out small pieces of the clay into cigar shapes and then attaching them together. Before you add the WetSet clay pieces to the water to harden them, make certain that your clay pieces will fit in your shoebox. Follow the directions that came with the clay for the proper amount of time to keep the clay in water.

5.Model Magic is great for making flat shapes. It's good for making the fish, sea urchins, sea puddings, etc. You can pat it flat with your hand or roll it flat with a pencil. Remember, do not make the Model Magic too thin because you will be handling it. From the Coral Reef Organism Worksheet, cut out the shapes of the fish or other organisms that you've selected for your diorama. Trace the outline of these organisms onto the flattened Model Magic with a pencil or sharp object. Use the pencil point to "cut" the shapes from the flattened material. A spatula will help you move each item to a piece of cardboard or any other flat place where they can safely dry overnight.

6.It'll probably take a day for your coral reef organisms to dry. While you're waiting, make a plan for placing the coral reef organisms in your shoebox. Decide where all the organisms go, remembering that you will want to be able to see them from all sides. Refer to the Bermuda Coral Reef website in order to check the placement of your organisms.

7.Once your organism pieces are dry, color them so that they look like those you saw on the website. Use paint or markers to color all the clay or Model Magic pieces. Let the pieces dry if you painted them before placing them in the shoebox.

8.Take the top off the box and set it aside. Turn the shoebox on its side so that the opening of the box top faces you. This will be the main viewing area.

9.Cut a small opening from what is now the top of your box or from the sides. These will be peepholes that allow you to view your coral reef diorama from different perspectives than the front. [Use only the lid for protection of your work in progress and when the product is finished.]

10.Now it's time to place your organisms in the box. Glue the large brain corals down in the shoebox. How are you going to make the swimming organisms look like they're really swimming in your diorama? Think about it and see if you can come up with different ideas than we did. [We suggest using wire or monofilament line to attach them to the top or bottom of the box.] The organisms that don't swim can be glued down. Whatever method you choose to attach your organisms to the inside of the box, make sure that they're strongly attached.

11.When all organisms are placed and attached inside the box, make sure that everything is where you want it. You may use markers to add some more details to the inside of your box. For instance, you may want to add a sea star or spiny lobster to your coral reef.

12.There's one last thing remaining for you to do and your diorama will be finished! Cover the main opening with blue cellophane. Place glue around the edges of the cellophane and stick the edge to the box. If you cut an opening in the top of the box, cover that opening with yellow cellophane. Cover all the remaining peepholes with blue cellophane, gluing the edges to make it stick to the box.

13.View the diorama from each peephole to get a full panoramic view of your coral reef.

14.Remember: use your shoebox lid only to protect the cellophane covered main opening. Once you have added the cellophane, carefully place and remove the lid in order not to destroy the "ocean" and the reef organisms!


1.Download the activity sheets and the Coral Reef Organism Worksheet; print these out on your printer, and then photocopy enough for each of your students. Your students will use the worksheet to trace the outlines of the organisms onto the Model Magic material.

2.Make sure your students study the video section or Coral Cam sections of the website to make sure their placement of the reef organisms is correct. Challenge them to come up with different methods of attaching their organisms into the shoebox.

3.The Crayola products were selected because:

¨Crayola WetSet Clay– stays soft and workable for extended times; works well for hand-built techniques and traditional clay modeling tools; doesn't need to be fired; doesn't leave oily spots; hardens when immersed in water; can be painted after hardening; comes in natural, moss, and terra cotta colors.

¨Crayola Model Magic– is clean, lightweight and resilient; can be used to make anything; doesn't flake or crumble; doesn't stick to skin; can be rolled into a flat sheet; air dries overnight; can be carved or sanded after drying; can be painted with markers or tempera paints; comes in white, red, blue, black, green, and yellow colors.

¨Web site for Crayola products:   [WetSet clay]   [Model Magic]

4.Use papier mâché or oil-based clay as alternative building materials. Papier mâché can be painted when dry but the oil-based clay can not.


© BBSR and TCOE Coral Web Site Team 1999
Funded by a grant from the Goldman Foundation