Create a Coral Reef

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Educator Amy O'Donnell from the American Museum of Natural History guides learners to create a diorama of a coral reef. Learners will use craft skills to transform household materials into simulated brain coral, sea fans, sea anemones, and a sponge. This resource contains background information about coral and the use of dioramas in museums. Also includes extension ideas.

Quick Guide

Preparation Time:
Under 5 minutes

Learning Time:
1 to 2 hours

Estimated Materials Cost:
$5 - $10 per student

Age Range:
Ages 6 - 14

Resource Types:
Activity, Model


Materials List (per student)

  • cardboard box, approximately 2' x 1'
  • blue tissue paper or blue construction paper (or even newspaper painted blue)
  • clear tape
  • a few pieces of sandpaper OR paper, sand, and glue
  • scissors
  • bag of "radiatore" pasta; it has a ruffled, ridged shape
  • ball of modeling clay, Model Magic, or Play-Doh
  • paint, green, yellow, and brown
  • paint brushes
  • plastic cups or bowls for paint
  • cup of water, for cleaning brushes
  • newspaper, to put on table before painting
  • sheet of white (plain) needlepoint canvas
  • pipe cleaners, thick (orange, red, yellow, pink or purple)
  • pipe cleaners, thin (orange, red, yellow, pink, or purple)
  • paint, orange, red, yellow, pink, or purple
  • a bag of hair curlers (or cardboard paper towel or toilet paper rolls)
  • pink or red plastic pom-poms, or red construction paper cut into thin strips, or pink Easter grass
  • about 6 to 10 tan-colored plastic hair curlers (the kind that have two parts)
  • yellow Play-Doh


  • Earth and Space Science
    • Earth Structure
      • Oceans and Water
  • Life Sciences
    • Diversity of Life
      • Plants
      • Animals
    • Ecology
      • Ecosystems
  • The Nature of Science
    • Science as a Career

Informal Categories

  • Animals
  • Arts and Crafts
  • Model Building


To use this activity, learners need to:

  • see
  • see color
  • touch

Learning styles supported:

  • Links STEM to other topics of interest such as arts and humanities
  • Involves hands-on or lab activities


Components that are part of this resource:

This resource is part of:

Access Rights:

  • Free access


Source Collection

  • Ology


  • All rights reserved, American Museum of Natural History,