Sink or Swim Cover

Teacher Guide

New Vocabulary:

Assured: was confident or certain, undoubting
Splutter: to say with a spitting or stuttering sound
Meadow: a pasture, a grassy place, a field
Flipper: A wide flat limb on an aquatic mammal adapted for swimming (similar in function to a fish's fin); a rubber fin used over the foot to increase speed or manueverability in swimming


Learning new skills; trying different approaches


Is it easy to learn something new? Did anyone tell you that you wouldn't be able to learn it? Did you have to try different ways to learn it? Who helped you?


"Sink or swim" is another idiom (see When Pigs Fly Teacher Guide for further ideas relating to idioms) that suggests you will either fail or succeed at your attempt to accomplish something: It's an "all or nothing" expectation. Most people believe this expression began from a medievel practice of throwing a suspected witch into deep water. If they sank, they were believed to be innocent (although they may not have survived to find this out), if they floated they were considered guilty of witchcraft.

Suggested unit study — Setting and Achieving Goals:

Have your students choose an activity they would like to learn and post the list they compose on the board or a poster. i.e., Play soccer, cook macaroni, knit a scarf.


Have each student choose an activity and develop a series of steps or stages they could use to work towards that goal. For example, soccer includes several skills including kicking, passing, heading, etc. These can initially be written onto index cards or notepaper.

Have each student include possible obstacles (remember - Ralph sank like a stone on his first attempt to swim) and suggestions to overcome those problems. Points to watch for in an oral presentation: natural flow of ideas, eye contact/audience engagement, clear tone and volume, and success in reaching their goal. That is, do their steps lead to accomplishment?

Alternate: If your class has an oral presentation requirement, have each student present a how-to speech to the class, or present a demonstration of their skill steps.


Have each student develop a brochure that illustrates each step they have planned to learn their chosen skill. Each step should include a picture and a brief text explanation of that step. With older grades, distribute the brochures to the class and have students sign up for and lead a "workshop" for classmates in their chosen activity (ie. how to assume the correct stance for karate). Marks could be based on visual layout, clarity, progression of steps, etc.

Suggested unit study — Trying a New Approach:


In class experiment:

Suggested materials:

Select a group of objects (suggestions above) and either as a class demonstration or in small groups, experiment with which objects will float and which will sink in a tub of water. Ask the students to predict which objects will sink and which might float. Some questions to consider:

Field trip:

If you have access to an aquarium, pond, farm or wildlife park, a follow up to this story would be an ideal time to compare the anatomy of different animals. Here are some swimming-related fast facts on the animals in Sink or Swim:

  1. Ducks
    • their legs are positioned further back on their bodies to give them less resistance when they dive or fly
    • their webbed feet act like a paddle and let them push harder against the water so they can swim faster and smoother.
    • their feathers must be clean and coated with a special oil they produce in order to remain watertight and help them float. Preening helps spread this oil and clean their feathers.
    • they have nostrils on their beaks that they close when they go under water
    • Dabbling ducks feed on the water surface or on land so do not submerge entirely when eating (you'll often see them up-ended on a pond or quiet river). Diving ducks feed deeper under water and so are usually heavier than dabbling ducks so they can sink more easily (although it's harder for them to take off to fly).
    • have an inner layer of feathers to keep them warm and no nerves or blood vessels in their feet - their feet can't feel cold!

  2. Turtles
    • have four webbed feet and strong short legs to help swim and maneuver under water (Sea turtles, however, have flippers)
    • they swim much like a dog paddles, moving their legs on one side then the other
    • some aquatic turtles have their eyes and nostrils closer to the top of their head so they can lie hidden under the water but still see and breathe above water
    • aquatic turtles have flatter, smoother shells that let them swim and dive faster (compared to high, rounded shells of tortoises)
    • aquatic turtles have lighter shells that keep them from sinking and let them swim faster
    • are cold blooded so will often sit out in the sun to warm up

  3. Frogs
    • frogs that live near or in water have four webbed feet and long back legs to help them swim
    • are born in water (eggs become tadpoles which then develop lungs and become mature frogs)
    • they have nostrils and lungs but they also "breathe" through their skin
    • they have three eyelids to protect their eyes underwater

  4. Cows
    • can actually swim but don't usually do it!
    • have a split hoof and thinner legs that makes it harder for them to push against the water. Plus, they are usually very heavy.

Other reading that demonstrates reaching a goal/overcoming opposition:

For suggestions on getting more from Sink or Swim, see 50+ Questions

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