Oyster Tank Investigation



Class Periods




Subject Areas

Science, Math


The teacher demonstrates the set-up process for the oyster tank and discusses each step with students.


  • Make observations about each step of the tank set-up process.
  • Record questions about the tank set-up process.
  • Discuss and analyze choices made during tank set-up process.

Materials and Resources

Teacher Resources


    You need all the supplies listed in the Oyster Tank Guide.

    Before you get started

    Tips for Teachers

      • This unit is designed for oyster tank novices.  Oyster tanks are not difficult to care for, but they do take some close monitoring and experimentation in the first few weeks.  

        • In the wild, the eastern oyster can survive in a relatively wide range of water quality parameters.  However, in a tank, due to the relatively small volume of water, parameters can spike or plummet very quickly.  For this reason, you want to keep a close eye on the parameters, until you get the hang of feeding and caring for your oysters.  

          • Ideally, the students who help set up the oyster tank will also help monitor it throughout the year.  If this is not possible, consider ways to keep your students informed as to the progress of the tank and health of the oysters.


              • Decide how you want fill your classroom tank with water.  Option include:

                • Decide if you want to add “associated oyster reef organisms.”  These are organisms found in your ORS that you are able to keep alive and transport back to your classroom.

                  • If you do not have time to add organisms during this lesson, we suggest you add them at a later date, as they can make for a very rich and dynamic oyster tank experience.

                  Instruction Plan


                  1. In this demo, the teacher will set up the final components of the tank and engage the students in discussion along the way.

                  2. Gather the class around the tank so everyone can see.  

                  3. Each student gets the Aquarium Additives handout.

                    • As you go through each step of the demo try to pass around something for the students to look at.  

                    • For example, if you have the tap water condition box or an extra bottle, pass those around while you’re on that step.

                    • Pay attention to which parts of the demo get the most responses from students.  These elements may be worth spending more time on with the class. Consider pausing the demo and turning to the Oyster Tank Topic Library for a deeper dive.

                  4. Fill tank with water (or maybe it's already filled with the students' brackish water) and check the salinity with a hydrometer.  

                    • If the salinity is not 15ppt, discuss  what steps are needed to make it so.

                    • Questions: What salinity do we want our tank to have?  What could we add or take out of the tank to achieve that salinity?

                  5. Add tap water conditioning drops (follow instructions included with drops).  

                    • Discuss with students why the water needs to be de-chlorinated before the oysters are put in.  

                    • Questions: What’s in this bottle?  Is there anything on the bottle or box that could help up figure it out?  How many drops should we add for the whole tank? What is chlorine?  Why is it in our tap water?  Why do we need to remove the chlorine before putting the oysters in the tank?

                  6. Set up the DIY filter with aerator and air stone and turn it on.  

                    • Discuss with students the purpose of the aerator and gravel.

                    • Questions: What components are making up this filter?  What happens when we put it in the tank and turn it on?  What do you think is the purpose of the bubbles?  What do you think is the purpose of the gravel?  What is growing/living on the gravel?

                    • Biological filtration is a subject that could be a lesson in and of itself.  If you have time to expand upon this topic, start by looking at the Oyster Tank Guide and Oyster Tank Topic Library.

                  7. Add the 10 spat-on-shell substrate oysters.  

                    • Consider making this into a ceremony where each group brings up their substrate shell and introduces the oysters to the tank.  

                    • The group may also want to tell the class the name of their oysters at this time.

                  8. Optional: Add associated oyster reef organisms.  

                    • Identify the organisms and discuss how these organisms will interact with the oysters and each other.

                    • Questions: What organisms are we putting in the tank?  Where do you think each organism belongs in the oyster reef food web?  What do they eat?  What eats them?  How will each organism do in the tank environment?

                  9. Feed the oysters.  See the Oyster Tank Guide for specific feeding guidelines and preparation.

                    • Questions: What is this that we are feeding the oysters?  What clues can we get from the packaging?  Why are we feeding this to the oysters?


                  NYC Science Scope & Sequence - Units

                  • Grade 6, Unit 4

                    • Interdependence
                  • Grade 7, Unit 4

                    • Dynamic Equilibrium: Other Organisms