Salmon Run | Ecological Game

The salmon run is a game that teaches students the basics of salmon migration, as well as introduces basic ideas of conservation. The set up of the game is a bit confusing the first time, but once you understand how it functions, it becomes very easy to replicate and lead.


Salmon Run Diagram

  1. Put cones around your field of play. You’ll see from the diagram that a U-shape is often used to conserve cones, but a long rectangle would do the job as well (it would actually be easier and much less confusing for the students). You want about half as much space as used in capture the flag or about as much as a typical soccer game.
  2. Set out your supplies in the area they belong. In order of the game, they go:
    1. Jump rope
    2. Space with nothing
    3. 5-10 Hula hoops with a noodle for each
    4. A long row of discs, about a third as many as you have students. Anything can be used that is about the right size to stand on.


Several people, usually adults or staff, have roles within the game. You need: 2 people to run the jump rope, 3-5  birds, 5-10 fishermen, and 1-2 bear. Explain to them their function within the game.

Jump Rope: Play jump rope normally. Students have to jump through without hitting the rope. If they get hit by the rope, they go to the discs.

Birds: Tag kids. Don’t tag so many none make it through, you’re just weeding out a few.

Fishermen: Hit kids with noodles, but stay inside your “boat”. Don’t tag all of them!

Bear: Move fairly slowly, and walk along the outside of the river, reaching in-between kids to try to tag others. Help kids make a bridge as they get out and join the group. You may run out of discs, that’s okay. Have them extend the river anyway.

Explanation of Salmon Run:

Don’t collect the campers until you’re ready to go! They’ll get bored waiting for you to set up and be ready to go!

Ask: Who knows how salmon migrate? (They travel up-river)

Ask: What are some problems they may run into along the way? (Dams, animals, fishermen)

Say: We are going to pretend we are salmon for our game today. You all are going to start on this (point to the area right before the jump rope) side of the cones and go all the way through each area, trying to get to the end (point to the end) without dying. If at any point you die, you will go stand on one of those discs (point again) and put your hands up in the air, connect them to someone on the other side, and form a bridge for people to go through (show what you mean with another adult).

Say: First, you will go through the dam. If you touch the jump rope, you must go to a disc. Next, you will run through an area filled with birds that want to eat you. If you get tagged, you must go to a disc. Then, you will run through an area filled with fishermen in their boats. If you get hit by a fishing pole, you must go to a disc. Last, you will walk under the bridge to the end of the cones. If you are tagged by a bear, you must go to a disc. If you make it to the end of the cones without touching the dam, being eaten by a bird, being caught by a fishermen, or being eaten by a bear, you get to lie on the ground and flop around like a salmon!

Play one round.

Gather the students together at the beginning of the course and ask: What was difficult? What are some things that we could do to make it easier for the salmon to make it up the river?

Students will give various answers, including killing birds and bear. Talk to them about why we shouldn’t kill these animals, but we have other options. Fishing licenses are one way we help the salmon make it. After you explain why fishing licenses help, take out a few of the “boats” so it’s easier for the students. Dams also have ways to help salmon survive. Some dams have spaces on the sides for fish to go around the dam, and some dams turn off for a little while to let them through. After explaining this, instruct your jump rope people to either make space for students to go around, or to occasionally stop the jump rope for a little bit and let kids just run over it.

Play one round with the easier rules.

Gather the students together and talk about how the changes helped more salmon to survive, and how we can make changes in the way we interact with nature that makes it easier for animals to live. Ask about ways they can help nature survive, even as kids. (They can call out answers, talk with a friend, etc.)

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