What?s the Topic? What?s the Focus?
Help students identify the topic and focus of the upcoming reading selection:
"When an author writes a short nonfiction article about a topic,
he or she has to choose which facts to feature. For example: If the
topic is Whales, an author
could choose to focus on the different types of whales
that exist in the world today. The writer may choose to describe the
physical characteristics of a particular whale."
Invite students to generate additional ideas for possible focus topics: Migration
Routes, Breeding and Care of Young, Eating Habits, Physical and Behavioral Adaptations,
Survival Needs, Dangers that Whales Face, Population and Distribution of Various
Species, Habitats, How People are Working to Save Whales, Current Threats, Laws that
Protect Whales, Biographies of Whale Researchers, Current Research, etc. Write
their ideas on the chalkboard or chart paper.
Read aloud the title, Gray Whales: Life in the Nursery Lagoons. Ask students:
"Based on the title of this article, what do you think is the focus
of this reading selection? Which idea or ideas from our list describe the
focus this author
chose? What kinds of facts would you expect in an article
titled, Life in the Nursery Lagoons? Why do you think the author described
the lagoon as a nursery?"
Reveal the subheadings of the article one at a time: Mothers and Babies, Playing
to Learn, and The Local People Look After the Whales. Ask students to predict
the kinds of facts that each section may reveal. (Activating Prior Knowledge, Making
Predictions to Set a Purpose for Reading)
Facts, Questions, and Words
Tap into students? prior knowledge. Divide the class into 4-5 small
groups. Give each group a large piece of chart paper. Ask students to divide
the chart into three
equal columns. Have them label each column with the following
categories: FACTS, QUESTIONS, and WORDS. Introduce the topic: BABY WHALES.
Give each group about 5-10
minutes to list facts they know about baby whales. After
students have listed facts, invite them to brainstorm questions about baby
whales: "If you could interview
a whale expert, what questions would you ask? If you
were about to read a book about baby whales, what kinds of information
would you look for?" Encourage students
to brainstorm a variety of ideas by writing Who, What, Where, When, Why, and How
questions. After listing facts and brainstorming questions, invite students to predict
words that would be found in a fact book about baby whales: "If
you were reading a nonfiction book about baby whales, what are some key
words that you expect
to find?" (Activating Background Knowledge, Building Vocabulary, Asking
Questions and Making Predictions to Set a Purpose for Reading)
To help students generate ideas for their Facts, Questions, and Words chart, try
Tape three pieces of chart paper to the wall. Each sheet
of chart paper is labeled with one of the categories: FACTS, QUESTIONS,
and WORDS. Choose one of the groups
to write their ideas on the wall charts during the activity.
This group provides a model for the other groups. Their ideas will spark
other students? thinking.
As the students are listing facts, questions, and words, use
the overhead projector to spotlight vocabulary words. Flash a word from the upcoming
reading selection onto to the overhead screen. Do not provide any information about
the word. Encourage students to use the word in one or more columns of their charts.
For example, introduce the word baleen. Students who know the definition will
use the word in the fact column. If the word is unfamiliar, students can write a
question in the second column. Baleen can also be added to the words column of the
chart. Introduce key words periodically throughout the activity. Here is a list of
words to choose from: nursery, lagoon, calf, breaches, spyhopping, baleen, blowhole,
surfaces, courting, breeding, panga, shallow, and predator.
Group the students based on their level of background knowledge. Which students
are new to the study of whales? Which students have some knowledge about the topic?
Which students are experts? To find out, draw a long continuum line on the chalkboard.
On the left side of the line write the word: Novice or Beginner. On the right
side of the line write the word Expert. Have students rate their level of
background knowledge about whales by placing their initials on the line.
Post the completed charts on a wall or bulletin board. Invite students to share some
of the facts, questions, and words their group generated.
Read aloud: "Gray
Life in the Nursery Lagoons." As
students listen to the article, invite them to "capture" facts, questions,
and words on a sheet of paper or in a notebook. Encourage them to sketch pictures
they imagine as you read aloud. Ask for volunteers to share facts, questions, words,
or drawings they "captured." (Identifying Main Ideas and Details,
Visualizing Images Described in the Text)
Give each student a copy of the reading selection. Have them read the
article silently. Encourage them to "mark up the text" by circling
unfamiliar words, underlining key words and phrases, and writing notes
in the margins. Have them list
questions they have after reading the article. For example: Where can I find Laguna
San Ignacio on a map? Who hosts the whale watching boat tours? What is a typical
itinerary for a whale-watching tour? How can I find out about planning a trip to
see the gray whales? How do the mothers nurse their calves? How big is Laguna San
Ignacio? What does the lagoon and surrounding area look like? Encourage students
to check a variety of resources to find answers:
1. Read other Gray Whale articles from Journey North. Related Reading Selections:
Holy Cow! What a Calf, Spring
Training, and A Stranded Whale Calf Tale. In
Holy Cow! What a Calf, Keith
Jones, a seasoned guide, photographer, and whale naturalist describes gray whale
babies born in the warm lagoons in December, January, and February each year. In
naturalist, Tom Lewis, describes his observations of mothers and calves in Laguna
San Ignacio. In A Stranded Whale Calf
Tale, Keith Jones shares details about the day he helped rescue a
gray whale calf stranded on a muddy bay shore.
2. Visit the FAQ pages featured in Journey North for frequently asked questions.
The answers reveal many facts about gray whales. Link: FAQ
pages for Gray Whales.
3. Read nonfiction books about whales: Check your local library for the
Baby Whales Drink Milk by Barbara Juster Esbensen. HarperCollins. 1994.
Whales for Kids. Tom Wolpert. NorthWord Press. 1990. ISBN# 1-55971-125-6.
Whales: The Gentle Giants. By Joyce Milton. Random House. 1998. ISBN# 0-394-89809-5.
Revisit the text to examine vocabulary words. Ask students to locate the following
words in the text: nursery, lagoon, haven, spyhop, surfaces, breaches, lounge,
peer, panga, nurse, ecotourism, sustainably, and whale lice. Provide reference
materials such as dictionaries, thesauruses, and nonfiction books about whales. Invite
students to use context clues from the text and the reference materials to build
an understanding about each of the vocabulary words. Related Link: Journey
North?s Gray Whale Glossary. [http://www.learner.org/jnorth/tm/gwhale/Glossary.html] (Building Vocabulary: Using Context Clues /Reference
Materials to Decipher Unfamiliar Words)
Choose a vocabulary word, such as lagoon. Ask students the following questions:
What words or ideas pop into your mind when you hear the word, lagoon? (Students? responses
will reveal personal associations connected to the word.) How
would a scientist describe this word? (A scientist would provide exact definitions.
A scientist focuses on observable and measurable data/facts.)
How would a judge describe this word? (A judgment would reveal attitudes
people might have about a word.) How would a poet describe this word?
(A poet writes descriptive and expressive details.)
Here is an example for the word LAGOON:
Scientist: a coastal body of shallow water formed where low-lying rock, sand,
or coral presents a partial barrier to the open sea.
Judge: Safe haven for mother whales and their calves. Pristine nursery grounds
of the gray whales. Remote whale sanctuary. Threatened habitat of gray whales. Essential
estuary. Fragile environment.
Poet: Warm, watery world, Nature?s nursery for newborn whale calves,
Coastal paradise, Delicate ecosystem, Warm, salty inlet.
Possible associations students may share for the word lagoon: Gilligan?s Island
(TV show), Blue Lagoon (movie), Creature from the Black Lagoon (movie), Island of
the Blue Dolphins (children?s book).
Choose an alternate activity from Building
Vocabulary Skills with Journey North to extend students? understanding
of the vocabulary words. (Building and Extending Vocabulary: Exploring
Journaling Questions (Making Inferences and Drawing Conclusions)
1. What makes the lagoons such good nurseries for newborn whales? Encourage students
to give two or more reasons.
2. Why do the mothers like to keep the calves away from the males?
3. Why do you think the whales in the lagoon choose to interact with the humans?
Making Connections: Text-to-Self and Text-to-the-World
Reread the sentence: "No one truly understands why these whale-human
interactions occur." Ask students to think about the interactions
from the whale?s point
of view and from a human perspective. Ask students: "Why do you
think the whales interact with people? Why do you think the mother whale
lets her calf be touched
by people in the panga? What are the advantages of ecotourism?
What are potential risks? How have the people at Laguna San Ignacio helped
sustain the lagoon? Why is
the lagoon a safe haven for mother whales and their calves?"
Explore the concept of interdependence: "How do humans and whales depend
on each other? What would happen if the lagoon were destroyed? How would the destruction
impact whales? How would the destruction of the lagoon affect humans? Why do you
think it?s crucial to preserve the lagoon?" (Making Text-to-Self Connections,
Making Text-to-the-World Connections)
Evaluation (Readers Examine Author's
Ask students: "Which words and phrases in the selection described
the lagoon and the whales? Which words helped you imagine sitting in a
panga watching the whales?
Which words described the active whale behavior observers
witnessed from the panga?"
Have students reread the text to find examples. Encourage students to sort the
words and phrases into the following categories: nouns, verbs, adjectives, adverbs,
and prepositional phrases. Sample verbs students may collect include: spyhops,
frolics, rolls, surfaces, breathe, arch, disappear, retreated, breaches, crashes,
jumps, splashes, lounge, peer, and nurse. Encourage students to use these words
and phrases for the writing activities described below.
After students have collected the descriptive words and phrases from the text, invite
them to analyze how the author painted pictures with language: "How
did the author help readers see the lagoon, the whales, and the whale watchers?
and phrases painted the most vivid pictures? What details
would you add to help readers imagine a whale watching tour at Laguna San
Ignacio?" Encourage students
to brainstorm sensory details that an author could use: "Which
words and phrases describe sights, sounds, smells, and textures? What are
the interesting details
that evoke specific images? (whale lice, spyhopping,
breaches) (Using Specific
Nouns and Verbs for Descriptive Writing)