Teaching Suggestions
The Annual Cycle of the Gray Whale
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In the warm waters of Mexico gray whales give birth, nurse their calves, rest and play before their monumental journey north. Each spring, they swim 5,000 miles along the Pacific coast from Mexico to the Arctic. The trip ends in the nutrient-rich feeding grounds of the Bering Sea in Alaska. Gray whales migrate farther than any mammal on earth. In the fall, they travel back to Mexico again for a round trip journey of 10,000 miles.

The activities in this guide will help you build a sense of wonder about gray whales by showcasing and exploring a series of images. The text for each photo describes intriguing facts that will spark students' curiosity. As your class begins to collect questions on wonder rings, create annual cycle posters, and nonfiction picture booklets, they will be ready to embark on the real-world, real-time scientific journey tracking this year's migration.

Essential Question
What is the annual cycle of the gray whale?

Gray whale migration, month-by-month.

The Annual Cycle of the Gray Whale


Start With Wonder

Explore Images in the Photo Gallery
Invite students to explore the gray whale images in the photo gallery, and wonder aloud about gray whales and their migration. Share intriguing facts and questions to get them started:

  • Gray whales swim for 24 hours a day during migration.
  • Where are the gray whales now?
  • When do the mothers and new babies begin their journey north?

As a class, view and read through the Annual Cycle slideshow. Encourage students to wonder aloud as you explore the images and information. Have students record their questions on index cards or cardstock tags.

Create Wonder Rings
Invite students to make wonder rings by punching a hole in each card and inserting the cards on a metal ring. (See photo.) Store the wonder rings at a classroom learning center. Throughout the year, revisit the wonder rings and have students record discoveries by writing fact sentences on the back of each card. Over time, the wonder ring will be filled with questions and answers as students learn about gray whales and their migration.


Wonder Rings

Create Wonder Rings

Showcase the Cycle

Select from these activities to reinforce learning:

Make a Poster/Wall Display
After exploring the photos and text as a class, have students work in small groups to create a poster-size display to showcase the cyclical, month-by-month events of the gray whale's annual cycle. Provide a copy of the text-only page of the annual cycle and encourage students to revisit information to accurately construct the poster.

Continue to Collect Facts
Revisit the photos and text of the annual cycle slideshow. Have students collect words, facts, and phrases that build background knowledge about gray whales and migration. For example: migration route, feeding grounds, mating/nursing sites, spyhopping, breaching, calf, cow, bull, spyhopping, breaching, migrating, mating, and nursing. Use the words, facts, and phrases students collect throughout the study for various writing and extension activities.

Write and Illustrate a Seasonal Summary
Invite students to share their wonder and discoveries by creating an illustrated nonfiction booklet that summarizes the annual cycle by season (fall, winter, spring, summer). Encourage students to display the posters they made and the booklets they wrote by creating a school display.