Reading and Writing Connections for this selection:

Gray Whales:
Adaptations That Help Gray Whales Survive
Gray Whale Adaptations: The Body
Gray Whale Adaptations: The Head
Gray Whale Adaptations: Flippers
Gray Whale Adaptations: The Tail

Reading Strategies:

  • Activate Prior Knowledge
  • Make Predictions to Set a Purpose for Reading
  • Identify Main Ideas and Details
  • Build and Extend Students? Understanding of Vocabulary Introduced in the Text
  • Use Context Clues to Decipher Unfamiliar Words
  • Summarize Main Ideas and Details
  • Make Inferences and Draw Conclusions
  • Make Text-to Self and Text-to -World Connections
  • Examine Author?s Craft: How do authors make nonfiction texts "reader-friendly"?
  • (About Reading Strategies)

    adaptations, fossils, warm-blooded, live-birthing, calf-nursing, generations, habitat, forelimbs, pelvis, internal, flukes, marine mammal, dissecting, marine biologist

    Adaptations: The Body: drag, excretes, generate, ratio, surface area, body volume, arteries, veins, conserve, myoglobin, submersion, capillaries, saturate, pulmonary, oxygen supply, bends, nitrogen, nasal sacs, sinuses, buoyant, marrow, blubber, insulation, fibrous, honeycombed

    Adaptations: The Head: compresses, baleen plates, hypothermia, keratin, expanding, contracting, retracting, organisms, nutrient-filled, landlubbing whale ancestors, valves, blowholes, inhale, exhale, reception, auditory, echo-location, resilient

    Adaptations: Flippers: meter, pectoral fins, fingerlike digits, dorsal fin, ice floes, paddles

    Adaptations: The Tail: propulsion, flukes, notch, meters, kilograms, connective tissues, massive, spine, equivalent, horsepower engine




Anticipation Guide
Create an Anticipation Guide to introduce the reading selection. An anticipation guide contains a series of focus questions that preview the text?s main ideas, key details, and vocabulary words. Choose from the following questions to create the anticipation guide:
1. What are adaptations?
2. What are some examples of adaptations?
3. What are characteristics of mammals?
4. Why is the gray whale a mammal and not a fish?
5. What characteristics make the gray whale a marine mammal?
6. What challenges do whales face in order to survive in an ocean environment?
7. How do gray whales find food and shelter?
8. How do gray whales protect themselves from predators?
9. How do gray whales breathe?
10. How do gray whales protect and care for their young?
11. How do gray whales stay warm in frigid waters?
12. How do gray whales store oxygen for deep underwater dives?
13. What adaptations help the gray whale survive?
14. How would your body have to change in order for you to live in the ocean?
15. What physical features would you need to survive underwater?

Invite students to work individually, with a partner, or in small groups to write responses to the questions on the anticipation guide. Encourage students to make predictions for questions they are unable to answer prior to reading the text.

Two-Column Organizer
Read aloud the first two paragraphs of Adaptations That Help Gray Whales Survive. Help students set a purpose for reading: "Today you will be reading about the physical characteristics of the gray whale. In each reading selection your mission is to find and list the physical characteristics of gray whales. For each characteristic, describe its purpose. For example, the gray whale has two large flukes. The flukes help the gray whale propel itself through ocean currents." Have students make a two-column chart to organize their research. Label one column: Gray Whale Adaptations (Physical Characteristics). Label the second column: Function or Purpose of Adaptation.

Read and Research
Have students read the following selections to find facts for their two-column organizer:
Gray Whale Adaptations: The Body
Gray Whale Adaptations: The Head
Gray Whale Adaptations: Flippers
Gray Whale Adaptations: The Tail

Link to Jigsaw Strategy for additional ways to use the reading selections for research.

Research Extension
Visit the FAQ pages featured in Journey North for frequently asked questions. The answers reveal many facts about gray whales.

Vocabulary Visit
Revisit the texts to examine vocabulary words. Choose from the ideas described in Building Vocabulary Skills with Journey North to extend students? understanding of the vocabulary words. (Building and Extending Vocabulary: Exploring Various Meanings of Words)

Sketch to Stretch
Invite students to use ideas from their two-column charts and details from the texts to draw a picture of a gray whale. Encourage them to label the physical features of the whale. Ask them to describe details they included in their illustrations. (Visualizing Details Described in the Text) Related Link: Sketch-to-Stretch.

Focus on Facts
Revisit the questions listed on the anticipation guide used to introduce the reading selections. Divide the class into 5 groups. Give each group 2-3 questions. Have each group formulate a detailed response to each question using details from the text. Encourage students to write responses in their own words. For additional challenge, include several vocabulary words for students to define. Have each group share their work with the class.

Journaling Questions: (Making Inferences and Drawing Conclusions)
1. What behavioral adaptations help gray whales survive? For example, why do gray whales migrate? Why do these massive marine mammals journey thousands of miles each year? Why do they embark on a yearly round-trip journey?
2. What are some human actions that impact whales and their ocean environments? How well do you think gray whales can adapt to changes introduced by human actions? Encourage students to think about how humans use the ocean environments where gray whales live.
3. What other physical characteristics would help gray whales survive and thrive in their ocean environment? Encourage students to imagine how other physical adaptations would change how a gray whale eats, swims, breathes, migrates, etc.
4. Why do you think a gray whale breaches? Spyhops? Dives? Spouts? Why do you think the gray whale does a series of short dives with spouting followed by a deeper dive that lasts several minutes? Encourage students to share their reasoning.

Making Connections: Text-to-the-World Connections
1. What are some examples of human adaptations (physical and behavioral)? How do people adapt to challenges in their environments? (Making Text-to-Self Connections)
2. Why do you think it?s important to understand the needs of gray whales? (Making Text-to-the-World Connections)
3. How do whales depend on the ocean? How do humans depend on the ocean? Why is it essential to preserve ocean environments? (Making Text-to-Self and Text-to-the-World Connections)

Evaluate: (Readers Examine Author?s Craft)
Have students identify strategies the author used to make the nonfiction article "reader-friendly." Ask the following questions to guide students? thinking: "Nonfiction articles often contain specific vocabulary which may be unfamiliar to readers. How did the author of this article help readers learn new words? What clues were provided in the text? Which words were specifically defined? How did the author organize the information to make the article "reader-friendly"? Which sentences contained descriptive details that helped a reader visualize ideas?" Encourage students to provide specific examples from the text to support their responses.

Writers Workshop

  • Descriptive/Expressive
    Ask students to choose one of the gray whale?s physical characteristics described in the texts. Have them write Adaptation Monologues. For example: "I am a gray whale?s tail. My two large flukes are specifically designed for powerful propulsion. I help gray whale swim through strong ocean currents. As I move up and down, I propel gray whale forward. Gray whale needs my strength for its long migration." Encourage students to present their monologues to the class.
  • Expository
    List vocabulary words from the reading selection on the board. Invite students to select from the words to create a page for a class book titled, Gray Whale Glossary. Encourage them to include the word, a definition, and a context-rich sentence on the page they create for the glossary.
  • Creative
    Ask students: "What do gray whales need to survive and thrive?" Have them brainstorm a list of the needs. Challenge students to present the list in a creative way. (Poster, song, list poem, want ad, grocery list, survival guide, etc.) Variation: Ask students: "What are gray whales able to do? What are their ?skills??" (Gray whales are able to: see underwater, dive deep down in the ocean without being crushed by high pressure, determine when and where to migrate, filter food with their baleen plates, stay underwater without an oxygen tank, journey long distances, swim through frigid waters, move efficiently through ocean currents, drink salty ocean water) Have students present a list of whale skills in a creative way. (Resume, talent show, monologue, job interview, comic strip, job application, etc.)
  • Descriptive/Expository
    Invite students to write paragraphs that describe a specific adaptation that helps a gray whale survive. Encourage them to use vivid details to help readers visualize the gray whale. Have them include information that explains how the physical adaptation helps the whale survive in its ocean environment.
  • Persuasive
    Invite students to research current issues that may impact gray whales and their ocean environments. Have them write letters to legislators urging them to protect the whales. Encourage students to use facts found in the reading selections in their persuasive letters. For information on how to contact specific legislators have students link to
  • Narrative
    Have students write a narrative story about a gray whale. Encourage them to include facts about the physical adaptations described in the reading selections.