Reading and Writing Connections for this selection:

Gray Whales:
Life in the Nursery Lagoons

Reading Strategies:

  • Activate Background Knowledge about the Topic and Vocabulary
  • Ask Questions and Make Predictions to Set a Purpose for Reading
  • Identify Main Ideas and Details
  • Build and Extend Students? Understanding of Vocabulary Introduced in the Text
  • Identify Main Ideas and Details
  • Visualize Images Described in the Text
  • Make Inferences and Draw Conclusions
  • Make Text-to-Self and Text-to-the-World Connections
  • Examine Author?s Craft: Identify Descriptive Writing Techniques
  • (About Reading Strategies)

    spyhopping, frolics, surfaces, breaches, lagoons, haven, shallow, predatory, whale lice, blowhole, baleen, overzealous, courting, breeding, panga, sustain




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 these suggestions:

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.

First Reading
Read aloud: "Gray Whales: 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)

Second Reading
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 Spring Training, 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 following titles:

Baby Whales Drink Milk by Barbara Juster Esbensen. HarperCollins. 1994. ISBN#: 0-06-445119-4.
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. [] (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 Various Meanings of Words)

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 Craft)
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? Which words 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)

Writers Workshop

  • Descriptive/Expressive
    Imagine traveling to Laguna San Ignacio. Picture your adventures aboard a panga during a whale-watching tour. How would you describe the beauty of the lagoon and its surrounding landscapes? Imagine interacting with a mother gray whale and her newborn calf. Write a journal entry that describes your trip to meet the whales. Include your thoughts and feelings before, during, and after your adventure. How were you changed by your trip?
  • Expository
    Choose a focus topic from the ideas brainstormed in class. Research facts specific to the topic you choose. Write a magazine article to teach readers about gray whales. Possible focus topics for the magazine article include: Migration Routes, Breeding and Care of Young, Eating Habits, Physical and Behavioral Adaptations, Survival Needs, Dangers that Whales Face, Populations of Various Species, How People are Working to Save Whales, Current Threats or Issues, Laws that Protect Whales, Biographies of Whale Researchers, and Current Whale Research.
  • Descriptive/Persuasive
    Imagine that you work at Kuyima Ecotourismo, the organization that makes decisions about whale watching. You have been asked to create a brochure that describes whale-watching tours. Use details from the text to make a brochure that describes the wonder of whales so people want to come and visit. Your brochure should also teach people about the necessity of preserving Laguna San Ignacio for the whales' nursery.
  • Persuasive
    Read about a current issue threatening the world of gray whales: low frequency sonar testing. Write a persuasive letter to help preserve a healthful, safe habitat for gray whales. Send the letter to legislators to convince them to take action on behalf of underwater wildlife.
  • Expressive
    Write a list poem about mother gray whales and their calves using the descriptive words and phrases you collected from the reading selection. Each line of the poem includes from one to three words. For example: Whale haven?Warm, salty lagoon?Nature?s nursery?Spyhopping grays?Splish, splash?Breaching beauties?Dimpled darlings frolic?Playing around pangas?Mystical marvels?See them...Save them.