Teaching Suggestions
From Head to Tail: How Big is a Gray Whale?
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How big are gray whales? Imagine ten large elephants lined up in your school hallway. Imagine a full-size school bus parked in front of your school building.

Explore the facts, photos, and activity suggestions for this slideshow to help students develop an understanding and appreciation for the length and weight of gray whales.



Set the Stage: Pre-Reading/Viewing the Slideshow

1. Ask students to predict how big they think a gray whale is. Listen to the measurement words they use to make their predictions. Encourage students to share reasons for their predictions and have them identify which measurement words they used to describe length and which words they used to describe weight.

2. Hold up a ball of string that is pre-cut to measure 15 feet in length. Ask for two volunteers to hold each end of the string. As the class looks at the length of the outstretched string, share this fact and question:

An average newborn gray whale is about 15 feet long, the length of this string. Based on this information, how would you revise your predictions about the length of an adult gray whale?

Encourage students to share reasons for their predictions.

3. Introduce the title and cover page of the slideshow. As students examine the diagram and photo on the cover page, ask questions to build anticipation:

  • How many people could stand shoulder-to-shoulder to equal the length of a gray whale?
  • In what indoor spaces here at school could we display a life-size model or drawing of a gray whale?
  • How big is the head of a gray whale?
  • How long is the tail from tip to tip? Let's read to find out!









How big is a gray whale? Slideshow, photo gallery and teaching suggestions

Title and cover page

Viewing the Slideshow
Read through each page of the slideshow as a class, encouraging students to take notes as measurement facts are revealed. Let students know that there will be time to reread the text so that they do not try to capture every fact during this first reading.  
Revisit for Understanding: After Reading the Slideshow

1. Place students in small groups. Distribute a copy of the text-only version of the slideshow. Have them reread the information and highlight the measurement facts revealed on each page. Challenge each group to use the facts and photos to create scale drawings for different parts of a gray whale on grid paper.

2. Gather the class in a large area, such as a long hallway, gymnasium, or cafeteria. Have students stretch out a precut piece of string or twine measuring 45 long. Tape the twine to the floor or wall. Provide large sheets of recycled paper and drawing materials. Challenge the class to work in teams to create a life-size drawing of a gray whale using facts they learned in the slideshow.

3. Provide an opportunity for independent study by challenging students to research the size of other whales. Have them create visual displays that showcase how gray whales compare to the whales they researched.

Wrap Up
Invite students to use images from the photo gallery to write their own booklets or slideshows. Challenge them to think about how they can use the images to help people understand the length and weight of gray whales. Get them started by brainstorming ways to include measurement facts and provide examples of familiar items that weigh or measure the same as a gray whale's head, tail, eye, jaw, and/or newborn calf.