Teaching Suggestions
Gray Whales: The Monumental Migration
(Back to Slideshow Overview)


Gray whales make one of the longest migrations of any mammal on earth. Their journey from the warm birthing lagoons of Mexico to the frigid feeding grounds in the Arctic is more than 5,000 miles! Every spring, Journey North follows the migration of these gentle giants and their new babies up the Pacific Coast.

A gray whale's life is always in motion. The changing seasons drive the whales' endless migration. Use this introductory slideshow to help students discover why this marine mammal's migration is as monumental as the gray whales themselves.

Essential Question:
What can gray whales teach us about survival?
Set the Stage for Learning
1. Help students imagine what it would be like to go on a whale watching tour in Mexico's gray whale nurseries by showing the cover photo of the slideshow. As the class looks at the photo, ask: What would it be like to look over the side of a small motorboat and see a curious, 2,000 pound baby gray whale? Take a few moments for students to share their responses to the photo and question. Gray whale nursery

2. Read aloud the title of the slideshow and ask students to predict why the author uses the word monumental to describe the migration of a gray whale. Share synonyms to build understanding of the word monumental (large, grand, massive, imposing, outstanding in significance, like a monument).

After predictions are shared, write the following measurement-related words on the chalkboard:

  • inches, feet, miles
  • pounds, tons
  • hours, days, weeks, months, seasons, years
  • tiny, big
  • warm, icy
  • young, old

Ask questions to help students make connections:

  • How do you think these measurement words and concepts relate to gray whales?
  • Which words do you think will be used to describe the size of baby whales? adult whales?
  • Which words will be used to describe the migration?
  • Which words describe length? weight? distance? temperature?

Use these questions to help students explore how contrasting words like tiny and big can be used to convey significant factors of the gray whale migration.

Viewing the Slideshow
As a class, view the slideshow images and read aloud the text. Have students collect 1-3 words from each page. Encourage them to think about which words on the page will help them remember main ideas and important facts. Let them know that there will be a time to share and use the words they collect after the class reads through the slideshow together.
Revisit for Understanding

1. Pair students. Provide a copy of the text-only version of the slideshow. Have them reread the text and highlight each of the preview words listed at the beginning of the lesson. Next, have them sort the words into measurement categories: time, length, distance, temperature, and weight. Gather the class to discover and discuss which words are used to describe the whales and which ones are used to describe the migration. Challenge students to summarize how words with contrasting meanings (warm/icy, tiny/big, young/old) are used to reveal important concepts about gray whale migration.

2. Help students synthesize what they learned about gray whales and migration by modeling how to write a list poem with key words and phrases. Invite students to use the words they collected from the slideshow to write their own gray whale poems. Encourage creativity by letting students know that they can add their own words and ideas to ones from the text. Encourage them to think about how to make poems that capture the wonder of whales and the monumental factors of the migration. Have students illustrate and display their gray whale poems.

Sample 'list' poem:

Gray Whales on the Move

Warm lagoon
Nature's nursery
Breeding time

Icy, arctic waters
Tons of tiny krill
Feeding time

Changing seasons
Watch closely
Gray Whales are on the move.

Wrap Up
Read aloud the essential question posed at the beginning of the lesson. Invite students to share their initial responses. Post the essential question on a classroom chart and revisit throughout the migration season.