Resource Type
Completion Time
More than a week
Elementary and Up
Download, Share, and Remix
Angie Gilmour
Chart Paper
Printouts of blank bowhead whale and labeled bowhead whale
Large bowhead whale cutout
See Resources section for additional materials
Archaeology and Anthropology
General Life Science
Life Science
Organisms and Their Environments
Environmental Studies
Polar Science
General Environmental Studies
General Polar Science


This First Grade unit on the bowhead whale has been created to support the knowledge of children living within a whaling community. The unit focuses on the basic components of understanding the bowhead in a more scientific manner. Although my students know the bowhead in a uniquely intimate way because of their environmental and subsistence circumstances, our goal here is to approach the acquisition of whale "knowledge" from a scientific learning perspective that will then support the environmental and subsistence knowledge that is vital to my students' way of life.


  • Students will gain a basic understanding of bowhead whale biology.
  • Students will be able to label a picture of a bowhead whale in English and Inupiaq and explain each body part to a partner.
  • Students will understand the "family" cycle of the bowhead, and know what and how much a whale eats.
  • Students will learn that living things have unique characteristics and will explore how organisms are similar or different.
  • Students will be able to show understanding in a variety of ways within classroom; share understanding with peers by comparing the bowhead with the right whale via long-distance learning with Florida community (this unit was created specifically with a partner classroom, but can be adapted).
  • Students will consider appropriate ways of protecting and respecting the land, air, and sea and the living things that inhabit the Arctic
  • Students will consider what skills, understandings, beliefs, and values a person needs in an arctic environment in order to enhance his or her ability to explore, discover and thrive in that environment.

Lesson Preparation

This lesson will be five days long (one week)

  • Monday: Video or field trip of fall whaling, KWL of anatomy, "K", "W" part
  • Tuesday: Anatomy of bowhead
  • Wednesday: Family "cycle" of the whale, "K", "W" part
  • Thursday: What a whale eats/ how it grows, "K", "W" part
  • Friday: Guest speakers (Leslie and whaling captain), "L" part of KWL/ Connect with students in Florida to share knowledge

Note KWL is a teaching model acronym for - "what we know", "what we want to know", and "what we learned".



  • The teacher will introduce topic of the week—bowhead whales! Read book Bowhead Whales and Whale Snow (see Resources section)
  • The students then fill out the "K" and "W" parts of KWL: Bowhead whale general topic as whole group (teacher dictates onto chart paper)
  • Students will either watch video of or take field trip to fall whaling, taking note of their observations of the bowhead whale's body.
  • The students will come back to the class and share observations as teacher writes them on chart paper.
  • Student reflections in journals.

Tuesday: Anatomy of bowhead

  • The class will review what they saw/discussed out at whaling, what they read in the bowhead books, and what they've filled in on the KWL (see attached)
  • The students will then discuss the KW part of a whale's body: what do we know
  • The students will be given an outline of a bowhead whale (or draw their own) and asked to label the body parts of the whale (pre-test)
  • The teacher will show diagram to explain the anatomy of the bowhead whale, leading students in a discussion and answering questions about each part of the wale
  • The class will label a huge whale together!
  • L part of KWL
  • Student reflections in journals.

Wednesday: Life cycle of the whale

  • The students will share out in a discussion forum their knowledge of bowhead calves (KWL).
  • The class will review the four seasons; how they correspond to our weather and whaling (and other subsistence) seasons.
  • The teacher will show slides of whales and explain when calves are born, and the idea of a pod.
  • Student reflections in journals.

Thursday: What a whale eats/ how it grows

  • The students will share out in a discussion forum their knowledge of what bowhead whales eat (KWL).
  • The teacher will bring in baleen and have students help demonstrate the process of a whale using its baleen hairs to catch krill.
  • The teacher will show pictures of a whale's mouth/ stomach.
  • The teacher will use "Hershey kiss comparison" to help students understand the amount of food a bowhead eats (25 gallons of krill is 4,500 hershey kisses 4-5 times a day).
  • Student reflections in journals.

Friday: Guest speakers (Leslie and whaling captain)

  • "L" part of KWL for each three areas
  • Post-test of student labeling whale body.
  • Student reflections in journals.
  • Share out with Florida class


This five day unit will take place in the fall. In the winter, we will be doing a unit on sea ice. The rest of the bowhead unit will be done toward the end of the year during spring whaling. Its focus will be bowhead migration patterns, why and how bowhead whales are in the Arctic (using our knowledge of sea ice), and spring whaling traditions and techniques.


  • Bowhead Whales by Kristin Petrie (or another non-fiction text on bowheads)
  • Whale Snow by Debbie Dahl
  • Video of fall whaling
  • Bowhead Printables file, attached (contains KWL, Observation checklist, bowhead anatomy diagram)


Student assessment will occur on a daily and end of unit basis. KWL learning will be used. Quick checks for understanding on daily concepts will take place through journal reflections. Comparisons of pre and post tests will be used. For bowhead anatomy, individual completion of a labeled whale will show learning.


Angie Gilmour


K-4 Content Standard C: Life Science: a. Characteristics of organisms b. Life cycles of organisms c. Organisms and environments

This program is supported by the National Science Foundation. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed by this program are those of the PIs and coordinating team, and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.