ARTSEDGE Lessons for Elementary School

The Whale Trail

How and where do gray whales migrate and what impediments lie in their way?


Key Staff

Classroom teacher with opportunities for collaboration with librarians and/or technology coordinators or computer teachers

Key Skills

Making Art: Performance Skills and Techniques
Creative Thinking: Communication and Collaboration
Global Connections: Connecting with Other Arts


In this lesson students will explore the world of gray whales. Gray whales make one of the longest of all mammalian migrations, averaging 10,000-14,000 miles round trip as they travel from the Northern Pacific Ocean to Baja, Mexico. Students will construct a K-W-L chart, work in small collaborative groups, conduct research, and create a mock newscast on the migration of gray whales.

Learning Objectives

Students will:

  • Conduct Internet research on gray whales and their migration patterns
  • Work collaboratively to collect, analyze and evaluate information from a variety of resources
  • Write a mock newscast script segment about gray whales
  • Create a visual representation of information about gray whales
  • Perform a mock newscast about gray whales

Teaching Approach

Arts Inclusion

Teaching Methods

  • Brainstorming
  • Cooperative Learning
  • Multimedia Instruction
  • Research

Assessment Type

Performance Assessment


What You'll Need

Required Technology
  • 1 Computer per Classroom
  • Projector
  • 1 Computer per Learner
  • Video Camera
Lesson Setup

Teacher Background

The teacher should have a good understanding of gray whales and their migration patterns.

Prior Student Knowledge

Students should be familiar with:

  • Newscasts
  • The concept of migration

Physical Space

  • Classroom
  • Computer Lab
  • Media Center or Library


  • Large Group Instruction
  • Small Group Instruction


Test internet connection

Set up LCD projector if using one

Copy handouts for students

Accessibility Notes

Students with physical disabilities may need modified movements.


Resources in Reach

Here are the resources you'll need for each activity, in order of instruction.

Build Knowledge


1. Provide each student with a copy of the K-W-L Chart. Tell the students that a K-W-L Chart is a way to help them brainstorm, organize information, and summarize new things they learn. Explain each segment of the K-W-L chart to the students. Tell them:

  • The “K” portion of the chart is the place where they write down information that they already know about a topic.
  • The “W” portion of the chart is used to record things that they want to know or are interested in learning more about.
  • The “L” portion of the chart is where they will record the new things they learn.

2. Ask the class the question, "what do you know about gray whales?" and have students write down any information they know about gray whales in the “K” portion of the K-W-L chart. The next part of the chart is the “W” portion. Give the students three to four minutes to think about what they might want to learn about gray whales. You can encourage them to talk to another classmate to help generate ideas.

3. Ask the students to record what they would like to learn about gray whales in the “W” portion of the K-W-L Chart. Ask for volunteers to share information from their chart with the group. Tell the students that they will return to their K-W-L charts at the end of the lesson to record new things that they have learned about gray whales.

4. Tell the students that they are going to learn about gray whales by participating in an interactive adventure game about whale migration. Tell your students that gray whales make one of the longest of all mammalian migrations, averaging 10,000-14,000 miles round trip as they travel from the Northern Pacific Ocean to Baja, Mexico. The interactive depicts the migration of the gray whales as they return from Baja to the Bering Sea in the Arctic. If you have enough computers in your classroom, students can do the activity independently or with a partner. You may also use a LCD projector to project the interactive for the whole class.

You may choose to have student volunteers read some of the information about the migration aloud as you move through the different screens. The interactive depicts a series of events that might occur during the migration. These include encounters with oil tankers, getting off track, encounters with killer whales, and interactions with humans.

5. Ask the students to consider what they might want to learn more about after viewing the interactive. Have them return to the K-W-L charts to make additions to the “W” portion of the chart.

Build Knowledge

1. Tell the students that they are going to create a mock news broadcast on gray whales. Divide the students into small groups. Tell each group that it will create a two to three minute news segment for the broadcast. Provide the groups with the assignments below:

  • Group One: All About Gray Whales
  • Group Two: Why Do Whales Migrate?
  • Group Three: The Migration Path of Gray Whales
  • Group Four: What Dangers Do Migrating Whales Face?

2. Tell the students that each group will be required to gather information about its assigned topic, write a news segment script on the topic, and create a visual to use in the segment. Tell the class that they are going to use the different Internet resources to gather information about their assigned topics.

3. Tell students that they are going to visit the four Web sites below.

Using these Web sites, students will collect information relevant to their topics. Remind students that the purpose of this research is to not only learn about many aspects of gray whales, but to be able to select information that is pertinent to their specific news segments.

4. Tell the students that they are going to begin researching. Give each student a copy of the News Segment Fact Collector handout. Tell the students to use this handout to record the facts they collect as they visit each website. Review the handout with the students and clarify any questions before they begin researching. Tell the students that they will be using this handout in the next part of the lesson as they create their mock news broadcast segments.

You may choose to have students collect additional information from books, magazines and the Internet that they can use in their newscasts by either assigning homework or scheduling time to visit the school library. If you choose to do this, remind students to record additional facts on the News Segment Fact Collector handout.


1. Provide the students with a copy of the How to Create Your Newscast handout. This handout contains information that the students can use to create their group newscast segments.

2. First, tell your students that it is very important to brainstorm ideas. Explain that the purpose of the brainstorming process is to generate ideas. No one’s ideas should be excluded from the group list.

3. Second, tell the students that they need to use their News Segment Fact Collector handout as they plan their news segments. This is essential, as they will be writing a script. Emphasize the importance of organizing the information the students have collected. If you feel that your students are not able to create connected paragraphs for the script using the facts they collected, you can model the process by showing the students how to write a main idea sentence, and then writing supporting facts sentences.

4. Third, give your students time to practice presenting their news segment scripts. Emphasize the importance of articulation, fluency, speaking loudly, and making eye contact with an audience.

5. Last, tell your students that a visual is an important tool to communicate a message in a newscast. Tell the students to create compelling, colorful and informative visuals to support their newscasts. Provide each group with a large piece of poster board and markers and crayons to use to create its visual.

6. Give each group a copy of the Newscast Rubric. Review each element on the rubric so students will know how they will be assessed on this task.

7. Select a person to act as a narrator for the news segment. This person should introduce the program, introduce each segment, and close the program.

8. As a class, construct the narrator’s portion of the script. The script for the mock news broadcast will be a compilation of a narrator’s part and of each individual group’s script. The format for the whole class script might look like the following:

  1. Narrator Introduction
  2. Group One Segment
  3. Narrator
  4. Group Two Segment
  5. Narrator
  6. Group Three Segment
  7. Narrator
  8. Group Four Segment
  9. Narrator Conclusion

An example of what might be included in the script includes the following:

“Welcome to the Whale Tales News Channel. Today we are going to learn about gray whales. First, we will learn all about gray whales. Our reporter (insert student name) will fill us in.”

When that segment ends, the narrator might say, “Now we are going to learn why whales migrate.” After the conclusion of that segment, the narrator would introduce the additional reporters and topics. The narrator might conclude the program by saying, “We hope you enjoyed our broadcast and want to learn more about gray whales.”

9. Provide each student with a copy of the script for the “Whales Tales” mock news broadcast.

10. Stage a dress rehearsal of the mock news broadcast. Begin with the narrator. Make sure each group uses its visual as a backdrop to the news report. You may need to rehearse several times prior to the performance.


1. Have the class perform its mock newscast that features the work of each small group. Invite others in the school and community to view the students’ performance. If possible, you might want to videotape the performance or capture it as a podcast.

2. Have the students return to the “L” portion of their K-W-L Charts. Ask them to add new information that they learned about gray whales. Ask students to share what they have learned with their classmates.

3. Post the students’ charts as a shared classroom resource. Provide time for students to view each other’s work.


Assess your student's work using the Assessment Rubric located within the Resource Carousel.


Throughout the nation, standards of learning are being revised, published and adopted. During this time of transition, ARTSEDGE will continually add connections to the Common Core, Next Generation Science standards and other standards to our existing lessons, in addition to the previous versions of the National Standards across the subject areas.

The Arts Standards used in ARTSEDGE Lessons are the 1994 voluntary national arts standards. The Arts learning standards were revised in 2014; please visit the National Core Arts Standards (http://nationalartsstandards.org) for more. The Kennedy Center is working on developing new lessons to connect to these standards, while maintaining the existing lesson library aligned to the Common Core, other state standards, and the 1994 National Standards for Arts Education.

ArtsEdge Lessons connect to the National Standards for Arts Education, the Common Core Standards, and a range of other subject area standards.

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Daniella Garran
Original Writer

Maureen Carroll
Original Writer

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