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Gary Paulsen

Theme: Learning from the Past
Grades: Grades 6-7

Dogsong is a rite-of-passage adventure told in three parts: "The Trance," "The Dreamrun," and "Dogsong." In "The Trance," a 14-year-old Eskimo youth prepares to escape the modern-day world and to embrace the old ways. Russel is aided in his quest by Oogruk, an old shaman of the village, who gives him a sled, dogs, and spiritual and practical guidance. In "The Dreamrun," Russel struggles to survive in the harsh Arctic region. His hunting experiences come to overlap with his "dreams" of a hunter from the Ice Age. The last part, "Dogsong," is a seven-stanza Eskimo poem in which Russel describes his trek.

  1. Linking to Today: Group Discussion.
    Lead a discussion in which students examine the increasing level of responsibility expected from them as they approach adulthood. Have students record their responses in their notebooks in the form of a Then-Now list of expectations. As students read Dogsong, encourage them to make a Then-Now list of expectations that show Russel's passage into adulthood.
  1. Tapping Prior Knowledge: Quickwrite.
    Invite each student to write quickly about the most difficult thing he or she has ever attempted. Encourage students to consider what happened, why and how it was difficult, whether they succeeded or failed, and how the experience has affected their views of themselves. As they read the novel, have them compare their responses with Russel's.
  1. Words of Wisdom.
    "You don't get songs," explains Oogruk. "You are a song." What other thought-provoking sayings does Dogsong offer? Have students work in groups to copy memorable quotations from the readings and create an illustration for each quotation. They might mount the illustrations and quotations as a bulletin board display or bind them into an anthology.

  1. Let it Shine.
    It's just a small stone bowl, but the ancient Eskimo lamp has many levels of importance for Russel. Invite students to use magazine clippings, "found objects," and their own artwork to create collages expressing the significance of the lamp.
  1. The Inuit Culture.
    Ask students: what does Dogsong tell you about the effects of the modern-day world on Inuit culture? Have them research Inuit culture, its past and present, and write a report on it.

  2. Endangered Animals.
    Russel is astonished to see a polar bear, knowing that they are near extinction. Have students research polar bears and other endangered Arctic animals, and explore what is being done to protect them. What have we learned from the past that will help ensure these animals do not become extinct?