|Island of the Blue Dolphins
Theme: Courage and Survival
Grades: Grades 6-7
Karana, a Native American girl, is accidentally left alone when her
people abandon their island home off the coast of California. After
a failed attempt to leave the island in a leaky canoe, Karana decides
to build a house and learn to hunt while waiting to be rescued. Her
isolation from humans teaches her how to co-exist peacefully with the
local wildlife, even the wild dog she considers her worst enemy. After
many years, missionaries come to the island, and Karana, yearning for
human companionship, goes with them to the mainland. A fictional reconstruction
of a true story, Island of the Blue Dolphins depicts a character
whose courage and determination help her survive against nearly impossible
- Tapping Prior Knowledge: Call It Courage.
Have students try to identify the components of courage. You
might start them off by listing "resolve" and "inner strength." Ask
students to help define these terms and to name other aspects of courage.
Then challenge them to find examples to share with the class. They
might find poems or short stories in which characters show inner strength,
newspaper articles that describe people who have shown resolve, and
so on. As students read, they can think about how Karana shows courage.
- Group Work: Survival Tactics.
Ask students to imagine themselves in this situation: "You are stranded
alone on an island that is surrounded by salt water. There are animals
on the island, but you have no weapons to hunt them or tools to fish.
You have only the clothes on your back." In small groups, have students
plan a survival strategy. What will they do for food? clothing? shelter?
fresh water? How can they work together to ensure their survival on
the island? Be sure to give students time to present their plans to
other groups. During their presentations, help groups clarify their
plans by asking probing questions, such as "How will you sharpen the
rock to make the point on your spear?" "How will you store extra water
in case you can't get back to the spring?" "How will you protect the
food you store from hungry wild animals?" Post students' plans on
a bulletin board. As they read Island of the Blue Dolphins,
they can compare their ideas to Karana's actions.
Island of the Blue Dolphins describes how Karana makes the
tools and weapons necessary for her survival. Students can make
models of these items using materials such as popsicle sticks, clay,
stones, Styrofoam, aluminum foil, grass, and so on. Be sure that
students base their work on information from the book. They can
show their models at a "trade show," describing the tools, telling
how they are made, and explaining how they are used.
- Map It Out.
Have small groups of students create maps of the Island of the Blue
Dolphins. Suggest that they use descriptions from the novel to draw
the shape of the island accurately and place all the landmarks, such
as the cave, the cliffs, the village, Karana's home, and so on. Groups
can also trace the route the Aleuts would have taken from the north
and the route that Karana would have taken back to the coast.
- Biography of a Survivor.
Have students find out more about a fictional character, like Robinson
Crusoe, or a real person who was a survivor. Have them write a brief
biography of the person, detailing the situation in which he or she
was involved and how he or she survived.
- Natural Disasters.
Have students do some research about the conditions that contribute
to earthquakes and tidal waves. Then have them research one of these
natural disasters in "real life," such as the great San Francisco
earthquake. Students then deliver a newscast about the natural disaster,
giving details about both the incident and the factors that contributed