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Island of the Blue Dolphins

Scott O'Dell

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 odds.

  1. 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.
  1. 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.
  1. Tool Time.
    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.

  1. 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.
  1. 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.

  2. 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 to it.