Whales and Ocean Life

Cooperative Learning
Language Arts
Third Grade


By Kathy George
Phyliss Huffman
Amy Noel

Objective: Students will learn facts about various species of whales (humpback, gray, killer, etc.)

Objective Students will work in cooperative groups to practice sharing, listening and respecting each other.

Day One

1. Introduce theme by reading aloud the Big Book "As Big As a Whale" by Melvin Berger
(or any factual whale book).

2. Whole group

Brainstorm facts learned from the read aloud.

List the facts on a chart, or paper or overhead.

Day Two

1. Brief review

In small groups of 4-5, students will list at least 4 facts they recall from the read aloud.

2. Ask one volunteer from each group to come forward to pick a name from a "whale bag" - this becomes the team's group name as well as their research topic example - humpback, gray, etc.

3. Teacher supplies to each group a whale fact sheet and several informational books.

*each member must research one of these facts to contribute to group project (cooperative structure).


1. Explain group project. Each team will create an underwater ocean environment featuring their whale, including other fish, shells, seaweed, etc.
Cover front with blue saran wrap.
Attach 5 fact cards to diorama with yarn.

Materials Needed:

shoe box
3 x 5 cards
construction paper
blue saran wrap

2. Students (in groups) complete research on fact sheet. Each group member will copy his/her fact neatly on a 3 x 5 card.

3. Groups begin diorama when research and fact cards are complete.

Day IV

1. Continue and complete dioramas

1. Each group will share their underwater ocean environment (with each member reading their individual fact card).

Allow time for questions and comments.


Children of all ages love the ocean! This is an easy unit to teach because of the students curiosity and natural interest in the sea.
As a springboard for this unit, we utilize the series of stories from "A Watery World" in our Basal Reading Book, "Castles of Sand" by Silver Burdett and Ginn (1991).

We have included basic ocean activities and one detailed lesson plan on whales. The activities include reading, writing, science, math, art and cooperative learning.

Getting Started

Have a corner of your classroom and or bulletin board decorated with ocean murals, posters, children's books, shells, treasure chests etc. Provide a display area for students to share their projects.

Literature Selections

Nature Hide and Seek Oceans
John Norris Wood

A True Whale Story
John Hemmelman

Baby Whales Drink Milk
Barbara Juster Esbensen

The Magic School Bus

On the Ocean Floor
Joanna Cole

Finding the Titanic
Robert Bollard

Leo Lionni

Questions and Answers About
Seashore Animals
Michael Chinery

Under the Sea from A to Z
Anne Doubilet

The Ocean Alphabet Book
Jerry Pallota

Is This a House for Hermit Crab?
Megan McDonald

An Octopus Is Amazing
Patricia Lauber

Ken Robbins

Jane Yobin

As Big as a Whale (Big Book)
Melvin Berger

What's Inside? Sea Creatures
Dorling Kindersley

Coral Reef
Barbara Taylor

Mysteries and Marvels of Ocean
Rich Morris

The Desert Beneath The Sea
Ann McGovern

Dolphin Adventure, A True Story
Wayne Grover

Animals on the Move
Jeff Bevington

Whales and Dolphins
Anton Ericson

Ronald M. Fisher

Tricks Animals Play
Jan Nagel Clarkson

Animals that Live in the Sea
Joan Ann Straker

Life in the Oceans
Lucy Baker

Language Arts

ABC Research (Class Book or Blocks)

Read aloud to class," Under the Sea from A to Z", by Anne Doubilet and, "The Ocean Alphabet Book" by Jerry Pallota. Each student is assigned or selects a letter of the alphabet. They then choose an ocean animal or plant that begins with this letter. After researching the chosen animal or plant, the student then illustrates it showing its natural habitat and list two to four facts. This information can be bound into a class ABC ocean book or placed onto individual block patterns.

Sequencing Facts

Students read "The Wonderful Underwater Machine," by Josephine Edgar from our Basal Reader, "Castles of Sand." In the selection, J.J., and underwater robot, discovers the Titanic. A natural follow up is to read "Finding the Titanic" by Robert Ballard. Activities we have used after these readings include;

1. Tri-folding newsprint (12 x 18).

Allow students to select 3 story events to write about and to illustrate.

2. Sequence strips

Students draw and write about 3 - 5 scenes and/or facts from the story.

3. The Time Line

Students sequence story facts in a time line arrangement.

Submarine Fun

Create a submarine in the classroom using plastic drop cloths taped together in an oval shape. Inflate the submarine by turning on a fan and blowing into the opening. Kids can crawl inside to enjoy reading books.

This is a great time to read Joanna Coles' "Magic School Bus, On the Ocean Floor" and/or any book that tells about animals or ocean life as viewed from the portholes of a submarine.

Follow with creative writing about adventures in the ocean. Perhaps students might discover a new marine animal. How would it look and behave? What would it be named?

Ocean Opposites

If you are studying antonyms, brainstorm lists of words that pertain to the ocean. Then think of antonyms for these words.

Example: Smooth/Rough


Assign each student a pair of antonyms. They will write the words, illustrate, and use in a complete sentence that pertains to the sea. Bind into a class book.

Research/ Classify

Students each select one sea shell to research and classify. Information might include size, color, where found, other names, etc. and an illustration. Use large file cards. Display shell with card as in a museum.

Ocean Life Cards/ Sentence and Paragraph Writing

Review paragraph writing including sentence structure, capitalization, and punctuation. Use Frank Schaffer's "Ocean Life Cards (FS-2366)" which list features food, and facts about individual ocean animals. Each child selects his own ocean life card and writes complete sentences from the information on that card. These sentences are then written into an organized paragraph. Illustrate and recopy the paragraph for final copy. May be bound into informational class book.


Fishy Story Problems

After working on story problems involving addition and subtraction, have students create their own individual story problem using the ocean them. Students will accurately illustrate their problem too. Finished pages are bound into a class book. they could also be written on a class work sheet for everyone to solve.


- Mary found 16 brown shells on the beach. Later on, she found 9 gray shells. How many more brown shells were found than gray ones? (16 - 9 = 7)

- Twelve parrot fish swam into the coral reef. Six puffer fish swam into the reef also. How many fish swam into the coral reef altogether? (12 + 6 = 18)

bill see picture on page 5


Divide students into groups of 3 or 4. Give each group a tub of shells (2 - 3 dozen). Each group then decides how to classify and sort their shells.


Size, texture, color, weight, etc.

Allow time for each group to share and explain their classification. Repeat the activity, encouraging groups to discover different ways to classify their tub of shells.



Put a big glob of solid shortening into a ziploc bag. Insert the same size bag into the shortening and smooth out the shortening to approximately 1/2" thickness. Now you are ready to begin the experiment. Each student takes a turn putting his or her hands into the shortening baggie and a plain baggie. Next, both baggied hands are plunged into a chest of ice. This fun demonstration illustrates the fact that blubber gives whales dolphins, etc., protection and preserves body heat.

Boat Building/ Creative.

This activity can be completed at school in cooperative groups or assigned as an at home family project. Begin by reading aloud "Boats" by Ken Robbins. Next Brainstorm the various types and uses of boats. Using milk cartons, tubes, smell boxes etc., students will then create their own boat. Display completed projects in the classroom.

As a follow up activity have students write an adventure in which they travel in their ship to real or imaginary places.


Read aloud "Swimming" by Leo Lionni. Share the pictures and discuss the message about cooperation. Have the class work together to make an underwater mural on large butcher paper. this is a great way to demonstrate ocean facts learned about plants and animals. Blue tempera Paint makes a great ocean. Students can then work in pairs or small groups to draw and or cut out sea creatures, seaweed, shells etc., to place on the mural.

An Alternative activity is to have each student write a sentence or two telling how he or she plans to cooperate with classmates for a smooth school year. This can be written on a large fish pattern and then placed on large blue paper depicting the ocean. Add some seaweed, shells, etc., for a quick, colorful ocean project.

Special Events Scuba Diver

Invite a scuba diver to class to share equipment, clothing, safety, issues and adventures with students. Allow time for questions and answers.

This is a great time to review letter writing and follow up with thank you notes.

Beach Party

Have students wear shorts and sunglasses and bring a beach towel for a final fling of fun. This is a great time to share favorite projects, brainstorm facts learned and or show an ocean film. Students enjoy silent reading on their beach towel. Fish pretzels, cookies, lemonade salt water taffy etc., make good treats.