Beacon Lesson Plan Library

A Whale of a Tale

Kelly Allen


Students will research and gather facts about whales and use this information to create a narrative (story) with interesting and realistic elaborations.


The student uses a variety of reference materials to gather information, including multiple representations of information for a research project (for example, maps, charts, photos).

The student uses a variety of strategies to prepare for writing (for example, brainstorming, making lists, mapping ideas, grouping related ideas, keeping a notebook of ideas, observing surroundings, answering questions posed by others).

The student uses supporting ideas, details, and facts from a variety of sources to develop and elaborate the topic.

The student uses creative writing strategies appropriate to the format (for example, using appropriate voice; using descriptive language to clarify ideas and create vivid images; using elements of style, such as appropriate tone).

The student chooses specific detail and precise word choice to support the story line.


Narrative Writing rubric (see attachment)
Reference books/non-fiction books about whales


1. Make a list of categories on tablet paper for the students to copy before they begin their research. (These are listed above in step 3.)
2. Make copies of Evaluation rubric/checklist, one for each student.
(see attachment)
3. Obtain reference books/non-fiction books about whales.
4. Check out any other books that may assist the students in their research. You'll also need a copy of THE VERY HUNGRY CATAPILLAR by Eric Carle.
5. Make a list of possible story plots on a chart tablet. (see step # 7)


1. Begin the lesson by reading -A VERY HUNGRY CATAPILLAR by Eric Carle. (Other books may be used. The point of reading a simple fiction story to the students is to exemplify that authors use true facts even when writing make believe or narrative stories.) Ask students to verify the type of reading passage. (Fiction or non-fiction/ expository or narrative) Point out to the students that even when authors write fiction stories, they many times gather facts which makes their stories more believable. These factual details can also add elaborations (or detailed descriptions) to the story to entertain the reader. Re-read the story once more and have students point out some of the facts that Eric Carle used in his story.

2. Inform the students that they are going to create a tale or story about a whale. Before they begin writing the story, they will need to choose a specific type of whale to research. This will give them a -bank of facts- in which to use in their story.

3. On tablet paper, prepare a chart or a list of categories that the students can use in their search for information. These can include size, shape, color, habitat( where they live), type of food they eat and how they eat, special physical features, and unusual habits or behaviors. The students will need to copy these categories and record their information in the appropriate space. (This will be their fact sheets.) On the board, list a few types of whales that they may choose from with a brief description of each to arouse their interest.

*Gray whale-unusual physical appearance
*Blue whale-largest and fastest swimming whale
*Sperm whale- largest toothed whale; unusual head
*Narwhal- found in the Arctic; male has a tusk
*Humpback whale-humplike roll of fat on its back
*Finback whale-slender body; prominent fin
*Bottlenose whale-snout that looks like a bottle
*Right whale- huge head with bumps; short, broad flippers

4. Write the meanings of the following vocabulary words on the board and have the students copy these on the back of their fact sheets.
2 Main Types of Whales:
*Toothed-whales that have teeth
*Baleen- whales that have no teeth; They have horny plates in their mouths (that strain out their food from water) called baleen plates.

Other whale related words:
*rorguals-grooves that can appear on the throats, chests, and fins
*snout- noselike feature
*barnacles and crustaceans- small ocean animals that bed on the surface of a whale's body

5. Inform the students of the information sources that will be available to them such as reference books (encyclopedias), non-fiction books, periodicals such as -Zoobooks-, and Internet resources. You may need to divide the students into groups according to the number of resources that you have gathered. You may also schedule a trip to the library to enhance research skills. Provide the students adequate time to gather as many facts as possible. Tell them that they may not use all of the facts they gather, but the more they have, the more they have to choose from.

6. After students have gathered their facts, have them share some of the most interesting facts with the class.

7. Before beginning the writing process, make sure the students plan their story (pre-writing). For example, I have my students write down their setting, characters, 5-8 main events, a problem/solution that occurs within the story, one sentence describing the ending, and one sentence that summarizes or describes the plot of the story. This outline can be written on a chart tablet for the students to copy and follow, or you may use your own pre-writing strategy. It is always a good idea to check off the students' planning sheets before you allow them to write. This encourages them to think first, write last! They will not include their facts in the planning stage of their writing. These will be added as they are writing. (elaborations) You may want to brainstorm with your students various plots they can use in writing their narrative. This may help them to get on the right track. They tend to want to use the gathered facts to write a -report- on whales rather than a story. Some interesting plots that my students have used in the past are:
* -The whale who didn't fit in because of its unusal appearance-
* -The adventrures of a baby whale who got lost from its pod-
* -The speedy whale who always wanted to race, and when he won, he bragged and ended up with no friends.......until he changed......-
* -The adventures of the whale patrol...One whale always patrolled the ocean looking for a chance to help out until one day he was captured by humans and he needed to be rescued....-
There are endless possibilities here.

8. Finally, give students a copy of the rubric so they will know how they are being graded before they write.

9. Students will then write and turn in their stories. The teacher may want to have the students revise and edit before turning in a final draft. This means that the teacher will need to conference with each student after the rough draft. If the students are very familiar with narrative writing, then this step may not be necessary.


Students will be assessed by evaluating their writing samples using the attached rubric/checklist , as well as by observing the completion of their research fact sheets.


Students can use the same information gathered from their research to write an expository essay explaining why whales are such interesting animals. They can also participate in evaluating each other's stories by filling out a rubric with a partner. This will cause them to reflect on their own writing as well as someone else's writing.

Attached Files

Evaluation Writing Rubric     File Extension: pdf

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