Beacon Lesson Plan Library

The Musher's Trail

Sissy Gandy
Santa Rosa District Schools


Students learn about and follow the Iditarod race that begins in March. They research data and select a musher to trail in the race. Then they write daily in a journal about events that happen on the trail, including pictures from the Website.


The student uses conventions of punctuation (including but not limited to periods, question marks, exclamation points; commas in dates, series of words, and in greetings and closings in letters).

The student capitalizes initial words of sentences, the pronoun `I,` and proper nouns.

The student uses strategies to `finish` a piece of writing (for example, incorporating illustrations, photos, charts, and graphs; preparing a final copy).

The student writes informally (for example, journal entries, reading response, poetry).


-Writing journals for each student with at least 10 pages
-Computer with internet access
-Liquid Glue or glue sticks
-Seibert, Particia. [Mush: Across Alaska in the World's Longes Sled-Dog Race] The Millbrook Press: Connecticut, 1992, ISBN: 1-56294-053-8 (LIB.) ISBN 1-56294-705-2 9 (PBK.)
-Map of Alaska
-Chart or poster for vocabulary words
-Copy of Iditarod word search for each student (Make 1 copy of


1. Prepare journals for each student.
2. Review Websites for history of Iditarod and trail maps.
3. Get book about the Iditarod listed under materials. (This book describes the annual Iditarod dog sled race in Alaska and the sled dogs who compete in it.) If you can't locate this book, you may use the following book: [The Bravest Dog Ever: The True Story of Balto] by Natalie Standiford, Random House, Inc., New York, 1989, ISBN: 0-394-89695-5.
4. Get copy of word search for each student. (See materials.)
5. Write Websites on cardstock and place by the computers for students to use or place them in Bookmarks section for easy access.


1. Read the book, [Mush Across Alaska in the World's Longest Sled-Dog Race] aloud to students. (If unavailable, read the story of Balto.)
Ask students to listen for new words in the story that they have not heard before.

2. Discuss the story and write new words that students come up with on a vocabulary chart. With students' help, define what the words mean.
Words will include Iditarod, Alaska, Anchorage, Nome, mushers, harness, gee, haw, mush, booties and, possibly, diptheria. This chart will aid in student's writing, so any word can be added.

3. Share other background information that you have learned from previewing the Websites listed below. For instance, Doug Swingly won the race in 1995, 1999, and 2000. He is the reigning champ! Use a map and talk about checkpoints and rules of the race.

4. Move students over to the computer and show them how to login on the Internet. Go to site and show students where to locate information about mushers.

5. Pair students with a partner. Have students return to their seats. Pass out a journal and a copy of the word search to each student. The students complete the word search to review vocabulary while waiting to use the computers, if necessary.

6. Instruct partners to log on the computers when it is their turn and pick a musher out of the top 20 that they would like to follow in the race. Students should read and print 2 copies of the musher's biography and picture that they have chosen to follow. Each student glues one of the pictures on the first page of his/her journal. They should write a few sentences introducing and telling about the musher under the picture. Caution them to use correct punctuation and capitalization. Review the rules as needed.

7. Have students write their names on the front covers and turn their journals in when finished.

8. At the top of the vocabulary chart, the teacher writes the URL of the Website. (

9. Give the students the following assignment. Say, Students get with your partners and log in everyday at this site for the next two weeks to find out what is happening and how your musher is doing in the race. You are to get your Iditarod journal, find the next page, write the date at the top, and write a few sentences telling about the musher's progress in the race. You may use the vocabulary chart to help with spelling. If pictures are available of the musher you selected to follow, you can print two copies (one for each partner) to glue in your book. Be sure to watch your punctuation and capitalization. Does everyone understand what to do? Answer questions students may have. Let several students share their journal writing each day. ( Optional: If time does not permit for students to go online each day, the teacher can print news of the race and available pictures and post in the class near the map or vocabulary chart. The students would go there to get the information. The teacher can also print the needed pictures if available. Students can also go online at home to find out about their musher at this site if you will post it in a newsletter going home.) Each day, collect 4 or 5 journals to formatively assess for punctuation, capitalization, complete sentences, etc. Note problems and discuss them generically the next day in class. (ie, I noticed some of you are forgetting to put periods at the end of your sentences. Please check your journals to make sure you have been doing this.)

10. When the race is over, students will have a written account with pictures of the 2001 Iditarod race. Partners should exchange journals. Each partner reads the journal, checks for mistakes, and offers suggestions to make the journal better.

11. The student corrects the journal and turns it in to the teacher.


Students keep a daily journal of informal writing giving accounts of a selected musher in the Iditarod race. They go online with a partner to locate, select, and follow a musher throughout the race. They publish the journal by exchanging, reading, and checking each other's journal.

Observe students working together to complete their computer work and journal. Students produce a completed journal with correct punctuation, capitalization, and pictures to successfully complete this project.


My class has pen pals in Frenchtown, Montana, and their wonderful teacher sparked my interest in the Iditarod race. My class in Florida loves learning about the mushers, dogs, equipment, and following the race on the internet. We have had so much fun and I hope you will too!

Weekly Reader magazine published an issue on the Iditarod last January that was great! There was a teacher on special assignment that follows the trail and writes about the race. They provided a map of the race with checkpoints. You can also find a map at the Websites listed.

I would have my students log on and get their information throughout the day instead of the designated 30 minutes, so students could use this time to write in their journals. Some of the partners may select to trail the same musher which would be a time saver, especially for lower ability students. One of the options listed under #9 might fit your situation better and save time in class. Also, students with Internet access at home may be able to help by going on in the afternoon and bringing information to the class each day.

This lesson can be extended into math by having students look at mushers' current standings and predict who they think will win based on the data. They should keep a daily record of data by following the race to see who wins which meets. Students should look at data to determine who is most likely to win the next Iditarod race. Students could also chart the temperature on the trail by using pictures of thermometers (that record below 0, of course!).

Web Links

Scroll down to choose wordfind or crossword puzzle makers for students to use with the vocabulary terms.
Teacher Tools

This site contains information about the race and the racers.
Iditarod Dog Sled Race

This site contains information about the race and the racers.
Iditarod 2003

This site contains information about the race and the racers.
Official Site of the Iditarod Race

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