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Teaching Guide

Teaching Island of the Blue Dolphins

We speak student—and dolphin.

GO TO STUDENT LEARNING GUIDE

Everyone loves dolphins—it's just a fact of life. So a whole island full of 'em? That's something we can get behind.

In this guide you will find

  • an activity that works even if students live in a cave (…because it's about caves).
  • a lesson examining acts of bravery in the novel.
  • discussion questions about language, friendship, and dolphins, dolphins, dolphins.

We can't speak dolphin, but we speak student…which, in this case, is even better.

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  • 13-18 Common Core-aligned activities to complete in class with your students, including detailed instructions for you and your students. 
  • Discussion and essay questions for all levels of students.
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Instructions for You

Objective: You'd have to be crazy to jump off a ship in the middle of the ocean—unless you're Karana. When her brother falls off the ship, she jumps in and swims with him back to the island. Even though everyone and everything she knows is on that ship, she won't leave her brother behind, and this moment tells us a lot about Karana's character. This moment also drastically changes the course of Karana's life, so it's a scene worth further analysis.

In this lesson, students will examine one of the most pivotal points in the story and consider how this event influences the plot of the novel. They'll also analyze Karana's character and use this information to make inferences about what might have happened had Karana stayed on the ship.

Materials Needed:

  • Copies of Island of the Blue Dolphins

Step 1: So, we're stuck on a desert island with Karana, and she seems like a pretty cool desert island companion. Let's find out what your kiddos have picked up about her. Ask students to brainstorm words that describe Karana's character. They should also be able to justify their choices with an example from the text that shows why that word is a good description of her.

Step 2: Let's turn up the analysis a bit: Challenge students to look at the list of words you've come up with and write a sentence describing Karana, but without using any of these words. This will force students to shift from identifying adjectives to identifying actions that Karana takes—in other words, evidence to support their character analysis. Check out our examples:

  • Karana is a girl who sticks to her principles and cares about her family and community with all her heart. 
  • Karana thinks carefully and thoroughly before making important decisions.

Have a few student share their sentences, then ask the class:

  • Do you agree? Why?
  • What events in the story support the idea in this sentence?

Step 3: When Karana makes the decision to jump off the boat for her brother, the direction of the story takes its most important turn. Maybe Karana would have ended up in California, drinking margaritas on the beach—okay, that's probably a stretch. But what would have happened if Karana hadn't jumped off the boat? Let's ask your students.

Put the students in partners and instruct them to use what they know about Karana's character to predict how her story would have gone if she had stayed on the boat. Students should present their ideas via one of the following options:

  • Option 1: Prepare a short skit between Karana and her sister which details their conversation about their brother now being alone on the island. Do they agree about what to do? Does Karana regret staying on board? What do we know about her sister that might give us clues about her opinion? (Hint: Go back to the very beginning of the story.) What will happen to these two sisters without their brother?
  • Option 2: Prepare a diary entry where Karana expresses her feelings about leaving her brother behind. How does this impact the kind of person she becomes or her choices in the future?
  • Option 3: Imagine that Karana actually did jump ship but couldn't get to her brother, and the crew brought her back on board. Prepare a skit between Karana and the captain of the ship having a conversation after the "excitement."

Allow two to three periods for students to plan their presentations and write or type them out. Students should also be able to cite at least three pieces of text evidence to support the choices they made in their projects.

Step 4: Let's have an alternate ending festival. Does Karana force the captain to go back? Does she ever forgive herself for leaving her brother? We're dying to know. Have each group share or present their work to the class, and then bring it all back to the text with the following questions:

  • Which adjectives helped you to create an imaginary scene for Karana? What aspects of her character helped you decide what she would do?
  • Why is it important that the author establishes the type of person the main character is? How does this help us understand the rest of Karana's story?
  • If Karana doesn't jump in after her brother, how does that change our understanding of who she is as a person? 
  • Which character trait most contributes to Karana's choice to jump in? Based on what you know about Karana, is a version of the story where she doesn't go after him believable? Why or why not?
  • Are there other moments in the story where things could have ended differently had Karana made another choice? Which moments? Why do you think Karana made the choices she did rather than choosing another path at these key moments?
  • What would you have done on the ship if you had been in Karana's shoes? Do you think it's possible to know what you would do?

Instructions for Your Students

Okay, be honest. When Karana jumps off the ship and swims to get her brother, were you asking yourself how on earth she could have done such a thing? You'd have to be crazy to jump off a ship in the middle of the ocean, right? But Karana refuses to leave her brother behind, and this moment tells us a lot about her character. This moment also drastically changes the course of Karana's life, so it's a scene worth further analysis.

In this lesson, you will examine one of the most pivotal points in the story and consider how this event influences the plot of the novel. You'll also analyze Karana's character and use this information to make inferences about what might have happened had Karana stayed on the ship.

Step 1: So, we're stuck on a desert island with Karana, and she seems like a pretty cool desert island companion. Let's find out what you have picked up about her. Brainstorm a list of words that describe Karana's character. Hmm... to what part of speech will all of these words probably belong? (Psst! The answer is "adjectives.") You should also be able to justify your choices with an example from the text that shows why that word is a good description of her.

Step 2: Ready for a challenge? Look at the list of words you've come up with and write a sentence describing Karana, but without using any of these words. Sound hard? Here's a clue: We've identified adjectives so far, so a sentence that doesn't use these adjectives will have to tell us about the kind of actions (verbs, people!) Karana takes. In other words, writing these sentences is like giving evidence to prove that the adjectives on this list are accurate. Check out our examples:

  • Karana is a girl who sticks to her principles and cares about her family and community with all her heart.
  • Karana thinks carefully and thoroughly before making important decisions.

Okay, let's hear what you came up with. Oh, and for each person's sentence, think about these questions:

  • Do you agree? Why?
  • What events in the story support the idea in this sentence?

Step 3: When Karana makes the decision to jump off the boat for her brother, the direction of the story takes its most important turn. Maybe Karana would have ended up in California, eating ice cream on the beach—okay, that's probably a stretch. But what would have happened if Karana hadn't jumped off the boat?

In pairs, you'll use what you know about Karana's character to predict how her story would have gone if she had stayed on the boat. Students should present their ideas via one of the following options:

  • Option 1: Prepare a short skit between Karana and her sister which details their conversation about their brother now being alone on the island. Do they agree about what to do? Does Karana regret staying on board? What do we know about her sister that might give us clues about her opinion? (Hint: Go back to the very beginning of the story.) What will happen to these two sisters without their brother?
  • Option 2: Prepare a diary entry where Karana expresses her feelings about leaving her brother behind. How does this impact the kind of person she becomes or her choices in the future?
  • Option 3: Imagine that Karana actually did jump ship but couldn't get to her brother, and the crew brought her back on board. Prepare a skit between Karana and the captain of the ship having a conversation after the "excitement."

You'll have two to three periods to plan presentations and write or type them out. You should also be able to cite at least three pieces of text evidence to support the choices you made in your projects.

Step 4: Let's have an alternate ending festival. Does Karana force the captain to go back? Does she ever forgive herself for leaving her brother? We're dying to know, so we now present Island of The Blue Dolphins Mini Theater Company. Each group will perform their work for the class, and then we'll wrap things up with a few final questions:

  • Which adjectives helped you to create an imaginary scene for Karana? What aspects of her character helped you decide what she would do?
  • Why is it important that the author establishes the type of person the main character is? How does this help us understand the rest of Karana's story?
  • If Karana doesn't jump in after her brother, how does that change our understanding of who she is as a person? 
  • Which character trait most contributes to Karana's choice to jump in? Based on what you know about Karana, is a version of the story where she doesn't go after him believable? Why or why not?
  • Are there other moments in the story where things could have ended differently had Karana made another choice? Which moments? Why do you think Karana made the choices she did rather than choosing another path at these key moments?
  • What would you have done on the ship if you had been in Karana's shoes? Do you think it's possible to know what you would do?

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WANT MORE HELP TEACHING ISLAND OF THE BLUE DOLPHINS?

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Intro    Summary    Themes    Quotes    Characters    Analysis    Questions    Quizzes    Flashcards    Best of the Web    Write Essay    
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