4th Grade Cetacean (Whale & Dolphin) Curriculum

This curriculum was designed in 2011-2012 by Drs. Maia McGuire and Ruth Francis-Floyd and was reviewed in 2013 by Cheryl Bonnes and NOAA's right whale SouthEast Implementation Team. Brenda Cannaliato contributed to lessons 8, 12 and 16. The intent is to have 4th grade teachers integrate these lessons into their regular curriculum. Lessons are designed to take approximately one class period each (exceptions are noted in the lesson descriptions). Lessons are listed in the suggested order; however each is a stand-alone lesson that could be taught independently of the other lessons. Florida Sunshine State Standards and Common Core Standards are provided for each of the lessons (as appropriate). NGSS correlations are forthcoming. Comments on the curriculum should be sent to Maia McGuire.

A simplified version of Lesson 3 is available (suitable for grades 1-2).

Thanks to the Center for Coastal Studies (visit their Facebook page) for permission to scan and share the book Whales: Activities based on research from the Center for Coastal Studies,activities from which are included in lessons 2, 6 and 13.

If you have used any of these lessons, we'd love to get your feedback. Please take a few minutes to fill out a short online evaluation. Thanks!

Objectives: To learn about the biology and ecology of cetaceans (whales and dolphins), especially the North Atlantic Right Whale; to learn ways that humans impact and can protect cetaceans.

Lesson outlines

Lesson 1: Starting to learn about whales

Lesson 2:  What makes a whale a whale?

Lesson 3: Researching individual whale and dolphin species

Lesson 4: How big are cetaceans?

  • Students will show the lengths of difference cetaceans using a "whale-o-meter." Math activities include creating a life-size drawing of a cetacean and estimating the weight of an orca at different ages.

Lesson 5: Scientific names--understanding where those funny words come from

  • Students will use Greek and Latin roots to interpret the scientific names of some whales. They will create a hypothetical cetacean and give it an appropriate scientific name.

Lesson 6: Whale behaviors

Lesson 7: How do whales eat?

  • Students will learn about the dfifferences between how baleen and toothed whales feed. Students will learn how sound waves are used for echolocation.
    • DOWNLOAD Cetaceans Lesson 7
    • DOWNLOAD Eating Like a Whale PowerPoint (41 MB) (Note:There are a few videos that must be accessed using a weblink because of copyright restrictions--the script in the lesson will help you identify these videos and the links are provided in the slides.) 

Lesson 8: Food chains

  • Students will learn about food chains and conduct a food chain activity.

Lesson 9: How do whales stay warm?

  • Students will investigate the roles that insulation (blubber) and body shape play in preventing heat loss in marine mammals.

Lesson 10: Summarizing what we know about cetaceans.

  • Students will learn about different types of poetry and will write poems to express what they know about whales and dolphins.
  • DOWNLOAD Cetaceans Lesson 10

Lesson 11: Focusing on North Atlantic right whales

  • Students will learn about NARW life histories by using resource materials to complete worksheets

Lesson 12: Identifying individual North Atlantic right whales

Lesson 13: North Atlantic right whale migration

Lesson 14: Why have right whales been hunted?

Lesson 15: How do right whales communicate?

  • Students will learn how baleen whales use sound to communicate and how human-created noises in the ocean may affect them
  • Students will conduct an activity to simulate whale communication and interference by human noise

Lesson 16: North Atlantic right whales and boat strikes

  • Students will learn why ships are such a threat to North Atlantic right whales and will conduct an activity to explore different ship/whale scenarios

Lesson 17: How can we protect North Atlantic right whales?

  • Students will learn about ways to minimize ship strikes and whale entanglements
  • Students will explore ways that they as individuals can help protect North Atlantic right whales.

Lesson 18: Technology and North Atlantic right whales.

  • Students will learn about the ways that technology is being used to study North Atlantic right whales

Lesson 19: Bringing it all together

  • Students will develop a persuasive essay about the need to protect right whales, and will give a presentation based on the essay.

Dr. Maia McGuire is the Florida Sea Grant Extension Agent for St Johns and Flagler Counties. Dr. Ruth Francis-Floyd is an IFAS Extension Veterinarian and at the University of Florida's Fisheries & Aquatic Sciences Program. Cheryl Bonnes is a marine mammal outreach specialist with NOAA Fisheries.


Other right whale education resources