Grade levels: I’ve done this with grades K-1. You could make it work for pre-K or 2nd grade with some modifications.
Duration: I teach this over the course of four hour-long weekly lessons, but it’s easy to pick and choose stuff from this unit for just one lesson, and you could also drag it out longer (especially if your class periods are shorter than ours!)
How do we differentiate between fiction and nonfiction?
How are the North and South Pole different?
Plenty of Penguins, Sonia Black
Penguin and Pinecone, Salina Yoon
Tacky the Penguin, Helen Lester
Polar Bears, Gail Gibbons
Polar Bear Night, Lauren Thompson
Aurora: A Tale of the Northern Lights, Mindy Dwyer
Polar Opposites, Erik Brooks
At the beginning of the unit, have students start a KWL chart about arctic animals (or one for penguins and one for polar bears). With younger kids, solicit suggestions from the group. Older kids can write their existing knowledge, questions, and learning on Post-It notes and stick ’em up.
While reading each book, have students point out the features that help us figure out if the book is fiction or nonfiction. (Sometimes this is tricky! Kids often assume that books with photos are nonfiction and books with drawings or paintings are fiction, but that’s not always true – so we need to look a little deeper.)
At the end of each nonfiction book, have kids add to the relevant KWL chart. After fiction books, my students had a lot of fun pointing out all the things that the stories got wrong! (Penguins don’t wear clothes!)
Penguin Cam: After reading Plenty of Penguins, watch the Penguin Cam (there are many; we especially loved the one at the Monterey Bay Aquarium). Using the illustrations from the book, try to identify the types of penguins you see.
Songs & Rhymes
Penguin March: Oh man they love this song. From Perpetual Preschool. It’s like a military chant, and you have the kids waddle and flap their arms like penguins. A winner for sure.
I’m a penguin black and white
I can’t fly but that’s all right.
I’ve got feathers that’s not fur
and I lay eggs like other birds.
Penguins, 1, 2
Penguins, 3, 4
Penguins, 5, 6, 7, 8
Penguins, they are really great
I just swim to get my meals
But I watch out for leopard seals.
I’m from the south as you may know
And now it’s time for me to go.
Polar Bear Song: Honestly I just changed the words to “Teddy Bear Teddy Bear” to “Polar Bear Polar Bear” and nobody complained.
Penguin Puppet: I’ve done this craft one billion times. Kids loooooooove it. If you let them cut out the pieces, results are highly variable; I usually pre-cut, at least with K-1st kids. It’s enough of a struggle to glue stuff.
Aurora Borealis painting: These were stupid gorgeous. Each kiddo needs a piece of thick white paper (I used cardstock) and a piece of black construction paper (or a pre-cut/traced bear and tree – I pre-cut the bear but let them free-hand draw and cut the tree, and they turned out great). I had two sets of watercolors for each table. Students painted a background (we discussed which colors they had seen in the photos of aurora borealis), then we let it dry while reading another book and singing the polar bear song. After they were dry, we glued our bears and trees on top. Seriously, gorgeous.