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Planning the Perfect Penguin Unit With Common Core

By Brian Smith on February 2, 2014
  • Grades: PreK–K, 1–2

Years ago, when I first started teaching kindergarten, I taught a weeklong unit about penguins. This year our penguin unit was 12 days long and there was still more to cover! Here are different books and activities that tie directly to Common Core State Standards that will help you plan the perfect penguin lessons.

My favorite penguin facts to teach are . . .

  • Penguins are camouflaged. Their white bellies make it hard for predators under the water to see them and their black backs make it difficult for predators in the air to see them.

  • Penguins have barbs on their tongues that help them catch the slippery fish in the ocean.

  • Some penguin mommies regurgitate to feed their babies. (Of course to teach the word regurgitate we get to talk about how it is similar to vomiting or throwing up. After the initial gross-outs and/or shock and awws that occur, I relate the regurgitation to the penguin mommy turning the fish into baby food.)

  • The emperor penguin is the tallest penguin — taller than most of my students. The fairy penguin is the shortest penguin.

  • Penguins come in many varieties. Some live on the beach.

My favorite penguin books are . . .

Lost and Found by Oliver Jeffers — A fiction book, but one that reinforces the fact that penguins live in cold climates. I have recently fallen in love with Jeffers's books. He is a fantastic author/illustrator who writes really clever books like Stuck, The Day the Crayons Quit, How to Catch a Star, and This Moose Belongs to Me




National Geographic Kids Penguins

National Geographic Kids Penguins — A nonfiction book that introduces the class to a table of contents.





Pierre the Penguin

Pierre the Penguin by Jean Marzollo — A great nonfiction book that is written in rhyme. Students connect this book to the story of Winter the Dolphin from the movie Dolphin Tale. It also introduces the class to how a penguin stays warm in cool waters.




Without You

Without You by Sarah Weeks — A super sweet book about emperor penguins. This is a great review after we watch the movie March of the Penguins.





If You Were a Penguin

If You Were a Penguin by Wendell and Florence Minor — This nonfiction book reads like fiction, but gives a lot of great details about penguins in a fun way.





There are a ton of great penguin books that I use throughout our weeks of learning. The books listed above are the ones that made my short list of favorites.

My favorite penguin activities are . . .

Our Penguin HuddlePenguin Huddle — Penguins huddle to keep warm. They rotate from the outside to the inside to share the warmth evenly among the group. I get the class to put their heads down and then to rotate from the outside of the huddle to the inside and back out again. Of course, after our huddle simulation we talk about how much larger the penguin huddle is compared to ours.





Blubber and Feather Oil SuppliesBlubber and Feather Oil — I don’t know the origin of these ideas but I didn’t create them. First you take shortening and put it between two sealable sandwich bags. The bag that you put on the inside needs to be turned inside out so that the seal will still work. This is the blubber glove. Place the blubber glove in a bucket of ice water. The student puts one hand in the glove and one hand in the water to see how blubber helps keep penguins warm.



Student Doing ExperimentThe second part of this activity is the Feather Oil. I put petroleum jelly on one or two fingers of the hand that goes into the cold water. The jelly helps the water roll off the fingers. I take a minute with each student to talk about how the blubber and the feather oil kept them warmer than the part of the hand that was in the cold water unprotected. After their time with me, the students go back to their table seat to draw and write about which kept them warmer using comparsion words.

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.K.3 — Use a combination of drawing, dictating, and writing to narrate a single event or several loosely linked events, tell about the events in the order in which they occurred, and provide a reaction to what happened.

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.K.3 — With prompting and support, describe the connection between two individuals, events, ideas, or pieces of information in a text.

Penguin SchemaPenguin Schema Chart — The way that I like to work a schema chart is to have the students list all the things that they believe about penguins (or whatever the topic is) and I write them on Post-it Notes and place them beside our big penguin. As we read our penguin books we move our Post-it Notes from the whiteboard to the penguin. For the items in our schema that we find out are facts, we move them to the black part of the penguin. For the parts of our schema that we discover are misconceptions, we move them to the white belly of the penguin.

I love this activity because it’s the anchor that we go back to each day. It also provides a fact bank for when each student writes their own nonfiction book. The other reason that this is such a great activity is because for younger kids (and some older kids) so much of their schema comes from movies. What I have found with penguins is that what my students “know” is from the movie Happy Feet. This year, while creating our Post-it Notes I was told, “Penguins can’t live in the sun,” and “Penguins sing and dance.”

Writing a nonfiction book about penguins that includes a table of contents — Each student uses this free downloaded template to create their own nonfiction book. Each student creates the cover of their book during their turn in our Guided Reading art station. The cover can be any project that you would can create. Each page of the nonfiction book has two facts with a drawing to illustrate each fact. 

Some ideas for the different chapters of the nonfiction books are . . .

  • Where do Penguins Live?

  • What do Penguins Eat?

  • Penguin Chicks

  • Penguin Varieties

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.K.2 — Use a combination of drawing, dictating, and writing to compose informative/explanatory texts in which they name what they are writing about and supply some information about the topic.

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.L.K.2a — Capitalize the first word in a sentence and the pronoun I

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.K.7 — Participate in shared research and writing projects

March of the PenguinMarch of the Penguins — Finally, at some point during our unit we watch the beautiful documentary March of the Penguins. It is rated G and does a fantastic job of reinforcing what we've learned and introducing new facts and ideas.







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I can't wait to see you next week.


Comments (5)

Thanks for sharing this! I can't wait to "steal" some of your ideas with my kindergarten class soon.

Such a great post! Penguins are so fun, and you've created a fantastic unit here. Thank you!

Hi Jane!
YEAH!! I'm glad you like it! Thanks for leaving a comment.

This is a fascinating, thorough, enjoyable unit. I would love to visit your classroom and see this in action! Great job, Brian.

Thank you! It really is so much fun to teach! I love seeing their eyes get real big when I tell them something like penguins don't have teeth or that some Orca whales bump into the bottom of floating icebergs to knock the penguins off so they can eat them. Thanks for reading!

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