Join my class as we turn the book One Tiny Turtle into a unit of fun and exciting learning experiences. This lyrical and informative look at the elusive and endangered loggerhead turtle is sure to delight young nature lovers.
To get my students excited about this unit, I kept the topic a surprise in the days leading up to it. The only thing I told them was that we were going to be reading and discussing a fun book that they had probably never heard of before.
First we talked about sea life in general. We watched SpongeBob SquarePants, played "under the sea" games on write-and-wipe mats, and took a field trip to the dolphin habitat at the MGM Mirage resort. I revealed the author of the mystery book, Nicola Davies, a zoologist who studies wild animals. I shared her book Wild About Dolphins and we talked about how seeing a dolphin at the zoo when she was younger encouraged her to go on two dolphin expeditions when she was older. I read aloud some of her other books — Surprising Sharks, Big Blue Whale, and Ice Bear — but left out the mystery book.
If you can't make it to a real habitat or aquarium, replay Scholastic's virtual field trip to an aquarium in Florida, where your students can learn about a bottlenose dolphin named Winter. You can also get posters and education materials about Winter's incredible story. Scholastic also has activities for ocean life, seashore science, and sea creatures that live in shells.
To activate my students' background knowledge about turtles in general, I exposed them to a variety of familiar experiences. They watched the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie and cartoon; read books and put on puppet shows about Franklin the Turtle; put Magic Grow sea turtles in water to make them grow 600% in size; played with toy turtles; and observed real turtles of different species: two semiaquatic red-eared slider turtles, a tortoise, and a loggerhead sea turtle. By this time, the kids had guessed that the book was going to be about turtles, and I explained that it was about loggerhead sea turtles in particular. This firsthand observation allowed them to make a real-life connection with the content of the book.
My students brainstormed what they already knew about turtles. I was surprised; they knew more than I thought they would. To find out more about sea turtles in particular, we made a concept question board, with things they wanted to know on the left and a space for the answers on the right. Below is a picture of the finished board.
Find information about turtles in Scholastic's Darwin Library.
We went over the vocabulary they would encounter in the book and sorted keywords by category. We also made comparisons of and connections between different things. I published PDF versions of my documents, which you are welcome to print out or download.
We read One Tiny Turtle one page at a time. After reading each page, we engaged in an activity that stimulated my students' thinking about the material. The book begins:
Far, far out to sea, land is only a memory, and empty sky touches the water.
We talked about how big the ocean is, and how if you're far enough out into the ocean you can't even see land. To help my students visualize the size of the ocean, I made a scale model of the world ocean and each continent. From this model, it was easy for them to see that the ocean is much larger than all the continents combined — three times larger, in fact. You can find directions for making this scale model in the free educator's guide to the Disneynature film Oceans.
Just beneath the surface is a tangle of weed and driftwood where tiny creatures cling. This is the nursery of a sea turtle.
We watched a video to see what sargassum looks like and discussed how all babies have nurseries.
Not much bigger than a bottle top, she hides in the green shadows. She's a baby, so her shell is soft as old leather.
To get an idea of just how small baby sea turtles are, we decorated bottle tops with green paint and soft leather.
The turtle swims around, flapping her front flippers like wings. She is flying underwater.
My students really enjoyed taking turns wearing flippers and pretending to swim like sea turtles.
She pokes her pinprick nostrils through the silver surface to take a quick breath, so fast, blink and you'd miss it!
Everyone practiced holding their breath for as long as they could. Then we talked about how humans, like sea turtles, need air to breathe. When swimming underwater, sometimes we hold our breath — but not for long — and sometimes we use things to help us breathe, like snorkels and oxygen tanks. I brought out a snorkel and a water table, and the kids went at it.
For three or four years, maybe more, the turtle rides out the storms and floats through the hot calms.
We discussed how sea turtles swim in deeper, cooler waters during summer storms. In the winter when the weather is calm, they move to warmer waters and float near the top. We made water bottle oceans with 1/4 blue water, 2/3 mineral oil, and seaweed, then dropped penny-size turtles to the bottom and moved the bottles back and forth vertically to make waves.
Steadily she outgrows her nursery. Nobody sees her leave, but when you look for her, she has vanished all the same.
We revisited our discussion on ocean size by putting toy ocean animals on a large piece of blue paper and moving the tiny sea turtle around.
Bigger than a dinner plate now, she's not a fish snack anymore. Her shell is hard as armor. Her head is tough as a helmet. She's grown into her name: Loggerhead.
I decorated an actual dinner plate to look like a sea turtle, and we compared it with the bottle-top sea turtle to get a sense of the size difference between a baby sea turtle and an adult sea turtle. I showed my students a toy knight with armor, and we talked about how a turtle's shell is like real armor — hard as steel. The kids tried on a bicycle helmet to think about the toughness of a loggerhead's head.
She has come to eat crabs. . . . Their shells crack as easily as hens' eggs in her heavy jaws.
We made crabs out of two seashells and used a pair of pliers decorated like a turtle's jaw to break open the shells. Afterwards we cracked an egg to compare. The kids loved this!
Loggerhead wanders far and wide in search of food. In summer to cool seaweed jungles, where she finds juicy clams and shoals of shrimps. And in winter to turquoise lagoons, warm as a bath, where she can munch among corals.
We made dark blue-green underwater scenes on paper with clams, shrimps, and seaweed, and turquoise underwater scenes with coral reef sea fans.
Loggerhead may travel thousands of miles, but she leaves no trace or track for you to follow.
We discussed how turtles can only be tracked if transmitters have been attached to their flippers or shells. Researchers do this to know more about sea turtle behavior in order to help them. We visited the Sea Turtle Conservancy Web site to track the movements of a satellite-tagged loggerhead named Squirt.
She's found her way here, sensing north and south like a compass needle.
My students were shown a compass and they tried using it to find their way around the room.
Male turtles wait just off the nesting beaches. They mate with the females. Then the females come ashore to lay eggs.
After drawing pictures of turtle families, my students hung them on the wall.
She's big as a barrel now.
I made a barrel out of brown butcher paper and decorated it like a sea turtle, which my students compared with the dinner plate-size sea turtle and the bottle top-size sea turtle.
Floating in the sea she weighs nothing, but on land she's heavier than a man.
To observe how anything, including a body, is lighter in water because the water helps lift it, my students tried to lift shells and rocks out of the water table.
Her eyes streak with salty tears, which helps keep them free of sand.
We talked about how tears are salty, just like the water in the ocean. Salt water is just like ordinary table salt. I filled two glasses with water and added salt to one. My students each got two spoons and had a taste from both glasses. Then they separated salty foods from non-salty foods.
Loggerhead makes her nest where the sea won't reach. Scooping carefully with her hind flippers . . . she makes a deep hole.
Outside in the sand, the kids tried to dig holes using flippers, which wasn't easy.
Inside she lays her eggs, like a hundred squidgy Ping-Pong balls.
After digging holes, we made nests of Ping-Pong balls.
Left behind, under the sand, her eggs stay deep and safe. Baby turtles grow inside.
The children made paper eggs with sea turtles inside.
Video image courtesy of Tour de Turtle
And before the summer's over they wriggle from their shells.
We wanted to see real sea turtles hatching, so we watched a video of a baby turtle in Mexico that took over 20 minutes to hatch, another video 80 loggerheads hatching in Australia, and a third video of 119 hatchlings which was taken at night with an infrared light in North Carolina.
Above them on the beach a hundred eyes watch, on the lookout for a meal. So the hatchlings wait until night. The horizon, where the sea meets the sky, tells baby turtles which way to turn to get to the water. But street lights and buildings next to the beach can confuse them and make them go the wrong way.
We did a small-scale, classroom version of the turtle hatch demonstration from Let There Be Night. Some students stood in a wide circle and shined flashlights or acted as predators while other students in the middle pretended to be turtles. When I said go, the "turtles" had to hatch and scurry toward a source of light. Only one of the lights was the moon, and the rest were artificial lights, but the students in the middle did not know which was which. The turtles who were tagged by the predators died because they were eaten before reaching the ocean, and the turtles who went to the wrong lights died because they never made it to the ocean. Only the turtles who went to the moonlight and were not eaten by predators remained alive.
But now she dives under the waves and swims. Swims and swims!
We pretended to be baby turtles running from the beach to the ocean, and watched videos of sea turtles swimming.
Since Scholastic gave us a class set of One Tiny Turtle books, I had each student make a word bank in the back of their book. They taped an envelope to the back page and put word cards in it, which they used to match with the print when rereading. I also made copies of some of the turtle's adventures in the book, and the children put them in sequential order.
We did writing responses to the book using sea turtle themed paper and my turtle pencil holder, reviewed the author by reading some really fun "Things You Didn't Know About Nicola Davies," and talked about how, as a society, we have to protect our oceans and sea turtles. My students played a beach cleanup think & sort game, learned about sea turtle conservation and rescue, read about two friends named Owen and Mzee, and did some turtle shell activities.
Read some great sea turtle books by Mara Uman Hixon, written especially for kids in preschool and kindergarten.
My students had a lot of fun with this unit, and they really learned a lot from it. It just goes to show what a good book and hands-on learning can do!
Have an adventurous weekend!