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Lesson Plan

Examining Island of the Blue Dolphins through a Literary Lens

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Examining Island of the Blue Dolphins through a Literary Lens

Grades 6 – 8
Lesson Plan Type Unit
Estimated Time Twelve 50-minute sessions
Lesson Author

Sue Carmichael

Rochester, New York


National Council of Teachers of English


Student Objectives

Session One: Using a Mirror to Find Yourself in a Text

Session Two: Moving from Mirror to Microscope

Session Three: Focusing the Microscope on the Text

Session Four to Nine: Exploring the Text with a Microscope

Session Ten: From Microscope Back to Mirror

Session Eleven: Moving to the Telescope

Session Twelve: Focusing on the World Outside the Text


Student Assessment/Reflections



Students will

  • make personal connections to Scott O'Dell's Island of the Blue Dolphins by examining the ways in which they face adversity and hardship.

  • explore the connections between setting and character development in Island of the Blue Dolphins.

  • examine the ways in which first person point of view aids character development in Island of the Blue Dolphins.

  • contribute to a project in which they recognize instances of courage in their school and/or community.

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Session One: Using a Mirror to Find Yourself in a Text

  1. Before students begin to read Island of the Blue Dolphins, have them examine their own attitudes and beliefs about courage, survival, and hardship, as well as any personal experiences they’ve had with these issues. In this way, all students, including English Language Learners, have the opportunity to connect with the text and, as Carroll and Hasson suggest, “find themselves and their world” in it. Begin by having students respond in their journals to the following prompt: What does it mean to be courageous? Allow students enough time to respond to the prompt before bringing the class back together.

  2. Discuss students’ journal responses as a whole class. Invite volunteers to share their entries with the class.

  3. Next, break the class into three small groups, and ask each group to define one of these words: courage, survival, or hardship. Students can use classroom dictionaries or online dictionaries, or they can discuss the words in their groups to come up with their definitions. Then have each group create a skit or pictorial demonstration of the word it was assigned.

  4. Have each group present its skit or demonstration to the class. Then have a whole group discussion of the three words. Ask students:

    • How are the words courage, survival, and hardship related?
    • What other examples of courage, survival, or hardship can you think of?
    • Why do you think some people react to hardship more courageously than other people?
    • Do you think facing hardship can change a person? How?
  5. For homework, have students respond in their journals to the following prompt: Describe a time when you or someone you know were courageous or overcame a hardship. Did you or this person change? How?

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Session Two: Moving from Mirror to Microscope

  1. At the beginning of class, review students’ homework assignments, and ask volunteers to share their journal entries with the class or in small groups.

  2. On a sheet of chart paper, write the heading “Courage Is.” Then ask volunteers to record the examples of courage that they wrote about in their journals. (Respect students’ right to privacy if they do not wish to share a sensitive topic.) For instance, under the heading “Courage Is” students might write “facing a serious illness” or “performing first aid in an emergency.” Students’ responses will vary greatly, but all should be encouraged and added to the chart. For example, students might offer responses such as “giving a speech in front of the class” or “flying alone for the first time.” The goal of this exercise is to encourage students to examine their own attitudes and beliefs about instances of courage in their lives. Post the sheet on the wall or a bulletin board. After reading Island of the Blue Dolphins, students will add to the chart.

  3. Introduce Island of the Blue Dolphins by reading chapter one aloud to the class. Ask students to follow along as you read the text aloud.

  4. Use the Island of the Blue Dolphins Vocabulary form to assist ELL students, as well as other students in your class, in understanding unfamiliar vocabulary as they listen to and read the text. Direct students to record the page and line numbers of unfamiliar words as they find them. They will complete the rest of each word’s entry later.

  5. After reading the first chapter, ask students questions about chapter one. Be sure to allow enough response time for ELL students who may need additional time to organize their thoughts, but be careful not to draw attention to these students or allow other students to stray from the task. Ask the following questions:

    • What is the setting of the story?
    • What characters are introduced in the first chapter?
    • What point of view does the author use? How do you know? Who is narrating the story?
    • What do we learn about Karana’s character?
    • How does the story begin? (Encourage students to summarize the main events of Chapter One.)

  6. Pass out copies of Island of the Blue Dolphins Session Notes. Ask students to work in small groups to write information about Chapter One on the sheet based on the class discussion. Students can finish this sheet for homework. In the first section, have students write about Karana’s character traits they note, evidence of their responses from the text, and the page numbers where they located the information. In the second section, have students record the main events of the day’s reading. In the last section, students should briefly summarize the day’s reading in 1 or 2 sentences.

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Session Three: Focusing the Microscope on the Text

  1. Review students’ Island of the Blue Dolphins Session Notes and address any questions or issues before continuing to step two.

  2. Ask students to take out the Island of the Blue Dolphins Vocabulary sheet that they began in the previous session. Have them complete the sheets by completing the following steps:

    • Write the sentence from the story that includes each word they recorded on the sheet.
    • Find the word’s meanings by discussing the words with a partner or by looking them up in a dictionary.
    • Use each word in a sentence of their own and write their sentences on the sheet.

  3. Model this process, especially if ELL students are going to work on this part of the sheet alone. Ask a volunteer to share one of the words on his or her sheet, and then model the procedure for determining the word’s meaning and writing an original sentence.

  4. Explain to students that they will use the sheets to record additional unfamiliar words as they read the rest of the story.

  5. Have additional copies of the vocabulary sheet available for students to use as they are needed.

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Session Four to Nine: Exploring the Text with a Microscope

  1. Next, continue reading the text with students. There are several options you may use, depending on the students’ language skill levels and your preferences. Whichever option you choose, have students continue to complete Session Notes and Vocabulary sheets during and after each session.

    • In small reading groups, have students continue to read the text. Depending on the skill level of your ELL students, they may be able to participate in an oral reading of the text. If not, they can follow along as 2–3 volunteers in each group take turns reading the text aloud.

    • Continue reading the text aloud to the whole group. As you read, be sure to ask questions and ensure that all students are staying on task and following along in their own texts. Monitor the progress of your ELL students by discussing key vocabulary words as you progress through the story.

    • Ask students to read the text on their own, and then rejoin a small group for cooperative activities at specific checkpoints in the novel.

  2. Whichever option you choose, be sure to allow ample time for ELL students to read and understand the text. Even students with higher levels of English language arts skills may have difficulty with oral and written communication about a literary text. Allow an additional 4–5 sessions to complete the text, depending on your class.

  3. Following each reading session, allow enough time for the class to come back together for a discussion of the day’s reading. (You may wish to have students discuss the following questions in small groups first.) Allow enough response time for ELL students during class discussions.

  4. Review Session Notes and Vocabulary sheets as needed at the end or beginning of each reading session. The following questions will help guide the discussion as well as students’ understanding of how the author’s use of first person point of view and the novel’s setting relate to Karana’s character development:

    • What happened in this section of the novel?
    • What character traits does Karana exhibit in the text?
    • How do you know? What evidence did you read in the text?
    • Describe a time when you felt or acted the same way that Karana does in this section.
    • What does Karana say and do to help the reader understand her character?
    • How might the author have developed her character by using the third person point of view instead?
    • How does Karana’s environment affect her actions and feelings?
    • Has Karana’s environment changed? If so, how?
    • Has Karana changed? If so, how? How do you know?
    • How would you react under the same circumstances Karana faced in this section of the text?

  5. Optionally, students can work on their Session Notes and Vocabulary sheets for homework after each reading session. You also can assign some of the above questions as journal prompts for homework. If homework is assigned, take a few minutes at the beginning of the next class to discuss or review students’ completed homework.

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Session Ten: From Microscope Back to Mirror

  1. After completing the text, bring the class back together for a whole group discussion of the novel. In your discussion, focus on the connections between Karana’s development as a character and the story’s setting. Use the following questions to guide discussion:

    • How has Karana acted courageously in the story?
    • How else might she have acted under the same circumstances?
    • How do her acts of courage contribute to her survival on the island?
    • How might the story have been different had her brother not died?
    • Do you think she would have acted as courageously as she did if her brother had grown up with her on the island? Why or why not?
    • Do you think Karana would have been the same person after 18 years on the island if she had not spent those years alone?

  2. Encourage students to refer back to their Session Notes during the discussion. These written notes will help students organize their thoughts before participating in the class discussion.

  3. After your discussion, have students complete the Island of the Blue Dolphins Story Organizer. If you prefer, students can work on computers and create story maps using the ReadWriteThink Story Map.

  4. For homework, ask students to reflect on the story in their journals by responding to the following prompt: Imagine that you had been left on the island under the same circumstances as Karana. Describe how you would have survived some of the hardships and threats to survival that she faced (earthquake, wild dogs, the Aleut invasion, etc.)

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Session Eleven: Moving to the Telescope

  1. Begin by having students share their journal responses in small groups. Then have volunteers from each group add responses to the “Courage Is” poster the class created in session two. Example responses might include “living alone for 18 years” or “learning to survive in the wild.”

  2. Explain that the class will be participating in a project in which they identify and recognize a person in their community who has faced or overcome a challenge in his or her life and has demonstrated courage in the process.

  3. Have the class brainstorm a list of people they know or have heard of who might fit this description. Students may name a student or teacher from your school, for example.

  4. After students have started this list, share the folder of news clippings you have been gathering, and have students read these articles to identify other possible honorees.

  5. Ask volunteers to nominate several possible honorees for recognition, and then take a class vote to select an award winner. You also might choose to honor several people.

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Session Twelve: Focusing on the World Outside the Text

  1. Have students, as a whole class or in small groups, brainstorm a variety of ways in which they could recognize the person they have identified. Some possibilities include:

    • Make a copy of the Printable Award Certificate, and honor the recipient with a certificate of recognition. You also could use the Printable Award Certificate as a model for creating your own certificate or ask a student to design one.
    • If appropriate to the situation, students might organize a fundraiser to assist the recipient.
    • Organize a volunteering or community service experience, such as a community cleanup, in the recipient’s honor.
    • Have the class draft a letter inviting the honoree to your classroom for a brief presentation. Use your judgment in guiding students toward choosing the best option for the person you have identified for this honor. Some people value their privacy despite having been in the news, and it may not be appropriate to contact them at all. If this is the case, you can honor him or her privately in your classroom.

  2. Allow the rest of the class period for students to plan out the form of recognition they’ve chosen.

  3. Make sure you take into account any special talents of your ELLs in order to ensure their participation in this project. For instance, more English proficient students may be able to take on a letter writing role while a student with graphic arts talents might be well-suited for designing an award certificate.

  4. Provide additional class time as needed.

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  • Invite ELL students to share stories about courage, survival, and hardship from their own cultures orally, in writing, or pictorially.

  • Provide time in your school’s computer lab or on your classroom computers for students to research historical figures who are known for their acts of bravery or courage, or who survived physical or mental hardships.

  • After students have read Island of the Blue Dolphins and other novels that feature strong female protagonists, teach the ReadWriteThink lesson Boys Read: Considering Courage in Novels. Have students compare and contrast a variety of novels with strong male and strong female protagonists. Novels with Strong Protagonists provides some suggested titles. Ask questions such as the following:

    • What are some similarities among the main characters?
    • How are they different?
    • Do you prefer stories with a female or male protagonist, or do you have no preference? Why?

  • Have students compare and contrast Karana to the main character in their favorite novels. Students can create 2-Circle or 3-Circle Venn Diagrams using these ReadWriteThink interactive tools.

  • For additional activities, lesson plans, Web resources, and suggested texts, see the ReadWriteThink calendar entry for May 23.

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  • Informally assess students’ progress throughout the lesson by checking their journal entries for completion, written communication, and attention to the given prompts. Review students’ Session Notes and Vocabulary sheets for completion and accuracy of information.

  • Informally assess the accuracy and completion of students’ Island of the Blue Dolphins Story Organizers or printed Story Maps. Check to see that students have correctly completed all sections and demonstrate an understanding of the story’s main character, setting, plot, main events, problem, and solution.

  • For a more formal assessment of students’ work, use the Island of the Blue Dolphins Lesson Rubric to evaluate group participation, oral communication, journal writing, and story organizers/maps.


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