Whale of a Tale

Activity Two: Exploring how different cultures use the whale in story

  • Introduce the lesson: Students will explore how whales, which constitute a family of animals well known by people who live near oceans, are used as the subject for stories told in four places with very different environments and cultures: Alaska, Canada, Hawai`i, and Massachusetts. As an introduction, together read Handout A, "Beached Whales and Great Tales."
  • Provide students with the five stories (download and print or refer students to the appropriate video clips; see the Materials section on the first page of this Learning Center). Locate the stories' homes on a map and review the climate and terrain at each location.
  • Students will read each of the three written whale stories with the vocal and physical expressiveness of a storyteller.
  • Each of the stories shows the whale as a particular character with a personality or motivation. Talk about the whales' various personae, as illustrated in the stories. What do these different glimpses into whales' characters reveal about the cultures that produced the stories?
  • Form groups of four to five students and provide each group with a copy of Handout B. Demonstrate how to record the data (a chart with examples is provided in the handout) and allow students to contrast the stories they read and watch.
  • Ask groups to report results while you record the answers. Ask students to identify any contradictions among the group responses. Groups with contradictory information should give evidence from the stories to justify. Eliminate from the list any similarities that can't be proven. Repeat the activity, this time looking for differences using Handout C.
  • Summary: Ask students to explain: 1) Why a part of the natural environment (in this lesson it was a whale) can become the topic of a story; 2) Why people living in very different places might create stories about the same animal; and 3) Why we could find both elements that were the same and elements that were different among the stories.
  • Comparing and contrasting story elements:

    Each story has unique characteristics, but many similar components.  In class discussion, as you review students' completed Handouts B and C, consider the basic common elements of story structure like character, setting, plot, morals and lessons.


    • Do the characters in the stories share any similar physical attributes?
    • Do the characters have unique or special abilities?
    • Do the characters relate to their environment in similar ways?
    • Are the characters generalized or are they specific individuals?


    • When and where does each story take place?


    • What is the problem that faces each character?
    • What is the solution to the problem in each story?

    Moral or message

    • What was the moral, lesson, or message that the characters learned at the end of each story?
    • What moral, lesson, or message is the audience supposed to learn from the story?

    Teacher Notes:

    • Help students with unfamiliar vocabulary in the stories.
    • You may keep on display a world map with the stories' locations marked with push-pins or images that represent each coastal area.
    • Consider asking students to write summaries of similarities and differences individually or in groups, and then discuss their ideas in class.


    Stories and Culture

    This Learning Center focuses on stories and environment. For another perspective, visit the Stories and Culture Learning Center.