Island of the Blue Dolphins Activities

Shell Necklace
A shell necklace craft is a fun activity for this book.

Whether you are homeschooling, planning classroom lessons, or just encouraging a love of reading, there are many Island of the Blue Dolphins activities that can help young readers explore this popular novel. You can develop activities for art, history and many other subjects that relate to the award-winning book.

About Island of the Blue Dolphins

Island of the Blue Dolphins is a classic children's book by Scott O'Dell. It was published in 1960, and received the Newbery Medal award in 1961. A movie based on the book was released in 1964, but it did not enjoy the wide recognition that the novel has continued to have for generations of young readers.

The Story

The novel is based on the true story of Juana Maria, a Nicoleno Native American who spent 18 years alone on San Nicolas Island off the California coast. Island of the Blue Dolphins tells the fictional story of Wonapalei, a young Native American girl with the secret name of Karana, who becomes stranded on an island for years in the 1800s, first with her younger brother, and later alone after he died. She learned new skills to help herself survive, and she grew to have relationships with many of the animals on the island to alleviate her solitary lifestyle. Eventually, after a number of years, she was rescued and left the island, where the story ends.

Through Karana's struggles and individual growth, the themes of independence, courage, ingenuity, and respect for nature and wildlife are explored in rich, imaginative detail. These themes can be further explored through a range of educational and creative activities in ways that can appeal to every young reader.

Ideas for Island of the Blue Dolphins Activities

The right activities related to Island of the Blue Dolphins can make the novel come to life for the most reluctant reader. When planning lessons for this book, whether for a homeschool unit, classroom, library group, or just a reading project, consider:

  • Crafts: Making a bead or shell necklace like the one Karana makes in the book is a fun project related to Island of the Blue Dolphins. Other crafts could include weaving a grass skirt or mat, making clay bowls, or using sticks to create a shelter.
  • Survival skills: With supervision, making a fire outdoors without matches can also be an interesting activity similar to the survival skills Karana needed to learn.
  • Animals: Children love animals, and activities with animals are always popular. Readers can research short reports on animals mentioned in the book, including sea otters, sea elephants, cormorants, gulls, feral dogs, and octopuses. A visit to a local aquarium, zoo, or tide pool can be a great way to learn more about these animals as well.
  • Sports: Karana had to live an active life to support herself alone on the island. Sports such as archery, javelin throwing, and canoeing are all related to how she lived in the book and can give young readers insights into how she had to survive.
  • Sociology: More advanced students can learn about sociology and gender roles though Island of the Blue Dolphins by making lists to compare the roles of men and women in Karana's world and comparing those lists to today's society. Other activities might include discussing superstitions, such as secret names, or exploring fears of what would happen if gender roles were reversed.
  • Language: Throughout the book, different Native American and Aleut words are often used. Young readers can study language by learning those same words in different languages, including Russian (the Aleut captain, Orlov, was Russian in the book) as well as local native languages. Sign language is another great option that can teach students the importance of nonverbal communication.
  • Art: Art projects can give students a way to explore book themes in something other than words. Readers can draw a map of the island where Karana lived, or draw pictures from her life there. Young artists can even draw portraits of Karana, her family members, her animal friends, and other characters in the book.
  • History: Karana's story may be fiction, but readers can research the true story of Juana Maria or look for similar stories in other areas of the world. The importance of fur trading and sea otter hunting, and coastal exploration from Alaska to California are each historical subjects that relate to the novel.

There are a wide range of Island of the Blue Dolphins activities to choose from, no matter what a reader's interests may be. By selecting activities that connect the reader's interests with the book, teachers, parents, and librarians can help get kids interested in reading and give young readers a way to explore their favorite books well past the last page.

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Island of the Blue Dolphins Activities