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A Cross Curriculum Unit on Penguins for First Graders

written by: Tracey Bleakley • edited by: Donna Cosmato • updated: 2/8/2012

With its black and white "tuxedo" and cute waddle, the penguin is one of those animals that young children find hard to resist. So during the cold winter months, keep your students' attention with a penguin unit for first grade children.

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    When you are planning a unit about an animal like penguins, it's easy to think of ways to fit it into your science curriculum, but it can be trickier to work penguin lessons into other areas of the curriculum. Use these ideas to plan a fun penguin unit that covers all subjects.

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    Science- What Makes a Penguin a Different Bird

    A great introductory lesson about penguins is to talk about the special characteristics of penguins that make them different from other birds and help them adapt to their environment. Penguins have heavier, solid bones that are great for swimming and diving, but prevent them from flying. Other birds have light, hollow bones that make it easier to fly. Penguins also have short wings that work like paddles in the water, where flying birds have longer wings for flying. They also have two thick layers of feathers to help them stay warm. The outer layer is covered in a thick oil that makes them waterproof. There are also differences in their beaks, feet and bone structure. Other science topics you can cover are the different types of penguins, their habitats, what they eat and their life cycles.

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    Social Studies- Where Do Penguins Live?

    To practice mapping skills, bring in a large world map and mark the places where the different types of penguins live. Your first graders will probably be surprised to learn that there are several types of warm weather penguins that live in South America and Australia. Discuss the location of the penguins using the four directions. Which penguins live the farthest north or south? Next, give the students their own outline map to color the areas where penguins live.

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    Math- Penguin Sorting and Penguin Story Problems

    There are several math activities you can do with a penguin unit for 1st grade. Bring in pictures of the different types of penguins for sorting. You can sort them by their physical features, habitats and sizes.

    Use penguins as a theme for story problems. Your first graders will have fun solving word problems about penguins. Try these examples or make up your own.

    • There are ten penguins playing. Some are sliding in the ice and the others are swimming. How many of each could there be?
    • Mother penguin caught four fish for each of her chicks. If she has two penguin chicks, how many fish did she catch?
    • Twelve penguins are huddled together to keep warm. Three leave the group to go for a swim. How many are left?

    Measurement is another math skill you can focus on in a unit about penguins. The heights of the different types of penguins can be measured and compared.

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    Language Arts- Reading and Writing About Penguins

    There are many ways you can work language arts into your unit. Reading and discussing books and poetry about penguins is an easy way.

    You can find many books, both fiction and non-fiction, on the subject of penguins.

    • Choose a few nonfiction books and learn about the features found in informational texts, such as maps, glossaries and diagrams, while you are reading about penguins.
    • Have the students watch a live Penguin Cam (see reference section below) and write about their observations.
    • Use fiction texts to work on story maps, sequence and characters. Have students to adopt a penguin and write about his/her penguin travels.
    • Students write poems or stories about penguins or to write short reports on one type of penguin.

    Students can have a lot of fun learning about penguins while practicing skills in every subject when you plan a penguin unit for first graders.

All about Penguins: A First Grade Unit

Penguins are a great winter theme for first graders. Use these lesson plans and ideas to plan a unit that is integrated across all areas of the curriculum.
  1. A Cross Curriculum Unit on Penguins for First Graders
  2. Tacky the Penguin by Helen Lester: First Grade Activities
  3. Measuring Penguins: A Math Lesson Plan
  4. Shape Penguins: A First Grade Math and Art Activity