Teaching Activities and Comprehension Questions for Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O’Dell


Although this book was written in 1960, it still remains a favorite of young readers. Written by Scott O'Dell, this is a female version of Robinson Crusoe based on the story of The Lost Woman of San Nicolas Island. Even though the main character is a twelve-year-old girl, boys will soon forget because she is a daring and inventive survivor! Island of the Blue Dolphins Questions and Activities help you get started on this book with your class. There are so many ways to branch out and cover geography, science and language arts skills.

Unlock the Meaning of New Vocab

1. Here are some vocabulary words from the book including a page where the word is used. Some of the words are used several times throughout the book. With the page numbers, you or the students can read the word in the sentence and use context words to unlock the meaning.

2. Students look the words up in a dictionary and write the meanings, parts of speech, synonyms, etc.

3. Students can write sentences using the words correctly.

120px-Awabi 02

Aleuts: page 1 – people inhabiting the Aleutians Islands in the Bering Sea, of Russian origin

abalones: page 125 – an edible mollusk from warm waters with a shell lined with mother-of-pearl

shirkers: page 26 – one who avoids or neglects duties

mesa: page 26 – a flat-topped hill with steep sides

sea elephant: page 54 – also known as an elephant seal, large seal that breeds on the west coast of North America

sinews: page 55 – tough fibrous tissue that unites muscle to bone, used to tie things together

crevice: page 57 – a narrow opening in a rock or wall

lupines: page 112 – a plant from the pea family, colorful with tall spikes of flowers

cormorant: page 135 – a large diving bird that lives mainly on coastal cliffs, short legs and dark plumage

prow: page 145 – the portion of the ship’s bow that is above the water

schooner: page 183 – a sailing ship with two or more masts

devilfish: page 118 – any class of marine creature that is thought to look evil like a devil ray, octopus or squid

parley: page 5 – discuss agreement terms with an opponent

kelp: page 15 – large brown seaweed

Reading Comprehension Questions

Comprehension questions should be answered in complete sentences whenever possible. For the reader of the answer the sentence should stand alone and provide a complete thought even if you don’t see/know the question.

1. Describe Karana’s family. (Brother Ramon is six years old; sister Ulape is fourteen; Karana is twelve; father is the chief and was killed by the Aleuts; mother died several years before)

2. Why did Karana jump from the white men’s ship? (She wanted to go back to the island to get her brother.)

3. What happened to Ramon, her younger brother? (The wild dogs killed him.)

4. Karana wanted revenge on the dogs that killed her brother. Why did she nurse the injured dog back to good health and keep him as a pet? (It wasn’t in her nature to kill animals. Rontu, the dog, stayed around after he got better and they became friends.)

5. How did Karana get the necklace made of black stones? (An Aleut girl left it for her by the cave. She wanted to be friends with Karana.)

6. Describe things that Karana and Rontu ate (roots, abalone, and fish).

7. What do you think was the most exciting or dangerous thing that happened to Karana? (Earthquake or the tangle with the devilfish or something else)

8. How did Karana get away from the island? (After eighteen years alone on the island, she left on the white men’s ship.)

Six Research Paper Ideas

1. Animal study:

Here’s a list of some of the animals in the book. Use these as group projects, individual reports or extra credit opportunities.



Sea Elephant (Elephant seal)




Wild Dog

2. Draw a map of the island. Use page nine in the book for some information.

3. Find out more about the Lost Woman of San Nicolas Island about whom the story was written.

4. Research the layers of a kelp forest.

5. Write a biographical paragraph about the author, Scott O’Dell.

6. List the five most important things that you would like to have to help you survive if you were stranded alone on an island.

A Sign Language Game

When Karana encountered the Aleut girl on the island, they communicated with sign language since they spoke different languages.


Divide the class into two teams.

Each team must come up with 25 words to sign so well that the other team could “translate” them correctly. Allow fifteen minutes for the teams to brainstorm the 25 words.

Students write each word on a separate slip of paper. When ready, each team takes turns picking a slip of paper and “acting out” the word.

The goal is for the other team to guess the words. The team with the highest score wins.

Can You Make It? Art Activity

120px-Canoe (PSF)

Given art materials, ask students to duplicate some of the items that Karana made to help her survive:

1. her home – described beginning on page 74.

2. a fire – described on page 77

3. a garment – described on page 114

4. a canoe – beginning on page 100

5. cooking utensils – described beginning on page 76

6. lamps – described on page 77

7. weapons – described beginning on page 78, also on page 55

8. caves – described beginning on page 101

Stranded on an Island Activity

Brainstorm a list as a class, in groups or individually of the things that you would miss if you were stranded on an island. Then make a list of things you would like about being stranded alone on an island.

Using Island of the Blue Dolphins questions and activities as you do this book unit will help you understand why Scott O'Dell's book is a Newbery Medal winner. You will be able to work on objectives across the curriculum: science, social studies, reading and language arts.


  • O'Dell, Scott. Island of the Blue Dolphins. Sandpiper, 2010.

    Image of Abalone: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Awabi_02.JPG

    Image of canoe: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Canoe_(PSF).png

    Ideas and activities come the author's twenty-five years of teaching experience.