Song for a Whale is a terrific novel based on a real whale. The “world’s loneliest whale” sings at an unusual frequency of 52 Hz that can’t be heard by other whales. Author Lynne Kelly heard of this whale, paired it with her knowledge of sign language through her career as an interpreter, and this magical story was created.
Song for a Whale Book Summary
Ms. Alamilla shows her class a film about a whale called Blue 55 that sings out in frequencies around 55 hertz, not the typical 35 hertz of most whales, plus his sound patterns are different. Blue 55 doesn’t have any friends. He migrates in an unusual pattern all alone. Iris feels a connection to Blue 55 because she feels the same way he must feel.
Iris researches Blue 55. She thinks that Blue 55 might be deaf like she is. Iris emails the sanctuary that is trying to tag him.
Iris gets a reply to the comment she added to the post about Blue 55 being deaf, but the researchers don’t think that is the case because Blue 55 keeps trying to communicate. She finds sound files on Blue 55 and feels the vibrations by placing her hand on the speaker. She prints out a picture of Blue 55 to put on her wall.
Iris gets the idea to create a song that Blue 55 can hear. She goes to the music room to ask Mr. Russell to help her with this project. He agrees, and the music class records a song. Iris mixes the recording with other sound files and creates a unique song. Once the song is finished, Iris writes to Andi at the animal sanctuary. She tells Andi how she mixed the music and that it might be helpful to keep Blue 55 in one place longer, so he can be tagged.
Iris hears back from Andi. She ran the idea of playing Iris’s song for Blue 55 by her staff, and they liked it. They plan to play Iris’s song the next time Blue 55 is around. Andi tells Iris how she can watch the event happen on their live cam.
Iris tries to figure out a way to get to Blue 55. She goes to Grandma’s house and tells her everything. Grandma turns and asks what part of Alaska. This surprises Iris as she didn’t think Grandma had been paying attention. Grandma says she knows about Appleton from studying about cruises; some cruise ships go there. Grandma explains that she and Grandpa were planning a cruise to Alaska for their next anniversary. Grandma tells Iris (Let’s go.)
Activities for Song for a Whale
Free Song for a Whale Book Unit Samples
Grab your free novel study samples including vocabulary, comprehension questions, and constructed response writing prompt here.
Teaching Idea #1 – Poetry
In Song for a Whale, Ms. Conn returns Iris’s poem marked up with red ink. Iris must rewrite the poem because it doesn’t rhyme. Iris explains that her poem is special in sign language.
Page 8 – The trick was our hands had to keep the same shape for the whole story. Like if we started out with a closed fist, every sign for the rest of the story had to be made with a fist too. We’d go on and on like that until one of us couldn’t think of something to add without breaking the handshape rule….We told the story with our hands open like the number five the whole way through.
The website Baby Sign Language provides free printable flashcards with pictures and sign motions. The website also contains videos of the signs. The handout contains links to the signs that come as close to Iris’s handshape poem as I could find.
Even though some signs are not exact, they will give students a better understanding of the beauty of Iris’s poem. Students can retell Iris’s poem using signs to see the appeal of the poem.
The handout also contains a comparative activity to Iris’s handshape poem from the novel to the poem in the picture book 52 – A Tale of Loneliness by Johnny DePalma. This picture book makes the perfect addition to your Song for a Whale unit. The book is inspired by the 52 Hz whale. Since the story is told in lyrical rhymes, it not only makes a great comparison activity but can also be used to practice poetic elements.
Questions to Ask
Who is the audience?
How is the speaker/narrator of this poem?
How did the poem make you feel?
What is the mood in this poem? How did the poem make you feel?
Explain figures of speech – metaphors, similes, imagery, symbols.
What is the tone in this poem? How does the author feel about the topic of the poem?
Write the theme of this poem in a single sentence.
Does this poem rhyme? If so, what is the rhyming scheme?
How did the poem make you feel?
Teaching Idea #2 – Author Video
You can check out Lynne Kelly’s website here.
Teaching Idea #3 – Song for a Whale Audio Book
Julie Chavez reads the entire book to her students through a series of YouTube videos. Here is the first one.
Teaching Idea #4 – Activities on the Web
Random House provides a free 6-page educator’s guide. This guide includes some great discussion questions.
The Loneliest Whale in the World? – This article by The Washington Post is worth visiting for the artwork alone. The informative article is terrific for classroom use providing factual information mixed with sound files.
National Wildlife Refuge System Use their interactive map to find a wildlife refuge near your home.
PBS Videos – PBS has 74 videos on sound waves. You can find videos by grade level.
Teaching Idea #5 – Book Club Ideas
Thank you, Amanda, for sharing these great ideas!
Today we made whale “pizzas” and whale cookies.
We listened to whale sounds and the sound 55 hertz makes. We also did a hearing test where students listened to various frequencies to see what they could and could not hear. I also pretended to teach a lesson while a few students had on noise-canceling headphones. They had to try to understand the lesson without being able to hear it so that they could see how Iris feels in her classes. They loved that.
We play quiz games each time. I have a giant Connect Four yard game we use. Students are divided into two teams. The students have to buzz in using a fun tool called “Eggspert”, and if they answer correctly, they put one of their team’s pieces into the Connect Four game.
Teaching Idea #6 – Blubber – Another Great Idea from Amanda