Discovery Education resources · lessons · teach with literature

search tools and whale facts


One of my favorite children’s books is Dear Mr. Blueberry by Simon James. The story is told in series of letters between a girl named Emily and her teacher. Emily is convinced that there is a whale living in her backyard pond and Mr. Blueberry tries to tell her that this just isn’t possible. It’s a simple book but one that generates great discussion on many levels.

I wanted to teach the students how to search for specific resources on DE so we used this book as a platform. After discussing what we already know about whales, we decided that it was important to share specific evidence with Emily, to help her understand that no matter how much she believed there was a whale in her pond, that it was just not scientifically possible.

Their task was to write a letter to Emily, sharing a minimum of three facts about whales that would help to convince her. One of the things we talk about often in our classroom is how to politely disagree with someone – to use kind words when telling someone that s/he is mistaken or that you have a different opinion. Mr. Blueberry was firm in his letters but also a bit unkind, they felt. They decided that the letters should gently tell her that she was off base. 🙂 We also labeled one of the pages of the book itself to be clear about the parts of a letter that should be included.

photo 1

Using the keyword search box at the top of the main page on Discovery Streaming, we typed “whales” and discussed how to narrow a search using the drop down menus. I had them start by setting Grades to K-2 and 3-5 with the understanding that they could narrow or widen their search if necessary. Emily is a young child so considering her as our audience we needed to find information that would make sense to someone a bit younger than my third graders. We chose Science under Subject to help us meet our need for scientific evidence. Because I have students with varied reading and interest levels, we talked about options for media and decided to narrow our searches to any or all of the following: Full Video, Video Segment, Book or eBook. Some students were interested in researching a specific kind of whale, leading to more great discussion about what facts apply to all whales, versus a specific group.

They wrote their own letters but did much of the research in pairs or small groups. As the children worked, I helped them refine their searches and listened in as they debated which facts were best to include, to help make their point with undeniable evidence. We kept the grading of this assignment pretty simple because the research was really the focus. The children created the following basic rubric:


There are at least 3 facts about whales in the letter.All 5 letter parts are included.The letter is written with kind words.


There are less than 3 facts about whales.Not all of the letter parts are included.The letter could be a little kinder.

By the way, they did not include a 1 because “everybody can get at least a 2 on this!” (Love those kids!)

Here are a couple of their letters…

photo 2 photo 5


3rd Grade Common Core Standards addressed and/or introduced with this assignment:

  • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.3.7 Use information gained from illustrations (e.g., maps, photographs) and the words in a text to demonstrate understanding of the text (e.g., where, when, why, and how key events occur).
  • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.3.10 By the end of the year, read and comprehend informational texts, including history/social studies, science, and technical texts, at the high end of the grades 2–3 text complexity band independently and proficiently.
  • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.3.2 Determine the main ideas and supporting details of a text read aloud or information presented in diverse media and formats, including visually, quantitatively, and orally.
  • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.3.1a Introduce the topic or text they are writing about, state an opinion, and create an organizational structure that lists reasons.
  • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.3.1b Provide reasons that support the opinion.
  • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.3.1c Use linking words and phrases (e.g., because, therefore, since, for example) to connect opinion and reasons.
  • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.3.1d Provide a concluding statement or section.


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