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Irwin's Death Draws Attention to Stingrays



  • Science
    --Life Sciences
    ----Animals Social Studies
    --Current Events


Grades 2-up

News Content

The untimely death of "Crocodile Hunter" Steve Irwin is drawing attention to stingrays.

Anticipation Guide

Before reading, ask students to agree or disagree with each of the statements below. This will set a purpose for reading; as they read, they will confirm their assumptions or learn something new.

  • Stingrays are extremely dangerous animals.
  • Stingrays will often swim away when people are nearby.
  • A stingray moves by flapping its "wings."
  • Stingrays are often found in very shallow ocean waters.

News Words

Introduce these words from the News Word box on the students' printable page:

  • stingray
  • crocodiles
  • popular
  • shallow

Read the News

Click for a printable version of this week's news story Irwin's Death Draws Attention to Stingrays.

Reading the News

You might use a variety of approaches to reading the news:

* Read aloud the news story to students as they follow along.

* Students might first read the news story to themselves; then call on individual students to read the news aloud for the class.

* Arrange students into small groups. Each student in the group will read a paragraph of the story. As that student reads, others might underline important information or write a note in the margin of the story. After each student finishes reading, others in the group might say something -- a comment, a question, a clarification -- about the text.

More Facts to Share

You might share these additional facts with students after they have read this week's news story.

  • Steve Irwin died Monday September 4, 2006, at the age of 44. He died when he swam over a 200-pound stingray. The stingray's poisonous tail spiked him in the chest, which damaged his heart. The attack happened in the Great Barrier Reef off the coast of Queensland, Australia.
  • At the time of his death, Irwin was working on a documentary about the ocean's deadliest animals. (Stingrays were not to be included in that documentary.) Bad weather changed the crew's plans for filming that day, so they decided instead to shoot a "soft story" about coral reefs for a new kids' TV show.
  • "He was as good on the water as he was on land," John Stainton, Irwin's manager, told CNN's Larry King. "He was comfortable anywhere there was wildlife. He'd been diving 10, 15 years ... I never thought he'd take a hit from a stingray. He was very used to them."
  • Experts say injuries caused by stingrays are relatively common but fatalities are extremely rare. Before Irwin's death, there are only two known deaths by stingrays in Australian history.
  • "Australia has lost a wonderful and colorful son," Australian Prime Minister, John Howard, said. "He took risks, he enjoyed life, he brought immense joy to millions of people, particularly to children. He was a wonderful character. He was a passionate environmentalist. It's such a terrible loss."

About Stingrays

  • Stingrays are related to skates and sharks. They are common in tropical coastal waters around the world. Fresh water species can be found in Asia, Africa, and Florida.
  • A stingray is noted for the razor-sharp spine that grows from its whip-like tail. The spine, which is something like a fingernail, and can grow to be more than a foot long. A poisonous venom is stored under the spine's covering.
  • A stingray's "stinger" whips up when the animal is attacked or frightened. The poison inside the stinger can cause pain and swelling. If the stinger breaks off in the attack, a new one will grow in its place.
  • Stingrays give birth to live babies in "litters" of five to 10.
  • A stingray's eyes are the top of its body; its mouth is on the bottom.
  • The stingray uses its sense of smell as it feeds on shellfish and crustaceans. It crushes food with its powerful teeth.
  • For safety reasons, when rays are exhibited in zoos and aquariums their barbs are often snipped off.
  • In 2006, the Tampa Bay Rays baseball team added a 35-foot, 10,000 gallon, tank to their stadium; there fans can interact with 30 cownose rays.

Steve Irwin Resources from Animal Planet
The Crocodile Hunter
Learn about Steve and Terri Irwin, see clips, more.

In Remembrance of Steve
Animal Planet's tribute page to the memory of Steve Irwin.

Comprehension Check

Revisit the Anticipation Guide introduced at the top of this lesson; ask students to respond again to the statements in it.

  • Stingrays are extremely dangerous animals. (false, most experts would not classify them as very dangerous animals)
  • Stingrays will often swim away when people are nearby. (true)
  • A stingray moves by flapping its "wings." (true; note, students might be confused by the use of the word "wings" in place of a term such as "fins" or "appendages.")
  • Stingrays are often found in very shallow ocean waters. (true, they are found in places where people might walk)

You might follow-up that activity by asking some of these questions:

Recalling Detail

  • What is the name of Steve Irwin's popular TV show, which is shown on the Animal Planet channel? ("The Crocodile Hunter")
  • Is it unusual for a stingray to kill a person? (yes, it is very unusual)
  • How large can a stingray grow to be? (it can grow to be 14 feet long or 6 feet across)
  • Do stingrays ever live in fresh water? (yes)
  • How do stringrays move through the water? (by flapping their fins, or "wings")
  • How can you stay safe from a stingray's sting when you're walking in waters where they are known to live? (shuffle your feet as you walk; that will scare them away)

Think About the News
Discuss the Think About the News question that appears on the students' news page. Following are a couple more questions you might pose to students for discussion.

  • Steve Irwin's colleagues say that the videotape footage that was taken when Irwin was killed should be destroyed. Do you agree? Why or why not?
  • Some people say Irwin's TV work helped people learn about and respect animals. Others say it Irwin's sometimes-dangerous stunts were just show business, and that animals should be left alone. How do you feel about that?

Follow-Up Activities

Science. Have students read to learn more about stingrays. Set aside time for them to share what they learn. In addition, students might learn about the parts of a stingray's body and then use that information to label a stingray illustration. A diagram like this one might serve as your answer key.

Geography. Have students find the Great Barrier Reef on a world map. (Note: It is off the coast of Queensland in northeastern Australia.)

Technology. Share some brief video clips of stingrays.


Use the Comprehension Check (above) as an assessment. Or have students work on their own (in their journals) or in their small groups to respond to the Think About the News questions on the news story page or in the Comprehension Check section.

Lesson Plan Source

Education World

National Standards

National Standards

NL-ENG.K-12.2 Reading for Understanding
NL-ENG.K-12.8 Developing Research Skills
NL-ENG.K-12.12 Applying Language Skills

NS.K-4.3 Life Science
NS.K-4.6 Science in Personal and Social Perspectives
GRADES 5 - 8
NS.5-8.3 Life Science
NS.5-8.6 Science in Personal and Social Perspectives
GRADES 9 - 12
NS.9-12.3 Life Science
NS.9-12.6 Science in Personal and Social Perspectives

See recent news stories in Education World's News Story of the Week Archive.

Article by Gary Hopkins
Education World®
Copyright © 2006 Education World