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Rising Temperatures Threaten Penguins



Arts & Humanities
--Language Arts
--Visual Arts
--Life Sciences
--Physical Science
----Earth Science
Social Studies
--Current Events


Grades 2-up

News Content

Temperatures and other factors are causing a decline in Antarctic penguin populations.

Anticipation Guide

Before reading this News for Kids article, write the word peninsula on a board or chart. Check to see if students are able to identify and define the word. If not, use a student dictionary to provide a definition. The definition will likely define a peninsula as a piece of land that juts out from a larger land mass and is surrounded by water on three sides. You might display a world map and point out such large peninsulas as Florida and Korea. Other examples include Italy, Greece, and the southern part of India. Next, point out Antarctica on the world map. Ask students to identify a part of Antarctica that might be considered a peninsula. They should be able to identify the area in Western Antarctica that juts out from the rest of the continent [see map] as a peninsula.

News Words

Next, introduce these words that appear in the News Word Box on the students printable page: climate, peninsulas, area, percent, decrease, and survive. [Note that the plural form, peninsulas, is used in this list.] Discuss the meanings of any of the words that might be unfamiliar. Then ask students to use one of the words to complete each of these sentences:

  • More than 60 _____ of the states registered voters chose to vote in the recent election. (percent)
  • Many bugs cannot _____ long-term exposure to cold weather. (survive)
  • The state of Michigan is made up of two _____ that jut out into the Great Lakes. (peninsulas) [show Michigan on a U.S. map]
  • Bad weather this spring is expected to result in a _____ in the farms strawberry crop. (decrease)
  • In Greenland, a change in _____ is causing glaciers to melt and sea levels to rise. (climate)
  • Heavy rains caused the citys downtown _____ to be flooded with 10 feet of water. (area)

    Read the News

    Click for a printable version of this weeks news story Rising Temperatures Threaten Penguins.

    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 you might call on individual students to read sections of the news aloud for the class.

  • Photocopy the news story onto a transparency and project it onto a screen. (Or use your classroom computer's projector to project the story.) Read the story aloud as a class, or ask students to take turns reading it.

  • 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 notes 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 weeks news story.

  • The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) reports that the Emperor penguin colony at Pointe Geologie, which was featured in the film March of the Penguins, has declined by more than 50 percent due to global warming. They also report that the presence of krill has declined by up to 80 percent since the 1970s over large areas of the Southern Ocean.
  • According to the Defenders of Wildlife, the annual Antarctic ice melt is extending about 3 weeks farther into the year than it did several decades ago. Penguin populations have decreased by nearly 80 percent in some areas, and the majority of scientists agree that rising temperature due to climate change is the primary culprit," according to the groups Web site.
  • These penguin species will march right into extinction unless greenhouse gas pollution is controlled," said Kassie Siegel of the Center for Biological Diversity. It is not too late to save them, but we have to seize available solutions to global warming right away."
  • According to a report from the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), warmer temperatures mean that the atmosphere can hold more moisture, which in turn brings more snow. (It snows less when temperatures are very, very cold. [see source]) The warming climate means warmer, wetter air and too much snow at the wrong time of year," says Dr. Lara Hansen, a WWF scientist. Penguins have to wait for snow to melt and they are breeding later -- much too late."
  • A decline in the amount of krill (a main food source for penguins) has made it more difficult for young penguins to survive. Krill require the polar ice to reproduce.
  • One other factor in the demise of penguins is the growth of invasive bird species such as skua gulls and giant petrels, which prey on penguin chicks. Adults and juveniles are also preyed on by leopard seals, killer whales, and sharks.
  • The Emperor Penguin is the largest penguin in the world. Its scientific name, Aptenodytes forsteri, means "featherless diver" (first described by naturalist J.R. Forster). Emperors can stand up to 3.5 feet tall and weigh 65 pounds. They use their wings for swimming, not for flight. Emperors are fast swimmers, and they can dive for up to 22 minutes at a time. On land, they walk about 1.5 miles per hour. Their yearly journey from the sea to their inland breeding colonies is about 135 miles. It is estimated that there are about 40 Emperor colonies in Antarctica.
  • Female Emperor penguins lay a single egg. (King penguins lay one egg too; all other penguin species lay eggs in pairs.) Once laid, the male Emperor takes over, incubating the egg in a special pouch on top of its feet. Incubation takes about 65 days. During that time, the male fasts; he loses up to 50 percent of his body weight. Meanwhile, the female returns to the sea to forage for food. When the female returns to the breeding colony, the male heads to the sea to forage. When the males returns, chicks are fed by both parents. At about 4 months old, the entire family leaves the breeding site and returns to their home on the ice shelf.
  • Emperor penguins arent the only ones being threatened. Three other species that make their homes in Antarctica -- Chinstraps, Gentoos, and Adlie (pronounced uh-DAY-lee) -- are being affected by ice melts too. The WWF reports that many colonies are 50 percent smaller than they were a few years ago.
  • The warmer temperatures affect all penguins, but especially the Adlie, which needs land that is free of snow and ice to raise their young. Adlie populations are further affected because their warm-loving cousins the Gentoos and Chinstraps have taken over territory that used to be theirs. In the northwestern coast of the Antarctic Peninsula, where warming has been the most dramatic, populations of Adlie penguins have dropped by 65 percent over the past 25 years.
  • The USFWS is currently conducting a review of the status of 10 penguin species to determine whether to include them on the Federal List of Endangered and Threatened Wildlife and Plants.

    Comprehension Check

    Recalling Detail

  • What type of penguin was featured in the movie Happy Feet? (the Emperor penguin)
  • What is causing Antarcticas ice shelves to melt? (Many scientists say global warming is the cause.)
  • Why are there fewer krill for penguins to feed on than there were in the past? (overfishing is affecting the krill; so are the warmer temperatures, since krill need cold weather to survive/reproduce)

    Think About the News
    Ask students to identify what steps might be taken to help the penguins of Antarctica survive.

    Then discuss the Think About the News question that appears on the students news page. You might use the think-pair-share strategy with students to discuss this question. If you use this strategy

  • First, arrange students into pairs to discuss and list responses to the question.
  • Then merge two pairs of students together to create groups of four students. Have them discuss and add to the ideas they generated in their pairs.
  • Next, merge two groups of four students to form groups of eight students. Have students create a new combined list of ideas.
  • Finally, bring all students together for a class discussion about global warming and what people are doing/can do about it.

    Follow-Up Activities

    Geography -- terms. Present the matching activity below. Have students use their dictionaries to match each term in the left column with its definition in the right column. Students might do this activity independently or in pairs.

    Geographic Term Definition
    1. archipelago a. a long, narrow sea inlet that is bordered by steep cliffs
    2. atoll b. a narrow body of water that connects two larger bodies of water
    3. butte c. a place in the desert that has water
    4. cape d. a group or chain of islands clustered together in a sea or ocean
    5. channel e. a flat-topped rock or hill formation with steep sides
    6. delta f. a cold, treeless area
    7. fjord g. low land formed by silt and sand at the mouth of a river
    8. isthmus h. a narrow strip of land connecting two larger landmasses
    9. oasis i. an island formed by coral
    10. tundra j. a pointed piece of land that sticks out into a larger body of water

    ANSWERS: 1.d, 2.i, 3.e, 4.j, 5.b, 6.g, 7.a, 8.h, 9.c, 10.f.

    Science -- animals and weather. How does body fat work to protect penguins and other cold-weather animals? Students can perform one of these experiments to learn more about body fat and its protective properties.
    --- Brrrrr! Grades K-6 (scroll down the page for this activity)
    --- How Does Blubber Work? Grades 4-9 (calculators required)

    Language -- syllables. Ask students to identify the number of syllables in each of these words from this News for Kids article: emperor (3), penguin (2), Antarctic (3), peninsula (4), temperature (4), climate (2), affecting (3), supply (2), Antarctica (4), percent (2), area (3), breeding (2), survive (2), increase (2), krill (1), creatures (2), source (1), scientists (3), action (2), pollution (3), species (2), and endangered (3).

    Art. Have fun with one of these penguin art projects:
    --- Paper Plate Penguin (scroll down to activity 34)
    --- Paper Bag Penguin
    --- Toilet-Paper-Roll Penguin
    --- Paper Mache Penguin

    Math -- percent. Extend this articles mentions of the concept of percent with this work sheet from Education World and Teacher Created Materials: Solving Problems Involving Discounts and Sales

    Language arts -- literature. Read aloud to students the story of Tacky the Penguin. You might extend the activity by having students perform a brief play based on Tackys story.


    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

    FINE ARTS: Visual Arts
    GRADES K - 4
    NA-VA.K-4.1 Understanding and Applying Media, Techniques, and Processes
    NA-VA.K-4.2 Using Knowledge of Structures and Functions
    GRADES 5 - 8
    NA-VA.5-8.1 Understanding and Applying Media, Techniques, and Processes
    NA-VA.5-8.2 Using Knowledge of Structures and Functions

    LANGUAGE ARTS: English
    GRADES K - 12
    NL-ENG.K-12.2 Reading for Understanding
    NL-ENG.K-12.11 Participating in Society
    NL-ENG.K-12.12 Applying Language Skills

    GRADES K - 4
    NS.K-4.3 Life Science
    NS.K-4.4 Earth and Space Science
    GRADES 5 - 8
    NS.5-8.3 Life Science
    NS.5-8.4 Earth and Space Science
    GRADES 9 - 12
    NS.9-12.3 Life Science
    NS.9-12.4 Earth and Space Science

    SOCIAL SCIENCES: Geography
    GRADES K - 12
    NSS-G.K-12.1 The World in Spatial Terms
    NSS-G.K-12.2 Places and Regions
    NSS-G.K-12.5 Environment and Society

    See recent news stories in Education Worlds News Story of the Week Archive.

    Article by Ellen Delisio and Gary Hopkins
    Education World®
    Copyright © 2008 Education World