Posted 24/1/11
This clip comes from the BBC series The Blue Planet which I can’t recommend enough for any armchair naturalist. In the opening scene, we are introduced to “the biggest animal that has ever lived on our planet.” The aim of this lesson plan is for students to acquire the language necessary for describing size, weight, height, speed, length, width, etc, while learning about the blue whale.
  • Language level: Elementary – upper intermediate (A1 – B2)
  • Learner type: Young learners; Teens; Adults; CLIL
  • Time: 40 minutes + Follow ups
  • Activity: Dictation; Listening
  • Topic: Science
  • Language: Adjectives and nouns of measurement (as big as; the size of, etc)
  • Materials: Video; Worksheets; Slideshow (optional)
The blue whale lesson plan pdf [downloaded 7859 times] Sentence reconstruction slideshow (optional) pdf [downloaded 4295 times]

Lesson plan outline

  1. Give out copies of the three puzzles (included in the PDF download) and ask students to complete them.
  2. Let students compare their answers before feedback. Make sure you drill pronunciation of any potentially problematic words. Note that all answers are included in the PDF download.
  3. Go to this page at Wikimedia Commons. Tell your students that they are going to hear an Atlantic recording artist. Play any of the selected audio files and ask students if they can identify the singer.
  4. After a bit of guessing, tell your students that you are going to show them a video in which they will see the singer. Play the clip but keep the sound low so that attention is not drawn to the narrator’s voice. Note that if you turn the sound down completely, you will miss out on the music.
  5. While the clip is playing, ask your students the following questions:
  6. * Does anyone know what animal this is?
    * What do you know about it?
    * Has anyone ever seen a whale (where, when, etc)?
    * Does anyone know about the series from which the clip is taken?
  7. Dictate the following sentences:
  8. a. The blue whale is the biggest animal that has ever lived on our planet.
    b. It is 30 meters long.
    c. It weighs over 200 tonnes.
    d. Its tongue weighs as much as an elephant.
    e. Its heart is the size of a car.
    f. Some of its blood vessels are so wide that you could swim through them.
    g. Its tail is the width of a small aircraft’s wings.
    h. It is one of the fastest animals in the sea.
    i. A single blue whale can consume 40 million krill in one day (a crustacean which measures just a few centimetres in length).
    k. Blue whales breed in the Arctic.
  9. Let your students compare their dictated sentences with each other. Make sure they have written them correctly.
  10. Tell students that one of the sentences is not true. Ask them to guess which one it is and compare ideas.
  11. Play the video clip. Students should then realise that the last sentence (Blue whales breed in the Arctic) is the incorrect one.
  12. The Blue Planet, the series from which the clip is taken, was made in 2001. For homework, get your students to find out if marine biologists now know where the blue whale goes to breed and why this information is important.

Variations and follow ups

In the PDF download, there are a number of variations and follow ups to this activity. Some of these involve student-created flashcards.


The images on the sentence reconstruction slideshow were made using Here are the links to the original images:

Image credit

Blue whale image comes from here:

Posted 24/1/11

21 Responses to The blue whale

  1. Eddy says:

    Thanks for the lesson info. Developing some of my own materials and it’s good to get some fresh ideas.

  2. Jamie Keddie says:

    Thanks for stopping by Eddy
    Glad to hear you are getting some ideas. That makes me happy!
    Good luck :-)

  3. Hannah says:

    I used this lesson with some intermediate kids and they LOVED it. It was so interesting and more like a nature lesson than an English lesson.
    Also got me hooked on David Attenborough series which I will definitely try to use for future lessons.

  4. Jamie Keddie says:

    Hannah – thank you very much for the comment. Be careful with these nature documentaries. I got addicted for a while and could only see fish when I tried to get to sleep at night
    Jamie :-)

  5. Stef says:

    Hello this comment was actually written for ‘If the earth had rings like Saturn’ but I have also recently used this lesson too, so it is as valid!!!!

    Brilliant deffo get some info on Dinosaurs because they all think dinosaurs were bigger!!!

  6. Jamie Keddie says:

    Thanks Stef
    Yeah – dinosaurs rock (even though they aren’t as big as the blue whales!) There’s another dinosaur lesson idea on the variations on this post:
    Thanks very much for the comment
    Jamie :)

  7. Linda says:

    Dear Jamie,
    You’ve really made many good lessons and this one is my pick for today. Thank you.

  8. Jamie Keddie says:

    Thanks Linda
    I appreciate your appreciation!
    Hope it worked well :-)

  9. Pınar Manici says:

    Hi Jamie,
    Again, another wonderful lesson plan. When I dictated them “The blue whale is the biggest animal that has ever lived on our planet.” the first question I got was: “Bigger than dinosaurs?” :) Then I remembered I had seen your link on dinosaurs here, so I said we would study dinosaurs next time. Thanks for posting this!

  10. Jamie Keddie says:

    Hello Pinar
    Don’t forget to tell them about Sue – The largest and most complete T. rex skeleton ever discovered!
    Good luck
    Jamie :-)

  11. Jamie Keddie says:

    Get interactive with a blue whale:
    (Thanks for the link Monika!)

  12. Taylor Hall says:

    This lesson went swimmingly with my class! That interactive National Geographic website is great for having the students write their own sentences on measurements.

  13. Jamie Keddie says:

    It went “swimmingly”!
    I love that. I am going to quote you one day.
    Glad you enjoyed the activity and the resources Taylor.
    Jamie :)

  14. bayan bader says:

    a great lesson

  15. Ollie says:

    Hi Jamie,

    Thanks so much for your excellent website. We met once when you came to talk at IH Madrid and I have been using your site ever since. I’ve used this lesson a couple of times and since the video seems to have disappeared, I thought I’d link you a replacement I found via the BBC. (although it does have a copy of the transcript which includes the answers below the video).


  16. Jamie Keddie says:

    Thank you very much Ollie
    That is really useful. I have just removed the old video and replaced it with the BBC one that you supllied.
    Hope to come back to IH Madrid one of these days.
    Thanks again
    Jamie :)

  17. Jamie Keddie says:

    Oh dear, seems that the Blue Planet may have exaggerated some of the dimensions a bit!

  18. Jamie Keddie says:

    For any teacher who has ever used this lesson plan (and who takes an interest in critical thinking!), it is worth listening to this podcast. Thank you to my friend Dan Barber for sending it my way:

  19. James Wakefield says:

    Thanks, for this lesson. I have used it many times, it is the best!!
    I always finish off with the “Everything at once” song by Lenka.

  20. Jamie Keddie says:

    Thanks James
    Did you see the video and podcast that I linked to above (see comments). It seems that the ‘facts’ in the lesson plan have been exaggerated a bit.
    Thanks for your comment :)