Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O'Dell

Teacher Guide by Elizabeth Pedro

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Island of the Blue Dolphins Lesson Plans

Student Activities for Island of the Blue Dolphins Include:

Island of the Blue Dolphins is a fictional novel based on the true story of the Lone Woman of San Nicolas. Karana, a Native American girl, is stuck on an island, forced to survive harsh weather, wild dogs, and enduring solitude, wondering if she’ll ever be rescued and returned to her family. These storyboarding activities will help students understand important details and concepts through the use of an Island of the Blue Dolphins Summary activity, vocabulary analysis, and more!

Island of the Blue Dolphins Lesson Plans, Student Activities and Graphic Organizers

Plot Diagram | Island of the Blue Dolphins Summary

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A common use for Storyboard That is to help students create a plot diagram of the events from a story. Not only is this a great way to teach the parts of the plot, but it reinforces major events and help students develop greater understanding of literary structures.

Students can create a storyboard capturing the narrative arc in a work with a six-cell storyboard containing the major parts of the plot diagram. For each cell, have students create a scene that follows the book in sequence using: Exposition, Conflict, Rising Action, Climax, Falling Action, and Resolution.

Example Island of the Blue Dolphins Plot Diagram

Island of the Blue Dolphins is told from the point of view of Karana, a teenage girl who lives with her tribe on an island in the South Pacific.


Russian Aleuts come to Karana's island to hunt for otter pelts. The two peoples come to an agreement that allows the Aleuts to get pelts and keeps Karana's people safe.


The Aleuts go back on the established deal. A bloody battle ensues between the Aleuts and the native islanders.

Rising Action

The conflict has made it too hard for the villagers to stay on their island. The villagers leave on a ship, but Ramo gets left behind. Karana leaps out of the boat and swims to shore, so her little brother would not be alone. The two siblings must work together to survive on their own.


Wild dogs attack and kill Ramo. In her grief, Karana burns down her village because she can't stand to be there by herself any more. She vows to kill all of the wild dogs. But when she gets the chance, Karana decides not to kill the leader of the pack of dogs and tames him. She names him Rontu, or Fox Eyes.

Falling Action

The Aleuts return to her island and Karana retreats to a cave. She makes a tenuous friendship with Tutok, an Aleut girl. Karana yearns for human company, even if not of her tribe. One day Tutok does not come at their normal meeting time, and Karana watches the Aleut ship sail away.


Karana is rescued from her island and from her solitude. She has been alone on the island for several years. She discovers that the rest of her village did not survive the journey on the ocean.

(These instructions are completely customizable. After clicking "Copy Assignment", change the description of the assignment in your Dashboard.)

Student Instructions

Create a visual plot diagram of Island of the Blue Dolphins.

  1. Separate the story into the Exposition, Conflict, Rising Action, Climax, Falling Action, and Resolution.
  2. Create an image that represents an important moment or set of events for each of the story components.
  3. Write a description of each of the steps in the plot diagram.

(Modify this basic rubric by clicking the link below. You can also create your own on Quick Rubric.)

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Island of the Blue Dolphins Themes

In this activity, students will identify a theme of the novel, and support their choice with details from the text. One theme is friendship, and another is violence.


Karana makes an unlikely friend in Rontu, the leader of the wild dogs who killed her brother. Another example is Karana befriending Tutok, a descendent of the Aleutians who killed her father. A third example is Karana becoming friends with wild dogs, a sea otter, and birds.


Chief Chowig and the other men are massacred by Captain Orlov and the Aleuts. Another example of violence is Ramu being attacked and killed by wild dogs. The last example is when Karana decides that she will not kill any other animals.

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Island of the Blue Dolphins Character Map

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In this activity, students should depict the characters of the story, paying close attention to the physical and character traits of both major and minor characters. Students should provide detailed information regarding the characters’ actions and how they influence other characters. In addition, students can identify how the main character changed over time.

Characters included in the character map are:

  • Karana
  • Ramo
  • Ulape
  • Chief Chowig
  • Captain Orlov
  • Matasaip
  • Kimki
  • The Rescuers
  • Rontu
  • Rontu-Aru
  • Tutok

(These instructions are completely customizable. After clicking "Copy Assignment", change the description of the assignment in your Dashboard.)

Student Instructions

Create a character map for the major characters.

  1. Identify the major characters in Island of the Blue Dolphins and type their names into the different title boxes.
  2. Choose a character to represent each of the literary characters.
    • Select colors and a pose appropriate to story and character traits.
  3. Choose a scene or background that makes sense for the character.
  4. Fill in the Textables for Physical/Character Traits, What Challenges Does This Character Face, and How Does This Character Impact the Plot.
  5. Save and submit the assignment.

(Modify this basic rubric by clicking the link below. You can also create your own on Quick Rubric.)

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Island of the Blue Dolphins Vocabulary Lesson Plan

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In this activity, students demonstrate their understanding of vocabulary words using a Frayer Model. After choosing a word, students provide a definition, characteristics, examples (synonyms), and non-examples (antonyms) of the word. Students may be provided the vocabulary words, or they can use words that they have discovered through their reading of the text.

This example uses the word league:

  • Definition: A unit of distance, estimated at about three miles
  • Characteristics: Karana spotted the ship several leagues away
  • Examples: Distance, space between two points, measurement
  • Non-examples: Organization, group, club, society

(These instructions are completely customizable. After clicking "Copy Assignment", change the description of the assignment in your Dashboard.)

Student Instructions

Create a Frayer Model for one of the vocabulary words from Island of the Blue Dolphins.

  1. Choose a vocabulary word and type it into the center title box.
  2. Find the definition in a print or online dictionary and enter it into the description box under Definition.
  3. Illustrate the meaning of the word in the Definition cell using a combination of scenes, characters, and items.
    • Alternatively, use Photos for Class to show the meaning of the words with the search bar.
  4. Think of at least three characteristics that help expand the meaning beyond the definition.
  5. Provide written and visual examples of the word.
  6. Provide written and visual non-examples of the word.

(Modify this basic rubric by clicking the link below. You can also create your own on Quick Rubric.)

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Compare and Contrast Characters

In order to demonstrate an understanding of comparing and contrasting characters, students should choose two characters and identify their similarities and differences using Storyboard That's T-Chart.

In this example, Karana is being compared to her tribe. Karana cares about animals and people; she jumps off a ship when she realizes her brother has been left behind. The tribe is not caring; they do not care who is left behind. Karana and her tribe are similar in how they break tradition. In order to survive, Karana must break tribal tradition, which says women cannot make weapons. The tribe also was forced to break tradition; at a time of great loss, the tribe gives women tasks usually designated for men.

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Textual Evidence

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In this activity, students will be provided a question to answer using textual evidence. The question asked here is, “What challenges did Karana face while alone in the wilderness?”

The three examples provided as evidence include:

  • "Rain fell that night and lasted for two days.”
  • "If I built a hut here I would have to kill him and his pack. I planned to do this anyway, but it would take much time."
  • "There was another place to the south where I could have built my house...but I did not want to go there because it would remind of the people who were gone."

(These instructions are completely customizable. After clicking "Copy Assignment", change the description of the assignment in your Dashboard.)

Student Instructions

Create a storyboard that answers the prompt using at least three examples from Island of the Blue Dolphins. Click on "Add Cells" to change the number of examples.

  1. Type the question into the central black box.
  2. Think about examples from the text that support your answer.
  3. Type text evidence in the description boxes. Paraphrase or quote directly from the text.
  4. Illustrate each example using scenes, characters, items, etc.

(Modify this basic rubric by clicking the link below. You can also create your own on Quick Rubric.)

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A Quick Synopsis of Island of the Blue Dolphins (Contains Plot Spoilers)

The story begins with Karana and her brother, Ramo, watching as a red Aleut ship sails to their island. Captain Orlov approaches their father, Chief Chowig, and says they will be hunting sea otter. Chief Chowig demands half of the sea otter since his people own the land and the surrounding waters.

Captain Orlov and forty men move onto the island and set up camp. Karana’s father tells his people to stay away from the camp. The villagers obey, but watch the Aleuts carefully; they suspect the men will leave soon, and the villagers want to make sure they get their share.

The Aleuts pack their ship without paying the village Karana and her older sister, Ulape, hide on the ledge of the canyon and watch as their father confronts Captain Orlov about their deal. A battle ensues between the hunters and the villagers. The Aleuts board their ship, leaving many of the village men dead, including Karana’s father. Life becomes very difficult; women begin taking over the work that was meant for men, and the memories of those that had passed cause people to become depressed.

The new chief, Kimki, goes by canoe to a nearby island, to seek help. When Kimki doesn’t return, the villagers plan to flee if another Aleut ship is sighted. Ships from the mainland arrive in the night though, and the people board them, fearful, but happy to be leaving the island. The villagers must hurry, a storm is coming and the ships cannot delay.

Karana, Ulape, and Ramo return to their hut and pack a few of their precious belongings; halfway to the ship Ramo realizes he forgot his spear. On board, Karana, looks for her brother; villagers in charge insist that Ramo is somewhere on the ship, but Karana knows her brother returned for his spear. Karana swims back to the shore, where she finds him. The two are left alone on the island.

Karana and Ramo find their huts ravaged by wild dogs, but manage to gather enough food. Ramo is eager to retrieve a canoe for fishing. Karana lets him go, but worries. When she cannot wait any longer, she searches for him. Karana discovers the pack of wild dogs, and her brother lying motionless among them. She scares the dogs away and picks up her brother, realizing he is already dead. Karana carries his body back to camp and vows to kill all the wild dogs.

Karana cannot stand to live in the village any longer; she burns it down and sleeps on the top of a large rock for safety. She decides to make a weapon, even though it is forbidden to women in her tribe. Karana builds a bow, arrows, and a spear. She feels secure with these new weapons and waits for an opportunity to kill the wild dogs.

Many seasons pass, and Karana is so lonely that she decides to retrieve a canoe and sail to the island like Kimki. She gets the canoe, but has difficulty steering and keeping leaks sealed. More afraid than ever, she decides that she belongs on the island. She builds a fence out of sea elephant bones and kelp, which will keep the wild dogs out, and creates shelves in the rocks to keep her food safe from mice and red foxes.

Determined to kill the wild dogs, Karana goes to their cave with her bow, arrows, and spear. She wounds the lead dog with a spear and shoots two more, before following the wounded dog into the cave. He is barely breathing. She carries him back to her house, and begins nursing him back to health. After several days, the dog begins acting like her pet; he waits for her to come home, listens to her, and stays with her inside the house. She names the dog Rontu.

Karana rebuilds her canoe and hides it in a cave, in case she ever needs to escape. Two summers later, the Aleuts come again. Karana hides in the cave with Rontu, fishing and gathering roots by night.

While Karana sewing a new skirt outside, Karana meets a young Aleut girl named Tutok. The girl tries to speak to Karana, but Karana knows this is an enemy and says nothing. After a tentative first encounter, Karana and Tutok spend the days together, learning each others language, laughing, and exchanging gifts. One day, Tutok does not return, and Karana finds the Aleut ship departing.

The Aleut never return to the island again. Rontu dies; Karana catches and tames another dog, Rontu-Aru, who she believes is Rontu’s son. Karana and Rontu-Aru have many happy times together, but Karana finds herself thinking more and more of Tutok and Ulape.

An earthquake hits the island, and Karana is nearly tossed from the cliff into the sea. She survives, but loses all her food, weapons, and canoes. Busy building a fire, Karana doesn’t notice a ship headed toward the island. A man walks along the shore calling for her, but Karana does not make it in time, and the ship sails away. Two springs later, the ship returns, and Karana is ready. Karana learns that the ship that had taken her people sank, and no one had returned for her. Karana sails away with Rontu-Aru, watching the dolphins and remembering all she has been through.

Essential Questions for Island of the Blue Dolphins

  1. What challenges did Karana face, and how did she overcome them?
  2. How did family tradition both help and hinder Karana’s survival?
  3. Is caring for others an important characteristic? Why or why not?

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•   (English) Island of the Blue Dolphins   •   (Español) Isla de los Delfines Azules   •   (Français) Île des Dauphins Bleus   •   (Deutsch) Insel der Blauen Delphine   •   (Italiana) Isola dei Delfini blu   •   (Nederlands) Eiland van de Blue Dolphins   •   (Português) Ilha dos Golfinhos Azuis   •   (עברית) האי של הדולפינים הכחולים   •   (العَرَبِيَّة) جزيرة الدولفين الأزرق   •   (हिन्दी) ब्लू डाल्फिन के द्वीप   •   (ру́сский язы́к) Остров Голубых Дельфинов   •   (Dansk) Island af Blue Dolphins   •   (Svenska) Ön Blue Dolphins   •   (Suomi) Saari Blue Dolphins   •   (Norsk) Island of the Blue Dolphins   •   (Türkçe) Mavi Yunus Adası   •   (Polski) Wyspa Niebieskich Delfinów   •   (Româna) Insula Delfinii Albastre   •   (Ceština) Ostrov Modrých Delfínů   •   (Slovenský) Ostrov Modrých Delfínov   •   (Magyar) Island of the Blue Dolphins   •   (Hrvatski) Otok Plavog Dupina   •   (български) Островът на Сините Делфини   •   (Lietuvos) Sala Blue Delfinais   •   (Slovenščina) Otok Blue Dolphins   •   (Latvijas) Sala Blue Dolphins   •   (eesti) Island Blue Dolphins