Echoes Show the Way

A baby was born to J-pod—an endangered family of orcas (killer whales) that live in the San Juan Islands. They’re regularly seen in the waters between Seattle, WA, and Vancouver, BC.

The oldest member of the family is 103 years old! As the matriarch, people have named her “Granny” and her 78-member family is “Granny’s Clan.”
Read more about the birth.

Orcas travel with their families in a dark undersea world. Like other dolphins, orcas use sounds to navigate, find food, communicate, and stay together.
They use a special adaptation called echolocation to “see” with sounds. Interestingly, there have been recent news reports that humans can develop the ability to use echolocation, too.Read more.

Echoes Show the Way
In this activity, students simulate echolocation as they role-play “seeing with sounds” to find food and avoid obstacles in the ocean’s darkness. This activity is adapted from the author’s set of lessons on titled Seeing with Sounds.

Suggested Grade Level: K-4


Depending on the size of your class, write names on cards: at least one orca, a few salmon, a few rocks, many ocean


  1. Read aloud the book Granny’s Clan. You may ask questions such as: How does echolocation help orcas survive in a dark underwater environment? How do orcas “see with sounds?” Why is echolocation more effective than orca
    eyesight in locating fish in dark waters?
  2. Have students draw a card to determine their roles for the game. Have students tape their cards on the front of their shirts.
  3. Explain that the object of the activity is for the blindfolded “orca” to use echolocation to find the “salmon” while avoiding the “rocks.” When the orca tags a salmon by touching it, the salmon is caught and leaves the ocean circle.
  4. Begin by having the “ocean” students form a large circle. The ocean boundary keeps the orca inside. Blindfold the orca and ask him/her to wait outside ocean circle. Have the rocks stand, sit, or lay inside circle. Have the salmon walk slowly inside circle. Give the orca a clicker and guide him/her into the center of the ocean circle.
  5. Explain that the orca will use the clicker to discover what’s in its path. Each time the orca clicks, the salmon immediately reply by saying “salmon,” and the rocks immediately reply “rock.” Instruct the orca to find the salmon and avoid the rocks by listening to the sounds of their voices. If the orca bumps against the rock, it considered an injury. When the orca has 3 injuries, it dies and must leave the center of the circle and become part of the ocean. Choose a new orca and continue play.
  6. After all of the salmon are tagged, switch roles and repeat the activity, allowing students to play different roles.
  7. Debrief the activity by asking the following questions: Was it hard to find your way and locate objects without your eyesight? Why? Was it easier to catch salmon with several orcas? What different ways do humans see in the
    dark? How would your life be different if you had to use sound echoes to navigate?

Additional Tips:

  • After reading aloud the story, read or paraphrase some of the “Dive Deeper” information at the end of the story. 
  • Rather than having students draw their own cards, you may assign roles, especially for the orcas.
  • Some young children may be afraid to be blindfolded. If so, have them play the role of the ocean or tie the blindfold so that they can slightly see underneath it.
  • This activity is meant to be fast-paced. If the energy lags, you may choose additional students to be orcas (like the members of Granny’s Clan) and have them enter circle. 
  • Play a practice round first to give the salmon and rocks a feel for how immediate their responses need to be.
  • For very young children it’s often more exciting to have an adult play the role of the orca.
  • Older children will also enjoy this game. I’ve used a variation with 7th-8th graders.

Common Core Standards (ELA K-4)

  • Reading and Literature: Key Ideas and Details (K.1, 1.1, 2.1, 3.1, 4.1)

Next Generation Science Standards (K-4)

  • LS1.A: Structure and Function
  • LS1C: Organization for Matter and Energy Flow in Organisms
  • LS1.D: Information Processing
  • LS2.A: Interdependent Relationships in Ecosystems
  • LS4.D: Biological Evolution


subscribe     Blog by Carol Malnor I love making connections: kids and nature, science and reading, fun and learning. I discovered the joy of connecting Dawn Publications' books with kids when I was a classroom teacher. Dawn's books were easy to incorporate into my lessons and the kids loved them. I used picture books with students of all ages, from primary school all the way up through 9th grade. Over the years, my relationship with Dawn changed and developed, and I authored Dawn’s Teacher’s Guides as well as writing books for children 4-14 years old. ARTICLE How to Use Creative Nonfiction Picture Books in Support of Common Core and Science ACTIVITIES Dawn Publications STANDARDS Common Core State Standards Next Generation Science Standards National Science Teachers Association Picture Perfect Science   OTHER FAVORITES Dawn Publications Children and Nature Network
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