Husky dogs pulling sled in snow

Learning Unit: The Iditarod – One’s Will to Survive

LU Title: The Iditarod, One’s Will to Survive
Author(s): Kathy Welch/Vicky Johnson
Grade Level: Sixth
School: Richfield Springs Central School
Subject Areas: English Language Arts, Technology, Social Studies, Math, Physical Education

Written Overview

This unit fits into a sixth-grade English Language Arts curriculum during February and March, covering reading and writing for information, critical analysis, literary response, and social interaction. It also integrates Social Studies, Math, Technology, and Physical Education, with a focus on geography and the elements of the environment.

Adaptations: This unit can be adapted for students at any learning level. Students with disabilities will receive modifications as per their IEPs.

Unit Schedule/Time Plan

Duration: 6-8 weeks, depending on students’ reading levels.


  • Introduce technology component (file access and saving to a server).
  • Start reading “Woodsong” by Gary Paulsen by mid-February.
  • Begin electronic journal writing.


  • Continue Iditarod activities via the internet.
  • Complete the novel and comparison paper.
  • Engage in survival activities at the local gym.
  • Write autobiographical paper on survival experience.

Essential Questions

  • How strong is the will to survive?
  • What are one’s physical limitations?
  • What is an autobiography? Why are they important?

Initiating Activity

Students will listen to “The Bravest Dog Ever: The True Story of Balto” by Natalie Standiford. Discuss the history of the Iditarod and the survival factors faced by people and animals.

Learning Experiences

Declarative Knowledge:

  • History of the Iditarod Dog Sled Race: Students will know the history and understand the significance of the Iditarod.

Procedural Knowledge:

  • Accessing and Saving Files: Students will learn to access and save files on a server.
  • Internet Research: Students will learn to access information from the internet and save it to their files.
  • Comparison Paper: Students will write a comparison paper using a graphic organizer (Venn Diagram).
  • Autobiographical Paper: Students will write an autobiographical paper describing their survival experience.


  • Read “Woodsong” by Gary Paulsen and keep electronic journals.
  • Write a comparison paper comparing “Woodsong” with another survival novel.
  • Create a map of Alaska showing geographical features and the Iditarod route.
  • Participate in an outward bound survival course.
  • Access and track musher progress online.

Culminating Performance

Students will participate in an outward bound survival experience at Clark Gym in Cooperstown, New York. They will then write an autobiographical paper reflecting on this experience.

Connections to Standards

English Language Arts Standards:

  • Standard 1: Language for Information and Understanding
    • Gather and interpret information.
    • Select information appropriate to the purpose of their investigation.
  • Standard 2: Language for Literary Response and Expression
    • Recognize and use features that distinguish genres.
    • Understand literary elements and compare them to other works and their own life.
    • Present personal responses to literature and explain meanings beyond the literal level.
  • Standard 3: Language for Critical Analysis and Evaluation
    • Monitor and adjust oral and written presentations.
  • Standard 4: Language for Social Interaction
    • Listen attentively and respond appropriately.
    • Take turns speaking and respond to others’ ideas.

Learning Experiences/Declarative Knowledge

Objective: Students will understand the history of the Iditarod Dog Sled Race.

Activity: Read “The Bravest Dog Ever: The True Story of Balto” and discuss its significance. Reflect on survival themes and discuss medications related to survival.


  • Class discussion
  • Journal writing

Learning Experiences/Procedural Knowledge

Objective: Students will write a comparison paper and access information online.


  • Comparison Paper: After reading “Woodsong,” students will write a comparison paper using a Venn Diagram.
  • Internet Research: Students will learn to access and save information from the Iditarod website to their files.


  • Demonstration using a projection screen.
  • Graphic organizers for procedures.


Technology Proficiency:

  • 4: Student accesses and uses files/internet without aid.
  • 3: Student uses graphic organizer for aid.
  • 2: Student needs teacher instruction and graphic organizer.
  • 1: Student requires constant teacher instruction.

Comparison Paper:

  • 4: Strong sequencing, introduction, and conclusion with insightful comparisons.
  • 3: Average sequencing and comparisons with minor errors.
  • 2: Weak sequencing and comparisons with significant errors.
  • 1: Poorly organized with excessive errors.

Journal/Daily Assignments:

  • 4: Complete, correctly filed, and error-free.
  • 3: Mostly complete with minor errors.
  • 2: Some entries missing or incorrect.
  • 1: Many entries missing or incorrect.

Autobiographical Paper:

  • 4: Detailed, first-person narrative with correct sequencing and no errors.
  • 3: Detailed with some minor errors.
  • 2: Lacks detail and has many errors.
  • 1: Incoherent with excessive errors.


This unit on “The Iditarod, One’s Will to Survive” integrates multiple subjects, teaching students valuable skills and knowledge through a comprehensive, hands-on approach. Students will gain an understanding of resilience, survival, and historical significance while developing practical technological and writing skills.