Iditarod -- Race Across Alaska
Teacher's Guide


The Iditarod sled dog race, held annually in March across more than 1,100 miles in Alaska, embodies adventure, excitement, courage, competition, and the bond of mutual respect humans and animals can share. This project offers students the sense of "being there" in the windswept Alaskan tundra. Students read a virtual roundtable discussion with Iditarod champion Martin Buser and adventure author and former Iditarod musher Gary Paulsen. Students explore the Iditarod route through an interactive trail map and follow the race checkpoint by icy checkpoint. They also interview mushers. Complemented by a variety of suggested classroom activities and printable skill sheets, this Online Activity is a natural for cross-curricular teaching.

Although this project has been developed for grades 4–8, the Iditarod race appeals to students of all levels. In order to facilitate this project to younger grades, modifications to activities have been inserted at point of use in the Lesson Planning Suggestions page.

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Several assessment components are embedded in this lesson plan. Skill labels highlight activities that address specific target skills. Targeted skills are listed in the Learning Objectives. A Writing Checklist and Activity Assessment Rubrics assess student proficiency with the writing activity. An end-of-project Assessment Checklist provides a quick guide to evaluate students' grasp of key ideas.

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Scholastic's Online Activities are designed to support the teaching of standards-based skills. While participating in the "Iditarod: Race Across Alaska" project, students become proficient with several of these skills. Each skill below is linked to its point of use in the Lesson Planning Suggestions page.

In the course of participating in this project, students will:
1. Learn how geography influences the people and events of a specific location.
2. Connect information to main ideas using graphic organizers.
3. Use word analysis to determine meaning of specialized vocabulary.
4. Use technology to navigate an interactive map.
5. Create a graphic organizer to communicate relative distances.
6. Deliver informative questions about a relevant topic using technology.
7. Construct a descriptive/expository essay.
8. Develop a persuasive argument in response to a real-world issue.
9. Respond to questions about the people and events of a specific location.

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Explore the Trail
Students learn important mapping and math skills with a clickable route map that details the location, mile marker, description, and significance of each checkpoint.

Background Articles
Gain a better understanding of the Iditarod and Alaska through two background information articles: All About Alaska and Historic Iditarod.

Young Mushers
Students can meet other kids who have grown up with sled dogs and the Iditarod Race all their lives. Meet the Kings and the Seaveys— kids born into musher families and have run the Junior Iditarod races. Find out what the race means to this next generation of top mushers.

Junior Iditarod
The 160-mile Junior Iditarod is the equivalent of more than six marathons. It is a race that tests the endurance, muscle, and grit of America's young mushers who dare to conquer Alaska's frozen wilderness. Learn about what the young mushers go through to prepare for this race.

A Dog's Life
Alaskan huskies are the breed of dog used by most mushers in the Iditarod. They are very hardy, driven, and good athletes. What are their lives like when training and when racing? Are they happy, or is the Iditarod cruel to animals? Get a background on a sled dog's life from their days as a puppy to their days on the trail.

Top Mushers
Few know the challenge of nature and endurance in the Iditarod as well as three-time champ Martin Buser and top-ten finisher Mitch Seavey. Acclaimed author Gary Paulsen has also raced the Iditarod, and he has written about his adventures. In a virtual roundtable, these three Iditarod experts share their experiences on a range of themes related to this unique race.

Show what you have learned about the Iditarod through an interactive quiz, a poll on the treatmen of sled dogs, a decisions activity, and a chance to participate in a live interview. Students submit questions to Cali, Tessa, and Jeff King for a live interview on March 18 from 1–2 p.m. ET.

Write About It!
Students use the Writing Workshop to learn how to write an essay on how the sled dogs are treated.

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All activities feature modifications targeted for younger grades.

Project Introduction (1–2 Days)
Ask students to discuss what they know about the state of Alaska. Begin a word web of the state on the chalkboard. If students don't do so, add "Iditarod" to the web. Prompt students to contribute what they know to the new category.

Guide students to the All About Alaska article to gain an understanding of Alaska.

You can further inform students about Alaska by referring to a map of the state. Lead students to the links, including the ones below. Add any new information to the web.

Other links for information on the state of Alaska:

Get Ready (3–4 Days)
Return to the Alaska web from the day before. Have students visit the official Iditarod site. Ask student groups to make their own Iditarod web with new information. Organize the responses into the web. Then ask:

  • What do you know about Alaska that makes it a good place to hold the Iditarod?
After students offer responses, let them know that they will be reading about this Alaskan race that begins on March 1. Lead students to the index page of the Iditarod.

Classroom Management: If you have limited computer access, print out and distribute copies of the page, or organize students into same reading-level groups to read the information onscreen.

Instruct student groups to read the articles in the "Top Mushers" section. As they read the articles, have students write down all new vocabulary words.

Guide students to the article on Historic Iditarod for background reading on the event.

Grades K–3
In lieu of the Iditarod Web, you may wish to display books on the Iditarod, and read one with students. Then have students create drawings or a collage about the Iditarod. All readings can be done aloud with the whole class.

Explore the Trail (2 Days)
Visit the Iditarod trail with the whole class. Demonstrate the technology of the page to help students navigate the trail map on their own. Then explore the trail of this year's race with students.

Using the interactive map and other U.S. maps, have student groups create a mileage chart that compares relative distances along the trail route. When groups are finished, invite them to explain how they came up with the figures for distance and describe how the map can be used. You may wish to increase the challenge of the activity by having students supply mileage in miles and kilometers.

As the race progresses, have students revisit the stops along the map. Students can find additional information about each stop using the following Web links:

I love Alaska!

Grades K–3 Visit the sites along the interactive map with students. Explain that each point is a stop along the race route. Have older students create word problems to tell how far each stop is from the last. Then print out the map of Alaska. Reconstruct it with students and display it on the bulletin board. As mushers reach each checkpoint, have students plot the corresponding point on the classroom map.

Interviews (2 Days)
Introduce the mushers from the King family to students. Ask students to offer information about the family that they've learned from Young Mushers. Then ask students to develop two questions about the Iditarod, Alaska, or the daily lives of the Kings that they would like the mushers to answer.

Students can submit their questions and then check back on March 18 from 1–2 p.m. ET to participate in the live interview with the King family.

If students' questions were not answered, have students submit questions to you. Share the most appropriate ones with the class, and have students draw conclusions about possible answers.

Have students read the archive of an interview with Gary Paulsen who has raced twice in the Iditarod, for an author's perspective on the race.

Grades K–2
Read several pages about the mushers with students. Let students know that mushers are the people who guide the dogs along the race route. Lead the class in constructing several questions to ask the mushers. Post the best responses and stay tuned for the live interview. If student's questions are not answered, review possible answers.

Be an Iditarod Reporter (4 Days)
Have students carefully read Be an Iditarod Reporter. Then invite them to begin prewriting work on their essays by undertaking the different steps. Remind students not to do any self-editing at this time. Distribute copies of the activity rubric. Explain that these are the criteria on which students' reports will be graded.

Before students begin Step 3, have them exchange their papers with a partner. Ask partners to write comments on students' papers. Then have students address comments, incorporating those they feel will make their writing stronger. Set up time to conference with your students once they have redrafted their paper. After students have written their final draft, have them copyedit and spell check their work. Then schedule computer time for each student to submit work online.

Writing Checklist: Did students remember to:

  • use at least three facts from the topic fact sheets: the dogs, the mushers, the race?
  • organize their writing by importance, time, or sequence?
  • use their own words?
  • incorporate peer as well as teacher's comments?
  • copy edit, spell check, and revise, their work?

Grades K–3
Have students take part in dramatic play as mushers, dogs, and a reporter. Encourage students to ask the questions they worked on for the interview during play. Have students discuss the dramatic play. Then have older students write a paragraph about what it would be like to be a musher.

Sled-Dog Poll (2 Days)
As students begin wrapping up their writing activities, have them do further investigation into the race. Ask students to read the A Dog's Life. After reading the section, have students read the poll question: Are Sled Dogs Treated Well? Before they vote, Students should research both sides of the question through the Iditarod online activity, other Web sites, as well as print material to construct a persuasive argument. Pose the following questions to students to inform their research:

  • Are there any "No" responses that document mistreatment?
  • Is the truth a matter of perspective? For example, some groups may feel that racing dogs for thousands of miles is cruel, but others believe that the dogs are genetically and physically capable of such conditions.
Once students feel they can make an informed decision, Have students discuss their persuasive arguments with you. Then ask them to vote. Hold a class discussion about individual responses. Make a print out of the pie chart and discuss the results as well as students' responses.

Grades K–2
Read the Sled-Dog Poll page aloud. Explain both views. Encourage students to talk about how they feel the dogs are treated. Then have students draw pictures to convey their responses. Meet with each child to create a label for their artwork explaining how their position.

Project Wrap-up (2 day)
Students can spend the final few days finishing any incomplete work. Remind them to add finishing touches to their Iditarod report. Challenge students to take the quiz in the activities section. Before they take the quiz, suggest that students reread the different sections to better inform them.

Revisit the question from the Get Ready activity with the class. Have students compare their responses with those they gave previously. For further discussion, have students respond to the following ideas:

  • Where can you go for information online about the Iditarod and or Alaska?
  • What do you know about the people who live in Alaska?
  • How does the Iditarod contribute to the communities and people of Alaska?

Assessment Checklist

  • Did the student learn about the importance of the Iditarod to communities, livelihood, and sport? Can they explain why or why not the race is an important part of American or Alaskan culture?
  • Can the student mention some of the race's significant challenges? What character traits are needed in meeting these challenges?
  • Can the student draw a parallel between the race (or an aspect of the race) and a part of his or her own life?
  • Did the student demonstrate in the essay writing an understanding of the race's importance or significance?

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This project aids students in meeting national standards in several curriculum areas.

National Council for Geographic Education

  • How to use maps and other geographic representations, to acquire, process, and report information. (1)
  • The physical and human characteristics of places. (4)
  • How culture and experience influence people's perception of places and regions. (6)
  • The characteristics and spatial distribution of ecosystems. (8)
  • The characteristics, distributions, and complexity of Earth's cultural mosaics. (10)
  • The patterns and networks of economic interdependence on Earth's surface. (11)
  • How human actions modify the physical environment. (14)
National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM)
  • Measurement (Students make and use measurements in problems and everyday situations.)
  • Fractions and Decimals (Students apply fractions and decimals to problems and everyday situations.)
  • Whole-Number Computation (Students select estimation and computation techniques appropriate to specific problems.)
Reading/Language Arts
International Reading Association (IRA) and the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE)
  • Students read a wide range of print and non-print texts to build an understanding of texts, of themselves, and of the cultures of the United States and the world; to acquire new information; to respond to the needs and demands of society and the workplace; and for personal fulfillment.
  • Students adjust their use of spoken, written, and visual language (e.g., conventions, style, and vocabulary) to communicate effectively with a variety of audiences and for different purposes.
  • Students use a variety of technological and informational resources (e.g., libraries, databases, computer networks, and video) to gather and synthesize information and to create and communicate knowledge.
  • Students develop an understanding of and respect for diversity in language use, patterns, and dialects across cultures, ethnic groups, geographic regions, and social roles.
  • Students participate as knowledgeable, reflective, creative, and critical members of a variety of literacy communities.
  • Students use spoken, written, and visual language to accomplish their own purposes (e.g., for learning, enjoyment, persuasion, and the exchange of information).
National Academy of Sciences
  • Physical Sciences (Students gain an understanding of motion and forces and transfer of energy.)
  • Life Sciences (Students gain an understanding of regulation and behavior, and populations and ecosystems.)
  • Earth and Space Science (Students gain an understanding of the earth's systems; technological design; and science in personal and social perspective, including health, the environment, and natural hazards.)
Social Studies
National Council for the Social Studies (NCSS)
  • Culture (Students learn how to understand multiple perspectives that derive from different cultural vantage points.)
  • People, Places, and Environments (Students utilize technological advances to connect to the world beyond their personal locations. The study of people, places, and human-environment interactions assists learners as they create their spatial views and geographic perspectives of the world.)
  • Individual Development and Identity (Students learn to ask questions such as Why do people behave as they do? What influences how people learn, perceive, and grow?)
Technology Foundation Standards for Students
  • use technology tools to enhance learning, increase productivity, and promote creativity
  • use technology tools to collaborate, publish, and interact with peers, experts, and other audiences
  • use a variety of media and formats to communicate information and ideas effectively to multiple audiences
  • use technology to locate, evaluate, and collect information from a variety of sources
  • use technology tools to process data and report results
  • employ technology in the development of strategies for solving problems in the real world

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Grades 3–5

Discuss the purpose of sleds, especially in the Arctic. Have students draw their own sleds for different purposes, such as a racing sled, a cargo sled, and a family sled.

Have students research the history of the Iditarod, using Web and print resources. Encourage students to search for information about the Diphtheria Run and the Gold Rush, especially as it relates to the history of trails and villages.

Have each student make a chart of finishing times for all mushers in a previous year. Assess students on how they find the average finishing time for the year.
Instruct students to create a weather chart that documents temperature, snowfall, and other weather conditions for each day of the race.
Have groups of students collaborate on original math word problems about various aspects of the race.
Encourage students to make a chart of finishing times for all mushers in a previous year. Challenge students to come up with an average for all the racers.

Grades 6–8

Write an expository essay that compares and contrasts transportation in Alaska today with transportation during the Gold Rush.

Ask students to study past race statistics at the official Iditarod Web site and use probability to predict a 2003 winner.
Have students create a chart to record daily mileage as well as daily cumulative mileage for mushers competing in the race.
Challenge students to research annual expenses for training an Iditarod team. Students should craft a list that records each expense, quantity, unit dollar value, as well as category totals.

Social Studies
Assign students to research indigenous groups of Alaska. Groups of students can report on the history and culture of native groups such as the Aleut, Athbascan, Haida, Inupiat, Tlingit, and Yu'pik. Students can collect their reports into an illustrated portfolio or a collaborative multimedia presentation.

A class debate on the issue of whether races such as the Iditarod encourage mistreatment of animals can be a good opportunity to assess students' understanding of deeper issues surrounding the race.

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Official 2003 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race Home Page
This site, maintained by the Iditarod Race Committee, provides musher biographies, history and background, daily race statistics, and links to other related sites. You can follow the "Teacher on the Trail" and don't miss Zuma's Paw Prints - race stories written from the dog's point of view!

Anchorage Daily News
Here you'll find news and feature stories, race standings, and outstanding photos and maps.

Sled Dogs: An Alaskan Epic
Move your mouse over this Shockwaved sled to find out more about the sport of dogsledding. (If you don't have the Shockwave plug-in on your computer, ask an adult to help you download it.)

Mushing Magazine
Mushing Magazine presents "Junior Mushers" just for kids.

Mush with P.R.I.D.E.
P.R.I.D.E. stands for Providing Responsible Information on a Dog's Environment. The organization's Web site gives information on responsible sled dog training and care.

For information on books and other Scholastic products please visit our related booklist.