Iditarod -- Race Across Alaska
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Lesson 3: Taking a Stand on Sled Dogs

Lesson Introduction
In this lesson, students take a stand on the treatment of sled dogs and attempt to persuade others of their point of view.

Grade Level: 4–8

7 days

Student Objectives
Students will:

  • Use interactive resources to learn about the Iditarod, and specifically the lives and treatment of sled dogs
  • Read and/or participate in interviews of mushers and other Iditarod experts to understand better the treatment of sled dogs
  • Formulate an opinion on the issue of the treatment of sled dogs
  • Write a persuasive essay to convince readers of their opinion


  • computer(s) with Internet access
  • Idea Web graphic organizer (PDF)
  • Iditarod books (see Recommended Books)
  • U.S. map with Alaska clearly visible
  • Writing paper
  • optional: LCD or overhead projector to display articles
  • optional: graph paper


Day 1
Step 1: Using the Idea Web graphic organizer, have students share what they know about the Iditarod (what it is, where it is, who participates, etc.) and record the information.
Step 2: Assign students to read the following background articles on their own:

Step 3: Draw students' attention to the U.S. map. Ask a volunteer to locate Alaska on the map. Point out how far north it is. Ask what they think the weather must be like that far north.
Step 4: Drawing on their reading and study of the map, review the Idea Web with the students. Have them confirm or reject original ideas they had about the Iditarod. They should replace ideas that were rejected with new information they've learned.
Step 5: Discuss the role of sled dogs in the Iditarod, pointing out that the 1,150-mile Iditarod trail is grueling for both the mushers and the team sled dogs they drive. What do students know about the dogs? What do they think about sled dogs participating in the race? Explain that mushers consider their dogs athletes — trained to perform and anxious to compete. Animal-rights groups argue that the race is cruel to the dogs, driving them beyond their endurance and sometimes even to death. Tell students that over the next few days they will learn more about sled dogs and will form their own opinions about their treatment. Then they will try to persuade others of their point of view.

Days 2-3
Step 1: Assign students to read the articles below independently. Students should take notes related to the topics and questions they've created. They should also be considering the question: Are sled dogs treated humanely or not? Using the For and Against Worksheet, have them take notes as they read.

Step 2: In addition to reading the articles, students should choose one or more of the selected Iditarod books to read on their own for additional information.
Step 3: Drawing on their research, students should form an opinion about the treatment of sled dogs. Have each student voice his opinion in our Vote activity.

Days 4-6
Step 1: Explain to students that they will now use what they've learned to write a persuasive essay supporting their position regarding the treatment of sled dogs. Provide background on persuasive writing, the goal of which is to convince readers to agree with you. Emphasize that persuasive writing relies heavily on facts — all opinions must be supported. Students can review the articles, research the topic at the library, or use additional resources.
Step 2: Have students visit Writer's Workshop: Persuasive Writing. As students progress through each step of the writing process, they should focus on developing an essay that uses researched facts to support their position.
Step 3: Working in pairs, have students review each others essays using the Peer Review Checklist.

Day 7
Step 1: Take a class vote to find out how many students believe sled dogs are treated cruelly and how many believe they're mistreated. Have students compare the class with the online results.
Step 2: Invite students to read aloud their persuasive essays to the rest of the class.
Step 3: After everyone has read their essays aloud, ask students if they've been convinced of the opposite opinion. Repeat the vote from step 1 and compare the results to the original poll. Encourage student who have changed their opinions to explain what convinced them of the opposing view. What facts or ideas did they find most persuasive?

Assessment & Evaluation
Use this Project Rubric: Taking a Stand on Sled Dogs to assess students' proficiency with this activity. Evaluate whether students' skills are improving or where they may need additional support or instruction.

Lesson Extensions

  1. Host a debate on the issue of the treatment of sled dogs.
  2. Have students participate in the Be a Musher Race and then write a journal of the race through the eyes of a sled dog.
  3. Using the results of the class vote, have students calculate percentages and create a pie chart. Remind them to include students who voted "Undecided" as part of the pie. Have students compare the class pie chart to the national vote online.
  4. Using their persuasive writing as inspiration for a script, have students create a 60-second videotaped commercial designed to convince others of their views.
  5. Using a multimedia software program, students can create an interactive version of their writing complete with graphics, photos, and recordings that assist in stating their argument.
  6. Have students publish their persuasive essays in the editorial section of their school or local newspaper.