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Role Models #1: Jacques Cousteau

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Lesson Overview:

In this lesson, students find out who built the first underwater laboratory and who invented the Aqualung.  He was French, wore a signature red beanie, and introduced the world to life underneath the waves.  It was Jacques Cousteau, of course!  Sit back and watch the children delight in discovering one of the 20th Century’s greatest scientists and explorers.

Lesson Plan:

Suggested Grades:



To understand the life and work of Jacques Cousteau and to be introduced to the biography collection.  (AASL 1.1.6, “Read view, and listen for information presented in any format . . . in order to make inferences and gather meaning.”)

Suggested Time:

50-55 minutes

Success Criteria:

Each student will understand Jacques Cousteau’s life work.  Each student will also understand that a biography is the story of a person’s life and that the library’s biography collection, especially the picture book biography collection, contains many hidden treasures!

Lesson Outline:

1. Introduction:

Ask the students to tell you what their new Unit of Inquiry is about.  (Answer:  Role Models.)  Ask them to tell you what a role model is.  Ask what might make a person a role model.

Ask if any of the students have ever seen a picture or a video filmed underwater.  Ask if they have ever heard of the earth’s oceans being in trouble.  Ask if they have heard that steps are being taken to save the oceans.  If they have heard of any of these efforts, they have this person to thank!

Explain that today they will inquire into the life of a man from France who accomplished many things and gave the world some new inventions as well as new understandings.   Ask the children if they know the word we use to describe the story of a person’s life.  (Answer:  Biography.)  Quickly teach the concept of biography and tell the children that today we’ll be learning from one of the picture book biographies in the school library collection.

Show the cover of The Fantastic Undersea Life of Jacques Cousteau by Dan Yaccarino.  Show the front papers and the title page.  Based on the illustrations, ask the children if they have some idea of the Jacques Cousteau’s work.  (Answer:  Ocean Exploration or something similar.)

2. Main:

Share The Fantastic Undersea Life of Jacques Cousteau by Dan Yaccarino.   As you work, have one of the children scribe a few notes about Cousteau’s discoveries, inventions, or work.  This will provide some basic notes on the text.  I would do this on a flipchart, whiteboard, or smartboard for the class so that the children can focus on the illustrations.  Be sure to point out the red beanie hats on the illustration of Calypso!

After the story, play the first few minutes of Cousteau’s groundbreaking film, The Silent World.  Just a few minutes will give the kids an idea of what Cousteau looked like and how he worked.

Give the children time to complete the student assignment (attached).  They can use the notes that have been scribed for them at the front.  To some degree, this is just a reflection page so that they can record their thinking.

If there is time, tell them that Captain Cousteau was honored by a famous singer/songwriter in the 1970s.  John Denver wrote and performed the song Calypso about Captain Cousteau, his work, ship, and crew.  Play the video clip of Mr. Denver singing Calypso – it has the lyrics on the screen so the children can sing along.

3. Conclusion:

Challenge the children to find out more about Captain Cousteau.  Also, challenge the children to investigate more of the biography collection in the school library.

  1. The Fantastic Undersea Life of Jacques Cousteau by Dan Yaccarino.
  2. Short video clip from The Silent World, Cousteau’s Award Winning documentary and the first, full-length, feature film made underwater: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K8KkNC2bCBk  (optional)
  3. Cousteau Society Kids’ Page: http://kids.cousteau.org/  (optional)
  4. Calpyso, written and performed by John Denver, a musical tribute to Captain Cousteau and his work.  (I think the kids will LOVE learning the song if you have time for it):  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ck4azHTeLfI

I have taught this lesson many times and for most students, the story of Jacques Cousteau is new information.  The kids love seeing pictures of Captain Cousteau in his red beanie!  They love the clip of his little dog on board Calypso in the first few minutes of The Silent World footage. Fill them with images of Captain Cousteau, his ship, his discoveries, and his passionate efforts to save the oceans.

Note also that I have not focused too much on whether Cousteau was a role model.  Because this is the first lesson in the unit, the children may not yet know too much about what makes a person a role model.  Next week follow up by asking whether they think that Cousteau is a role model.  But, for the “tuning-in” lesson, just stick to the basic history.  You can revisit the role model idea in future lessons once they have learned a bit more in the Unit of Inquiry.

Recommended books for this lesson:

The Fantastic Undersea Life of Jacques Cousteau by Dan Yaccarino

Key Terms:

Jacques Cousteau, Oceanographers, Oceans, Calypso (Song), Scuba, Underwater Exploration, Biographies

Student Handout, Jacques Cousteau