Dolphins: Lesson 2 English, Yr 7

What’s Behind the Dolphin Smile?

The learning sequence for this activity is designed to give students access to a range of ‘truths’ about a current global issue, namely the impact of captivity on dolphins and the tourists who visit them. Various sources provide students with differences between points of view across space, time and cultures.

Time Allocation

Two lessons.

Voiceless Resources

Key Inquiry Questions

  • How have attitudes towards the issue of dolphins being kept in captivity changed over time?
  • Do beliefs about dolphin captivity differ between cultures?
  • How do the texts use language, sound and imagery to portray the lives of dolphins, both in captivity and in the wild?

Suggested Learning Activities


Begin with a general discussion about how popular culture teaches people to think about animals in general and marine mammals specifically. How are dolphins represented in films, music clips and books? Have students visited dolphins in captivity or seen them in the wild? What were their experiences?


Understanding Texts Designed to Inform and Persuade

  • Put students in groups of four.
  • Students are to watch three texts:
  • Students must answer the following questions for each of the sources. Use the 5Ws and a How method of issue exploration:
    • Who was involved?
    • What happened?
    • When did this take place?
    • Where did this take place?
    • Why did this happen?
    • How did this happen?


Collate and clarify responses on a whiteboard or in a shared digital document.

The Cove Clip Dubai Clip Marineland Clip
Who was involved?
What happened?
When did this take place?
Where did this take place?
Why did this happen?
How did this happen?



In pairs, students share and record their ideas about how the footage from Marineland compares with modern-day dolphinaria such as that shown in Dubai. How does this footage use sound, colour, language and voice to create an atmosphere for their ‘shows’? What is the atmosphere they create? What do you feel is the balance between entertainment and education in these performances?



Students could complete this task for homework or practice formal letter writing in a future class. Students could be asked to reflect on the work of ‘Flipper’s’ trainer, Ric O’Barry and his early and current experiences with dolphins. They could be asked to write a letter to Voiceless, explaining what they learnt from his story and how they felt about it. They can discuss what they thought he meant when he said, ‘The dolphin’s smile is nature’s greatest deception?’ and include their own opinion about the pros and cons of keeping dolphins captive.

Letters can be addressed to: Voiceless, 2 Paddington Street, Paddington, Sydney NSW 2021.



Provide students with a copy of the Voiceless Fact Sheet: Dolphins in Captivity to help them complete the following task:

  • Writing from the dolphin’s viewpoint, students create a 250-word narrative showing their understanding of a day in the life of either a captive dolphin OR a wild dolphin. The teacher should try and get a fairly even split across the class. Written texts might take the form of a story, poem, rap or song lyrics. Texts should display evidence of understanding of language features and their effects in creating literary texts, for example, using rhythm, sound effects, monologue,
    layout and colour. Illustrated pieces should reflect dolphin habitat in the ocean or in captivity.
  • Display the captive v. wild narratives in a classroom display, juxtaposing the two contrasting experiences for the dolphins.

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