Emperor Penguins

This non-fiction report focuses on the emperor penguin, how it survives in a cold climate, how it finds its food, and how it looks after its young.

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Text download

Emperor Penguins as PDF (798KB) (opens in new window)

Emperor Penguins as PowerPoint slideshow (8.2MB) (download)


Printable worksheets

A Penguin's Year (78KB)

Penguin memory game (79KB)

See, feel, wonder (1.1MB)


Teaching & learning sequence

This teaching and learning sequence outlines classroom strategies for Emperor Penguins, including:

  • ways to incorporate the ‘Big Six’ core elements of reading development
  • fun, engaging and adaptable student activities for a diverse range of abilities
  • links to the Australian Curriculum.

Download a PDF of the teaching sequence (402KB).

Text features Cross-curriculum links to the Australian Curriculum
  • Table of contents
  • Headings to organise information
  • Descriptive language to describe appearance and behaviour
  • Use of technical vocabulary, such as brood pouch, predator, prey
  • Summary in the form of a time line
  • Labelled image
  • Fact boxes
  • Foundation: Observe external features of plants and animals and describe ways they can be grouped based on these features AC9SFU01
  • Year 1: Identify the basic needs of plants and animals, including air, water, food or shelter, and describe how the places they live meet those needs AC9S1U01


First read

As a whole group, enjoy sharing the text and learning together.


Discuss students’ prior knowledge: What do you know about Antarctica? What animals might live there? Would it be difficult to survive in Antarctica? Why do you think this?

Draw up a T-chart with the headings Know/Learnt. Explain that you are going to read a book about penguins. What do you already know about penguins? List students’ responses in the first column of the T-chart (keep to revisit later).

Have students talk to a partner about what they would like to learn about penguins.


Read aloud

Show the front cover: What does the front cover tell us about the book? Discuss.

Discuss the table of contents: What do you think you will learn about by reading this book? Have students talk with a partner about their predictions.

Talk through the book as you read aloud. For example, point out and discuss the various features and graphics on each page. What does the heading tell you? What extra information do the photos give you? What does the diagram tell us?

Make meaning

Discuss initial understandings. What did you learn about emperor penguins? What surprised you?

Have students share their ideas and use these to add comments in the second column of the Know/Learnt T-chart.

Revisit the text

Return to the text several times to look more closely at different aspects of its content, structure and language features. This is a great vehicle for exploring the ‘Big Six’ of literacy in an integrated way, with all components linking to the same text. 


Reading is about making meaning. Choose from these comprehension activities to help your students explore the text deeply, make personal connections, develop new understandings, and draw conclusions. The activities will also help students analyse the text, think critically about it and form their own opinions.

Talking text types (whole-group activity)

Discuss the text type and its purpose. What sort of book is this? What is its purpose? How do you know this? Have students turn and talk to their partner. Pairs share their ideas. Draw out that the book is a non-fiction report – it gives us information and facts.

Revisit the book and invite students to point out various features of a non-fiction report, for example, table of contents, headings, labelled diagrams, photographs, maps and topic sentences. Make a list of these features on a chart.

Students could browse through non-fiction books in the classroom to identify these and other features of non-fiction texts. Add any further features to the class chart.

Australian Curriculum links

Organising information (whole-group activity)

Revisit the table of contents page, and discuss. How has the author organised the information? How do these headings help us to read the book?

What other information could the author have included about penguins? What headings would you have included?

Australian Curriculum links

Viewing visuals (whole-group activity)

Revisit the text. As you view each page, ask students to identify visual devices (labelled globe, labelled diagram of a penguin, time line). What extra information does this visual give you? Why do you think the author chose to represent the information in this way?

Explain that the images in a factual text can give the reader extra information that is not included in the text. Choose an image to share and ask students to think about the information that is contained in the image. Discuss.

Australian Curriculum links

 New learning (small-group activity)

Have students work in a small group to write and/or draw three things they have learnt about emperor penguins. Have small groups take turns to share their new learnings with the whole group.

Australian Curriculum links

Make a mini-book (individual activity)

Revisit the time line on pages 14 and 15. Discuss the events that happen throughout the year.

Have students make a book that outlines a year in a penguin’s life using the printable worksheet. Have them draw a picture in each box to match the sentence, cut out the boxes, and staple the pages together in order. Encourage students to refer to the time line in Emperor Penguins to ensure they have ordered the pages correctly in their book.

Students can read their book to another child or class in the school.

Print A Penguin’s Year worksheet.

Australian Curriculum links

Phonological awareness (including phonemic awareness)

These activities will help students to hear the sounds and rhythms of language. Guide them as they explore syllables, onset and rime and listen for phonemes - the smallest units of sound within a word. Use the activities to help your students identify the phonemes in words and practise blending, segmenting and manipulating these sounds.

Odd one out (whole-group activity)

Choose topic words from the text to play a game of ‘odd one out’. Say three or four words slowly and clearly. Explain to students that there will be one word that doesn’t begin with the same sound as the other words. Ask them to identify which word is the odd one out, and why they think this. For example:

  • penguin, seal, prey, predator
  • swimming speeds, strong, shellfish
  • flipper, swim, fly
  • chick, cold, climate, colony

Differentiate this activity by choosing word groups that focus on the sounds your learners already know and are able to identify.

Australian Curriculum links

Listening for long vowel sounds (whole-group activity)

If your students have a good understanding of the long e sound you could reinforce this by drawing their attention to words from the text that have this sound such as ‘feet’, ‘deep’ and ‘beak’. Say one of these words aloud, segmenting the individual phonemes, and ask students to listen for the sounds they hear: ‘feet’ – f, long e, t. Discuss as a group. Highlight the medial long e sound.

Repeat with the other words with the long e sound (deep, beak). Have students talk with a partner about further words they know that have this long e sound. Have pairs share their ideas.

Repeat with other long vowels as appropriate, for example, long a as in ‘prey’ and ‘lay’, long i as in ‘dive’, long o as in ‘ocean’.

Australian Curriculum links


Evidence shows that children learn best about the relationship between phonemes and graphemes when instruction occurs through a daily structured synthetic phonics program (also known as systematic synthetic phonics). Knowing about these relationships will help students to decode, and this is crucial for their continued reading development.

In addition to your phonics program it is helpful to expose students to letter sound relationships they come across in other contexts, such as during shared reading experiences. Choose activities that are relevant to your students so they can practise and reinforce already learnt concepts, so as to build automaticity in recognising letter sound relationships.

 Matching letters to sounds (whole-group activity)

Help students to reinforce their knowledge of the long e sound and how it is represented. You can do this by writing the words ‘feet’, ‘deep’ and ‘beak’ on a chart. Underline the letters in each word that make the long e sound. Ask students to say the word to their partner and to listen to the sound that the underlined letters make. Highlight that these words have the long e sound, but it is represented in different ways - ‘ee’ and ‘ea’.

Have students think of other words with the long e sound. Add these to the chart and discuss the letters that make the sound in each of the words.

Australian Curriculum links

Identifying words with adjacent consonants (whole-group activity)

Revisit page 10 of the text. Have pairs of students work together to identify all the words that begin with the f sound (finding, food, fly, flippers, finds, fish). Use students’ feedback to create a list on a chart. Invite a student to underline the letter that makes the f sound in each word.

Highlight the words ‘fly’ and ‘flipper’. Ask students to say the first two sounds in the word – f and l. What are the first two sounds in these words? Explain that when two consonants sit one after the other, the sounds need to be blended together. Have students think of other words that begin with the adjacent consonant sounds f and l (e.g. flea, flash, flight, flick, flip).

If appropriate for your students use the text to focus on other words beginning with adjacent consonants (e.g. prey, predator, climate, swimming, speed, strong, squid).

Australian Curriculum links

Oral language

Oral language development begins at birth, and having a rich oral language is beneficial as a foundational and ongoing resource for literacy development. Oral language is embedded throughout the shared reading experience as students listen and respond to quality texts.

It is also valuable to involve students in specific activities that will continue to improve their oral language skills. Choose from these activities to help students develop and practise important communication skills.

Retelling (partner activity)

Revisit the time line on pages 14 and 15. Reread and discuss.

Have students sit with a partner and take turns retelling the main events that happen throughout a penguin’s year. Encourage students to think carefully about their role as a speaker and a listener. How will you show that you are listening to your partner? How will your voice sound when you are speaking?

Australian Curriculum links

Penguin speak (partner activity)

Present the scenario: If you were a penguin what would you tell our class about your life? Be creative! Using the think-pair-share strategy have students think about this, talk with a partner, and then invite pairs to share their ideas with the group.

Australian Curriculum links


Activities aimed at teaching and practising fluency are important for students in their journey to become independent readers. Explicitly modelling fluency, and providing opportunities for students to practise reading aloud, will facilitate their development in this area.

Modelled reading (whole-group activity)

Revisit the text. Have students listen carefully as you read a page or section. Model reading the text smoothly, with expression. Ask students to take notice of how your voice sounds. Discuss and draw out that fluent reading sounds smooth and is easy to understand.

Australian Curriculum links


Having a rich, broad vocabulary assists students when they are tackling new texts. These vocabulary activities will help them to build their growing bank of words.

The activities introduce students to new Tier 2 and Tier 3 words, as well as exploring word families and a range of different word types.

What’s in a name? (whole-group activity)

Draw the students’ attention to the name ‘emperor penguin’. Do you know what an emperor is? Discuss and draw out that an emperor is a person who is a ruler, like a queen or a king. Ask: Why do you think this type of penguin is called an emperor penguin? Does the penguin remind you of a ruler? Listen and discuss the students’ ideas. Draw the students’ attention to the fact box on page 9, and read aloud. Does this add to your ideas? Discuss.

Australian Curriculum links

 Exploring word families (whole-group activity)

Highlight the word ‘swimming’ on page 8 and write it on a chart. Ask students if they see a smaller word within this word, and invite a student to underline ‘swim’.

Have students talk with a partner about other words with the base word ‘swim’. Add their suggestions to the chart and extend their thinking by adding any further words that were not suggested (swimmer, swimmers, swimsuit, swimwear, swimming, non-swimmer, outswim).

Australian Curriculum links

Penguin body parts (whole-group activity)

Refer back to the book to locate the names of the penguin’s body parts, and the words used to describe them (e.g. flipper-like wings, webbed feet, waterproof feathers, white underbelly). Create a list on a chart.

Discuss the difference between the body parts (nouns) and the words used to describe them (adjectives). Have students think of other words that are used to describe the body parts of animals, such as an elephant’s long, grey trunk or a tiger’s sharp, pointy teeth.

Australian Curriculum links

Draw and label (independent activity)

Have students draw a picture of a penguin and label it. Encourage them to refer to the book to locate the names of the body parts.

Australian Curriculum links

Penguin memory game (partner activity)

Write the following content vocabulary from the text onto a chart (ice, egg, chick, penguin, beak, feet). Talk about each word, and what it means. Students can then join with a partner to play a game of memory by matching the words with the correct image. Print a copy for each student to play a game of memory with a partner.

Print the Penguin memory game worksheet.

Australian Curriculum links

Reflecting on learning

Help students ‘bring it all together’ and reflect on their understandings by completing the graphic organiser either independently or with a partner.

See, feel, wonder Y-chart

Discuss what the students know about penguins, and how they feel about them. Talk about the things they still wonder about. Have them fill in the See, feel, wonder graphic organiser.

For families - new for 2024! 

Reinforce your classroom learning by telling families in your class about Emperor Penguins.

Families can share the text at home and use the information provided to build knowledge and instill a love of reading.

Find out more about Emperor Penguins (for families)


Teacher talk

Read about evidence-based theories that underpin best teaching practices. Teacher talk includes:

  • pedagogic practices surrounding the 'Big Six' core elements of reading development
  • instructional strategies to scaffold learning for a diverse range of students, including English as an additional language or dialect (EAL/D) students and students from culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) backgrounds
  • guidance for integrating these theories and strategies into your reading program.

Download a PDF of Teacher talk Emperor Penguins (402KB).

Teaching practices & strategies

Try these strategies as you share Emperor Penguins with your class, and use them in other aspects of your reading program too.


Emperor Penguins introduces scientific concepts and uses technical, Tier 3 vocabulary to do so. It’s important to scaffold your learners’ experiences as they explore the text so they can make meaning, understand new language and further develop their oral language.

Making meaning

As you revisit the book, allow for extended conversations around the information and concepts presented on each page. This can be done as a whole group and/or in small groups according to student needs.

During these discussions you can scaffold and support students’ understanding by:

  • explicitly discussing the purpose of the text
  • finding out students’ prior knowledge encouraging students to make connections to their personal experiences
  • explaining important concepts
  • providing time for students to retell what they have learnt.

You can further support and extend your learners and their understanding of the topic by exposing them to other texts and/or appropriate websites about emperor penguins. This can promote further in-depth discussion and new learning about the topic.

When planning teaching and learning activities for English as an additional language or dialect (EAL/D) students, or students in need, keep in mind the concept load of the text. If needed provide added support when reading Emperor Penguins. You can do this by:

  • rephrasing the text to explain important concepts
  • showing students how to use the visuals as an added support
  • giving students extra time to respond to your questions
  • encouraging students to ask questions about the information so as to clarify their understandings and build upon their knowledge.

Vocabulary building

As you come across technical words in the text, you can help your students understand this complex vocabulary by:

  • providing repeated opportunities for students to hear and use new language structures and vocabulary
  • allowing time for students to give definitions of particular vocabulary and to use these words in sentences during discussions
  • revisiting the book to allow for extended conversations around the information, concepts and vocabulary related to the topic
  • creating word lists related to the topic, and adding illustrations where necessary to support students’ understanding.

Oral language development

Having a rich oral language is an important foundation for reading development, and facilitating the development of your students’ oral language is an important aspect of your teaching. Here are some tips for class or small-group discussions.

  • Keep a balance of ‘teacher talk’ and ‘student talk’. Use ‘teacher talk’ to build upon the knowledge and oral language of your students.
  • Encourage students to participate in extended dialogue. Give students time to explain their thinking further. Prompt them to tell you more and/or rephrase your question to encourage a deeper response.
  • Scaffold students’ responses by modelling correct language choices back to them.

Students’ oral language development can be enhanced by engaging in dialogic reading. Dialogic reading focuses on having an in-depth conversation around a book as it is shared with the students. It offers students the opportunity to talk expressively.

The teacher’s role in dialogic reading is to support the student by facilitating the greater exploration of texts. The adult becomes the listener by guiding the child through a series of questions or prompts in order to encourage the child to become the teller of the story (Zevenbergen and Whitehurst, 2003).

During dialogic reading sessions you can use the ‘PEER’ and ‘CROWD’ strategies (Zevenbergen and Whitehurst, 2003) to guide the conversations you have with your students around the text.

The PEER (prompt, evaluate, expand, repeat) strategy outlines a sequence to follow when asking questions. The CROWD (completion, recall, open-ended prompts, ‘Wh’ prompts, distancing) strategy gives examples of different ways or prompts to begin the PEER questioning sequence.

Strategy What it means
PEER – sequence
of questions

P – Prompting the student to talk about the text by using questions to begin the conversation

E – Evaluating the student’s response and providing a comment

E – Expanding the student’s answers by rephrasing, adding information or modelling correct syntax

R – Repeating the prompt so the student has the opportunity to reuse the language

CROWD – different ways to begin the PEER questioning sequence

C – Completion prompts: the student fills in the blanks by saying a word or a phrase to finish the teacher’s sentence

R – Recall prompts: the student is asked to recall information

O – Open-ended prompts: open-ended questions are asked

W – ‘Wh’ prompts: questions beginning with who, what, where, when,
why and how

D – Distancing prompts: relate something in the story to the student’s personal experiences

Australian Curriculum links

Exploring descriptive language

Descriptive language can make a story come alive or transport a reader to a real, factual place. Building a student’s understanding of adjectives and adverbial phrases and how to use them will help their language development. The more exposure students have to examples of descriptive language, the more confident they will become to use it, both orally and in their writing.

Mentor texts
You can assist your students to recognise descriptive language by using a mentor text – a text that you return to many times for different teaching and learning purposes.

The exploration of the structure and vocabulary used in descriptive language can be achieved using books (mentor texts) that offer a myriad of possibilities for our students as writers (Dorfman and Cappelli, as cited in Nicolazzo and Mackenzie, 2018).

As you share mentor texts with your students, highlight how the author has written the text and help your students to notice rich, new vocabulary and interesting sentence structures that can be incorporated into their own language or writing (Nicolazzo and Mackenzie, 2018, p204). Find repeated opportunities to highlight this language as you read aloud, lead discussions and model writing.

Use Emperor Penguins to explore descriptive language. As you read the text, point out and discuss the words and phrases the author uses for description. Talk about the visual images these words create and have students construct their own similar phrases.

Some examples of descriptive language in Emperor Penguins include:

  • ‘freezing cold temperature’ – freezing cold ice-cream, freezing cold weather, freezing cold day
  • ‘icy-cold water – icy-cold weather, icy-cold land, icy-cold day
  • ‘bitter wind’ – bitter taste, bitter person, bitter disappointment.

Scaffolding understanding
EAL/D students may need further support to understand the use of descriptive words and phrases. Plan intentional teaching opportunities to help these students understand new language structures and vocabulary. You could consider the following:

  • Include opportunities for lots of repetition of a range of grammatical constructions including adverbial phrases. This repetition is required before most EAL/D students are able to rephrase and use this language.
  • Model the use of new language structures and vocabulary both orally and through reading aloud. This will help students become familiar with the sounds and meaning of this type of language.
  • Restructure information to help students understand the meaning of new language.
  • Rephrase students’ oral attempts at new language. This will illustrate to them the correct structure of the language.

Australian Curriculum links

Phonological awareness

Hearing the syllables in words is an important skill for students to develop. Syllable work can be done alongside discussions about the meaning of the vocabulary you come across in a text. This can involve using words on a class word list.

To emphasise each syllable in a word clap, stamp your feet or make a sound with a musical instrument as you say a word. Students repeat, guided by you and then do so independently. Begin by focusing on one-syllable words, and revisit them until students can hear that they contain one syllable. Move on to words with two syllables, three syllables and beyond as your students are ready.

For more information go to:


As an addition to your systematic phonics program you can use Emperor Penguins to help students practise and reinforce particular phoneme–grapheme relationships. Revisit the text and highlight phonics concepts that your students have already learnt so they can build automaticity in recognising letter–sound relationships and decoding skills. For example, you could use the word ‘staying’ to focus on blending the adjacent consonant sounds s and t, or on identifying the ay digraph and the 'ing' suffix. 

When focusing on phonics instruction think about:

  • being explicit in the letter–sound (grapheme–phoneme) relationships you are focusing on
  • providing multiple exposures to these spelling patterns 
  • systematically approaching the introduction of particular spelling patterns, graphemes and phonemes that need to be covered; this Level 1 phonics scope provides a suggested sequence 
  • considering explicit links to handwriting.

For more information on phonics go to Phonics lessons: consonant digraphs.

Australian Curriculum links


Dorfman, L. R. & Cappelli, R. (2007). Mentor Texts: Teaching Writing Through Student’s Literature, K-6. Portland, ME: Stenhouse.

Nicolazzo, M. & Mackenzie, N. M. (2018). Teaching writing strategies. In N. M. Mackenzie and J. Scull (Eds.), Understanding and supporting young writers from birth to 8. Abingdon, Oxon: Routledge.

Zevenbergen, A. A. & Whitehurst, G. J. (2003). Dialogic reading: a shared picture book reading
intervention for preschoolers. In A. Kleeck, S. Stahl, & E. Bauer (Eds.), On reading books to children.
New York: Routledge.