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The Trials of Running the Iditarod

Context for this Lesson


Topic: the trials of running the Iditarod


Ask students to describe what they have been doing during their social studies time. Write down on the board important facts and information that will be useful to build on during the day’s activities, about the challenges they have faced during their Iditarod trail game. Have students move desks to the far corner of the room so that you have an open space. Each student should bring out a chair into the room. "These will become our Iditarod sleds. How should we position them best as sleds? On their sides? Right side up?"


Narrative Pantomime

Bring all the students into the center of the room standing behind chairs. “I know you have been writing down some of the things that have happened to you on your fantastic journey in your journals. Let’s go out on the trail with some of these mushers now to see what life is like. Get on your sleds. Pull up the hook. Tell your dogs to get mushing. Mush. And off we go”

Some of the possible obstacles we might come across on the trail:

  • "You’re making good time. Things have been going well. Then… Dogs take a short cut through the woods. Bouncing off trees. It’s a bumpy ride! What’s that up ahead. A frozen river? Your team crosses the frozen river, dogs and sled skidded and slipped on the ice."
  • "Oh no! The sled tipped over!. Quick get it back up. Untangle the dogs and start again."
  • You’ve lost some of your food. Dig for it in the heavy snow. At last you’ve found it.!"
  • "Snow drifts blocked the trail. The dogs sank up to their necks in the snow. Musher stayed calm and helped dig his dogs out of the snow, even as some of them began to panic. Your lead dog has stopped. Mush you call. But then you see a crack in the ice. If he had kept going your team would have fallen in and drowned."
  • "Lead dog’s paws got wet. Quick dry them off in powdery snow so they don’t freeze and cause him to never walk again. Need to put on more dog booties. You tied dogs up to a tree to give them a snack. They weren’t ready to rest. They ran off without you. The tree snaps, and you dive for the sled. You had to chase the team down while screaming and hollering come back."

"Oh no, in all that chaos, you’ve lost your sleeping bag and axe. This isn’t good. You still have a ways to go before the next check point. But soon the wind began to blow hard. The air grew colder. A blizzard was coming! Still the race went on. You can’t see the trail any more. The wind is blowing right into your face. You have to trust the dogs know their way. You are so cold. You’re beginning to worry if you are going to make it all right.Since you’ve lost two dogs you need to make better time. So you hitch yourself to the sled and help pull the dogs through the storm. See a fire up ahead. Some mushers have started it to keep warm and thaw out. It’s time for a break anyway. Need to feed the dogs. Pull over to say hello and get warm. Find spruce branches to make a sled for your dog to sleep on.Come have a seat and talk to the other mushers. They all help each other; that’s the rule of the wilderness." 

Role Work

Call a meeting with the mushers around the campfire. Share stories of what happened to us on the trail. "How can we help each other out? Does anyone need to trade anything? Can we try and find the dogs we lost?" Discuss what the most important “next” steps are now that we have stopped to warm up and take stock. Brainstorm a list of the things that need to be done. Figure out how to accomplish each task and break into groups to accomplish the jobs. (Hopefully students will share stories, supplies and tips with one another).

Image Work

"At last our mushers made it to the finish line. Let’s make a big standing circle. When I count to three let’s make a frozen statuei of your musher crossing the finish line? How do they feel? Model for students a frozen statue. One, two, three. Now, if I was to ask us to bring these statues to life what kind of sounds would we hear?"

Writing in Role

Ask students to write a paragraph as a diary entry about something that happened to them on their journey today. Share reading with the rest of the class.


Exploding Atom

Bring all the students together in a tight circle. Ask them to imagine that they are the mushers who have just returned from the Iditarod. Explain that you have some questions that we can answer together. "When we stand in this position, very close together we are showing that we agree with a question. So if our answer is “yes” to the question being asked we stand right here." Next have students “explode” out so the circle is very wide. "When we stand in these positions we are showing that we DON’T agree with a statement that is being given, this is our “no” position." Move close in again. “If this is yes, and all the way out here is no, where do you think maybe or sometimes might be?”

Once students understand the concept fully ask the following questions:

  • I had a good time in the Iditarod Race.
  • I was worried my dogs and I might not make it to the end?
  • I am happy I decided to take part in the race.
  • It is easy to be a musher.
  • It is easy to find the trail.