Shackleton’s Journey – Planning Overview

Written by Dan

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The story of Ernest Shackleton’s incredible journey has captivated audiences for over a century. An endurance feat like no other, the famous Antarctic explorer faced impossible odds and unfathomable perils to survive his remarkable voyage – but with strong leadership, carefully crafted plans, and an unwavering determination, he ultimately gave future generations a heroic tale of resilience that still resonates today.

For teachers looking to introduce this extraordinary story in their classrooms, it can seem overwhelming to cover such an expansive topic effectively.

However, by breaking down the essential elements of Shackleton’s journey into manageable planning points, you, too, can traverse the icy terrain and deliver an inspiring lesson your students will never forget!

Related: For more, check out our article on Harry The Poisonous Centipede  here.

Shackleton’s Journey by William Grill

Shackleton’s journey is a beautiful and inspiring children’s book written and illustrated by William Grill. The book tells the story of Sir Ernest Shackleton and his crew as they set out on a dangerous expedition to cross Antarctica in 1914.

The journey began when Shackleton and his men sailed from England on the ship Endurance. They encountered many challenges, including treacherous weather conditions, thick ice, and hungry polar bears. Despite these obstacles, they persevered and continued on their journey.

However, disaster struck when the Endurance became trapped in ice for months. The crew was forced to abandon the ship and camp on an ice floe. They had limited supplies and were far from any civilization.

Despite these dire circumstances, Shackleton remained optimistic and determined to save his men. He led rescue missions over several months, braving freezing temperatures and dangerous terrain to reach safety.

All of Shackleton’s men survived thanks to his leadership and determination. The story of Shackleton’s Journey is a testament to the human spirit, showing that even in the face of extreme adversity, we can find hope and strength within ourselves.

Critical Themes In Shackleton’s Journey


This theme is evident throughout the story as Shackleton, and his crew face numerous challenges on their journey, including treacherous weather conditions, thick ice, and hunger. Despite these obstacles, they continue their mission, showing remarkable perseverance and determination.


Shackleton’s leadership skills are on full display in this story. He remains calm and focused even in the most challenging situations, inspiring his men to follow him and trust his decision-making abilities. His leadership ultimately leads to the successful rescue of his crew members.


The Endurance crew must work together to survive in harsh conditions with limited resources. They rely on each other for support and encouragement, demonstrating the importance of teamwork in achieving a common goal.


Even when faced with seemingly insurmountable challenges, Shackleton never loses hope that he will be able to save his men. His unwavering optimism inspires those around him to keep going despite the odds.


The crew demonstrates incredible resilience as they endure months of living on an ice floe with limited supplies and uncertain prospects for rescue. They find ways to adapt to their circumstances and persevere through difficult times.

Main Characters in Shackleton’s Journey

Here are the main characters in Shackleton’s Journey:

  1. Sir Ernest Shackleton – The expedition’s leader and the story’s protagonist.
  2. Frank Hurley – The photographer who documents the journey through photographs.
  3. Tom Crean – A skilled seaman who becomes one of Shackleton’s most trusted men.
  4. Frank Worsley – The captain of the Endurance, responsible for navigating the ship through treacherous waters.
  5. The crew of the Endurance – A group of 27 men from various countries who join Shackleton on his journey to cross Antarctica.

Teaching Opportunities

The story of Shackleton’s Journey can be an excellent tool for improving children’s writing skills in several ways:

  1. Vocabulary: The story is rich with descriptive language and technical terms related to sailing and exploration, which can help expand children’s vocabulary. Please encourage students to identify unfamiliar words and look up their meanings.
  2. Character development: The characters in the story are well-developed and complex, allowing students to analyze their motivations, actions, and relationships. Students can practice describing character traits and using evidence from the text to support their claims.
  3. Narrative structure: The story follows a clear narrative arc with a beginning, middle, and end. Students can study how the author builds tension and suspense throughout the story, using foreshadowing, imagery, and pacing techniques.
  4. Persuasive writing: Shackleton was known for his ability to inspire his crew members even in the most challenging circumstances. Students can analyze his leadership style and practice writing persuasive essays or speeches to motivate others toward a common goal.
  5. Research skills: The story of Shackleton’s Journey is based on actual events, providing an opportunity for students to conduct research on topics such as Antarctic exploration, sailing technology, or the history of polar expeditions. They can use this research to enhance their understanding of the story and incorporate factual information into their writing.

Key Vocabulary

Here are some key vocabulary words that children may encounter when reading Shackleton’s Journey, along with their definitions:

  1. Expedition – A journey or voyage taken for a specific purpose, often involving exploration or research.
  2. Antarctica – The southernmost continent on Earth, known for its extreme cold and ice-covered landscapes.
  3. Endurance – The name of the ship that Shackleton and his crew sailed on their expedition to Antarctica.
  4. Iceberg – A large piece of ice floating in the ocean, often dangerous to ships because it can be challenging to see.
  5. Navigation – The process of planning and directing the course of a ship or other vehicle.
  6. Arctic – The region around the North Pole, characterized by extreme cold and frozen landscapes.
  7. Sledging – Traveling over snow and ice using a sled pulled by dogs or humans.
  8. Blubber – A layer of fat beneath the skin of marine mammals, such as whales, used as a fuel source by Arctic explorers.
  9. Aurora Australis – Also known as the Southern Lights, a natural phenomenon where colourful lights appear in the sky over Antarctica due to solar activity.

By becoming familiar with these key vocabulary words, children will be better equipped to understand and appreciate Shackleton’s Journey story while expanding their language skills.

Lesson Plans

Lesson Plan 1:

Vocabulary Development Objective: Students can identify and define key vocabulary words from Shackleton’s Journey.

Materials Needed:

  • Copies of Shackleton’s Journey or access to the text online
  • Whiteboard or chart paper


  1. Introduce students to the concept of key vocabulary words, explaining that these are important words that they may frequently encounter in a particular text.
  2. Provide students with a list of key vocabulary words from Shackleton’s Journey (or have them create their own list as they read).
  3. Have students work in pairs or small groups to research the definitions of each word using dictionaries or online resources.
  4. As a class, discuss each word and its purpose, recording them on the whiteboard or chart paper.
  5. Please encourage students to use these words in writing and discussing the text.


Have students write short paragraphs using several key vocabulary words from Shackleton’s Journey, demonstrating their understanding of their meanings.

Lesson Plan 2:

Character Analysis Objective: Students will be able to analyze and describe characters from Shackleton’s Journey.

Materials Needed:

  • Copies of Shackleton’s Journey or access to the text online
  • Graphic organizers for character analysis (such as a character web or Venn diagram)


  1. Introduce students to character analysis, explaining that this involves studying a character’s traits, motivations, and relationships with other characters in a story.
  2. Please choose one or more characters from Shackleton’s Journey for students to analyze (such as Shackleton himself, Frank Worsley, or Tom Crean).
  3. Provide students with graphic organizers for character analysis and have them fill in details about each character based on evidence from the text.
  4. As a class, discuss each character and compare/contrast their traits and actions with those of other characters.
  5. Please encourage students to use what they’ve learned about these characters when writing about leadership, teamwork, or perseverance themes.


Have students write short essays describing one character from Shackleton’s Journey and how he contributed to the expedition’s success (or failure).

Lesson Plan 3:

Research Skills Objective: Students can research topics related to Antarctica exploration and incorporate this information into their writing.

Materials Needed:

  • Computers with internet access
  • Research prompts/questions related to Antarctica exploration


  1. Introduce students to some basic facts about Antarctica (location, climate, wildlife) and explain why it is an important area for scientific research.
  2. Provide students with research prompts/questions related to Antarctic explorers (Shackleton, Amundsen), sailing technology used during polar expeditions, or modern-day scientific research conducted in Antarctica.
  3. Have students work independently or in pairs/small groups using computers and online resources (such as National Geographic Kids) to research their chosen topic(s).
  4. Please encourage students to take notes on essential facts/details they discover during their investigation.
  5. Have students incorporate this information into their writing about Shackleton’s Journey – for example, by including historical context/background information at the beginning of an essay or incorporating scientific findings into a persuasive speech advocating for further exploration of Antarctica.


Have students present summaries of their research findings along with examples of how they incorporated this information into their writing about Shackleton’s Journey

Website Resources

Literacy Shed Plus: “Shackleton’s Journey” by William Grill This website offers a comprehensive set of resources for teaching Shackleton’s Journey, including lesson plans, activities, and worksheets. The resources are organized by key themes such as exploration, survival, and leadership. There are also links to relevant videos and websites for further research.


TES: 22-Lesson English Unit – Shackleton’s Journey by William Grill (Year 4/5/6) This resource provides a detailed unit plan for teaching Shackleton’s Journey throughout 22 lessons. The lessons are designed to cover a range of skills, including reading comprehension, writing, and speaking/listening. Each class includes learning objectives, activities, and assessment opportunities.


Teachwire: KS2 Book Topic – Shackleton’s Journey This website offers a brief overview of Shackleton’s journey and some ideas for related activities and discussion topics. It includes suggestions for incorporating the book into cross-curricular studies such as history and geography.



Q: What age group is Shackleton’s Journey suitable for?

A: The book is generally recommended for children in grades 4-6 but can also be adapted for younger or older students.

Q: What critical themes in the book can be explored in the classroom?

A: Some key themes include exploration, leadership, perseverance, teamwork, and survival.

Q: Are there any films or videos that can supplement the book?

A: Yes! There are several documentaries about Shackleton’s expedition that can provide additional context and visuals. “Endurance” and “Shackleton” are two popular options.

Q: How can I incorporate writing into my lessons on Shackleton’s Journey?

A: There are many opportunities for writing throughout the book. For example, students could write journal entries from the perspective of one of the crew members, create persuasive speeches advocating for different courses of action during the journey, or write reflective essays on what they learned from reading about this historic expedition.

Q: Can Shackleton’s Journey be used to teach other subjects besides English/Language Arts?

A: Absolutely! The book relates to many other subjects, such as history (exploration and polar expeditions), geography (mapping and climate), science (biology and ecology), and even math (calculating distances and supplies needed).

Q: How long does teaching a unit on Shackleton’s Journey typically take?

A: This will depend on how much time you have available in your curriculum. Some teachers may focus only on certain aspects of the book over a few days or weeks, while others may plan a more extended unit lasting several months.

Q: Are any online resources available to help me plan my lessons on Shackleton’s Journey?

A: Yes! Several websites offer lesson plans, activities, videos, and other resources related to teaching this book. Examples include Literacy Shed Plus, TES, and Teachwire (links provided in this article).

About The Author

I'm Dan Higgins, one of the faces behind The Teaching Couple. With 15 years in the education sector and a decade as a teacher, I've witnessed the highs and lows of school life. Over the years, my passion for supporting fellow teachers and making school more bearable has grown. The Teaching Couple is my platform to share strategies, tips, and insights from my journey. Together, we can shape a better school experience for all.






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