Lunar and Planetary Institute

Know Your Poles?

Know Your Poles!


In this 60-minute companion activity to Polar Bears or Penguins? children ages 8 to 13 divide into Arctic and Antarctic teams to investigate Earth's polar regions. Each team reads, discusses, and records information about their region to share and to use in Polar Bears or Penguins?

What's the Point?

  • Through their reading, the children will come across diverse information, possibly including:

    • Antarctica is the fifth largest and southernmost continent and, on average, is the coldest driest, windiest continent.
    • There is very little precipitation on Antarctica and about 98% of the continent is covered by ice. It is the only continent with no permanent human residents.
    • The Arctic Circle encompasses the area around the Earth's north pole, which includes the Arctic Ocean and parts of Canada, Greenland, Russia, Alaska, Iceland, Norway, Sweden, and Finland.
    • Unlike Antarctica, which is land covered by thick ice sheets, much of the Arctic region is an ocean covered by thin, floating sea ice.
    • There are differences in the organisms that live in the Arctic and the Antarctic; the Arctic, unlike the Antarctic, has indigenous populations of people.
    • Polar bears and penguins do not inhabit the same poles! Polar bears are found at the north pole and penguins live (among other places) at the south pole.
    • The early exploration of the Arctic and Antarctic involved numerous individuals, teams, and countries, as does the ongoing scientific exploration of these polar regions.
    • In 1959, a treaty was signed by twelve countries establishing Antarctica as a scientific preserve and prohibiting military activities. The treaty, which protects the continent's ecozone, has now been signed by 46 countries.
    • The International Polar Year (March 2007 to March 2009) focuses on the history of polar exploration, the important global role of these regions, how they are changing, and what the changes mean for Earth's and society's future.


For each team of four to ten children

  • Access to books and/or articles on the polar region. A few suggestions are listed below:

Explore Antarctica (Explore the Continents), Bobbie Kalman and Rebecca Sjonger, Crabtree Children's Books, 2007, ISBN-10: 0778730859. In this book for ages 4 to 8, the authors explore the geography, history, politics, climate, and the plant and animal life of Earth's southernmost continent. Interesting facts and photos are presented clearly and succinctly.

Polar Lands (Kingfisher Young Knowledge). Margaret Hyne. Kingfisher. 2005. ISBN: 0753458683. In Hyne's book, children ages 4 to 8 will meet scientists who work in the Arctic and Antarctica and will discover many remarkable facts about the plants and animals at both poles.

Poles Apart: Why Penguins and Polar Bears Will Never Be Neighbors, Elaine Scott, Viking Juvenile, 2004, ISBN: 0670059250. Children ages 10 to 13 are given insight into the rigors of polar exploration, the current scientific research at both poles, and interesting facts about the two environments.

Arctic and Antarctic (Eyewitness Books), Barbara Taylor. DK Children, 2000, ISBN-10: 0789458500. Taylor's book offers impressive photographs of both poles and a clear, easy-to-read text that covers climate along with the history of the native plants and animals. Native cultures and explorers are also discussed.

Antarctic Adventure: Exploring the Frozen South (DK Eyewitness Readers), Meredith Hooper, Tandem Library, 2001, ISBN-10: 0613322789. Readers ages 6 to 12 will find Hooper's book about her adventure in Antarctica replete with stunning photographs, paintings, informative sidebars, and a rich vocabulary.

Living in the Arctic (Rookie Read-About Geography), Allan Fowler. Children's Press (CT), 2000, ISBN-10: 0516270842. Fowler's book about the Arctic supplements a straight-forward text with excellent pictures of the Arctic region and its inhabitants for children ages 4 to 8.

Antarctica (Exploring Continents), Tristan Boyer Binns, Heinemann Publishing, 2006, ISBN-10: 1403482500. Binns presents children ages 9 to12 with answers to questions young people want answered about the climate, politics, geography, and other issues concerning Antarctica. The book also includes a suite of clear, detailed maps.

  • Poster paper
  • Marker(s)
  • Tape

For the facilitator:


  • Determine the number of teams you wish to have.
  • Prepare an area large enough for the teams to spread out with books and poster paper.
  • Have several articles and/or books on both the Arctic and Antarctic regions available for the children.
  • If you desire, prepare a "Wall of Ice," an area that is easily visible to the group, with poster paper on which children can record new vocabulary and definitions.
  • Know Your Poles! may be done as a stand–alone activity, but it is recommended that the children's learning is extended by conducting Polar Bears or Penguins? as well.


  • 1. To introduce the children to Earth's polar regions, invite them to brainstorm what they think they know about the two regions and what they would like to learn about them. Record the children's ideas on two sheets of poster paper marked "Arctic — the North Pole" and "Antarctic — the South Pole". You will refer back to these "Know"/"Want To Know" posters at the end of the activity to dispel any misconceptions they may have had and to add new knowledge they acquired.

    2. Divide the children into Arctic and Antarctic exploration teams. Distribute the books and articles to each team and invite them to collect and record on poster paper all the interesting information they read in the next 30 minutes. Explain that each team will share what they learn with the other teams and will use this information in the game they will be playing next. Have the children list any new vocabulary words on the " Wall of Ice." Encourage the children to locate information that answers such questions as:

    • What are the high, low, and average temperatures of their region?
    • What types of creatures live at that pole? Do birds and mammals live there? What about reptiles? What about human residents?
    • What kinds of plants might they find there?
    • Does the ice at their pole overlay land or water?
    • Have there been any changes in the climate at that pole in recent years? If so, what kind of climate changes?

    3. After the teams have collected and organized their information, invite each team to choose one or more volunteers to share their information with the group. Encourage the children to remember as much as they can about both poles, as their team will need that information in the upcoming game. As they share, revisit the "Know"/"Want To Know" lists they created to check for misconceptions that have been dispelled and to identify answers to questions they had.

    Share with the children that information about the extent of Arctic sea ice coverage may have varied between books. Can they guess why that information might vary? Different books use different sources for their information. In addition, the percentage of permanent sea ice coverage is decreasing each year, so the percentage in any given book will be determined by the year of the publication.

In Conclusion

4. Discuss and summarize with the children what they have learned and ask if they are ready to test their knowledge of the North and South polar regions in the next activity. Encourage the teams to take a few minutes to make notes regarding what they consider the most important facts about both poles. They may use their notes in the following game.

Last updated
September 30, 2009


Back to top