Monster of the Deep

For centuries, no one believed the giant squid was real—until scientists made a shocking discovery.

By David Grann
From the May / June 2019 Issue

Learning Objective: Students will read about giant squid and draw conclusions about why people are fascinated with these and other mysterious creatures.

Lexile: 600L-700L, 800L-900L
Guided Reading Level: T
DRA Level: 50

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Can't-Miss Teaching Extras

In 2012, the Discovery Channel helped fund an expedition in Japan that resulted in the first ever footage of a giant squid in its natural habitat. Check out this CBS interview with marine biologist Edie Widder to learn more about the expedition and see the original footage.

In 2014 in Japan’s Toyama Bay, diver Akinobu Kimura found himself face-to-face with a giant squid. Kimura told CNN, “My curiosity was way bigger than fear, so I jumped into the water…” Take a look at what he saw.    

The Loch Ness monster may be just a myth, but what about the frilled shark? Show your students the Ocean Conservancy’s article, “4 Mysterious Sea Creatures You’ve (Probably) Never Heard Of.” Then, challenge them to do some research on their own and add to the list.    

More About the Story


Drawing conclusions, vocabulary, text evidence, interpreting text, main idea, author’s purpose, problem and solution, key ideas, compare and contrast, explanatory writing

Complexity Factors


The article gives information about the giant squid, exploring how our ideas about these creatures have changed over time. A sidebar adds details about four creatures once thought real but now known to be myths. The feature conveys the concepts of how ideas develop and of the human desire to understand our world and unlock its remaining mysteries.


The article opens with a 2003 anecdote about a ship’s encounter with a giant squid. The next sections are chronological, recounting the history of human’s misperceptions and growing understanding about giant squid. The work of one marine biologist is brought into focus. A sidebar adds information about four mythic creatures (Bigfoot, Loch Ness Monster, dragon, and mermaid).


The article includes challenging academic and domain-specific vocabulary (e.g., tentacle, hallucinations, oceanographers), as well as descriptive sensory language.

Knowledge Demands 

The main text refers to sailboats and related terms (deck, porthole, sailors), horror movie imagery, tall tales, and sperm whales. Some prior knowledge of ocean habitats will be helpful. The sidebar mentions several geographic locations (California, Scotland, Africa, Europe) and ancient cultures (Babylonians, Syrians, Greek).

Step-by-Step Lesson Plan

1. Preparing to Read

Preview Text Features and Vocabulary

  • As a class, look at the main image and text, then scan the other text features. Point out that the images show both real creatures and imaginary ones (in “Fantastic Beasts”). Prompt students to predict what the article will be about.
  • Point out to students that in the story the plural of squid is squid. Have them look at the word in captions and ask: Which squid is singular and which is plural?
  • Ask a student to read aloud the Up Close box.
  • Project the vocabulary slideshow to preview challenging domain-specific terms. Follow up with the vocabulary activity. Highlighted terms: tentacle, hallucinations, oceanographers, marine biologist, nerves, captivity, pod, sinewy

2. Close Reading

Read and Unpack the Text (45 minutes)

  • Read the article as a class or play the audio version. Have students read it again in small groups, answering the close-reading questions. Regroup to discuss the critical-thinking question.

Close-Reading Questions

  • In the first section, the author describes the creature that attacked Olivier de Kersauson’s boat as “something out of a horror movie.” What details support this description? (text evidence) The author begins by describing a common horror movie setting: a dark night in the middle of nowhere. The boat is stopped, then shaken by something at first unseen. Finally, a 30-foot creature is glimpsed through a porthole. Its enormous size, glistening skin, and sucker-covered arms all contribute to an image of a horrifying movie creature.
  • Explain what de Kersauson meant when he said “I’ve been sailing for 40 years, and I’ve always had an answer for everything . . . But I didn’t have an answer for this.” (interpreting text) De Kersauson was an experienced sailor who expected events to have logical explanations. But because many people thought giant squid weren’t real at that time, the terrifying event of seeing a 30-foot creature with tentacles seemed to lack an explanation.
  • Why is “A Tall Tale?” a fitting subhead for the second section? (main idea) A tall tale is a kind of fictional story that includes larger-than-life characters but is told like it’s true. The section describes supposed tall tales about sea monsters. But the question mark at the end of the subhead suggests that some of the stories about these monsters could actually be true.
  • What is the kraken? Why does the author include a discussion of this creature? (author’s purpose) The kraken is a large mythological squidlike creature that traps ships. The author includes information about the kraken because tales of its sighting were probably, in fact, the giant squid.
  • What are “squid squads”? What problem were they trying to solve? (problem and solution) Squid squads were scientific teams that made use of new technology developed in the 1960s to search for giant squid. No scientist had seen a live one at that time.
  • Who is Steve O’Shea? Why did he want to raise giant squid in captivity? (key ideas) O’Shea is a marine biologist with a special interest in squid. He has discovered many important facts about giant squid but has never captured a live adult. He hoped to raise the 17 baby squid he caught in captivity so he could study and learn more about them.
  • What has O’Shea discovered about why giant squid are difficult for humans to find? (text evidence) Squid are difficult to find because they live far below the ocean’s surface, deeper than humans can go. Their enormous eyes and highly developed nerves allow them to see nets and cameras immediately and to get away very quickly.
  • What important developments in giant squid research do you learn about in “Living Specimen”? What achievement has yet to happen? (main idea) In 2004, researchers finally saw a live giant squid. An underwater camera took pictures of the animal while it was stuck under a rock. In 2005 and 2012, teams spotted other live giant squid and photographed and filmed them. But to this day, no giant squid has been captured alive.
  • Read the sidebar, “Fantastic Beasts.” What do all the creatures have in common? (compare and contrast) All four creatures were believed to be real at one time but have been shown to be imaginary. They all can possibly be explained by sightings of real animals or animal remains, mistakenly thought to be mythical creatures.

Critical-Thinking Question

  • Think about what people have discovered when searching for giant squid, Bigfoot, mermaids, and other creatures. What can you conclude about why it’s important to study things we don’t understand? (drawing conclusions) It’s important to study things that seem mysterious to us so we can unlock the mysteries. Creatures that scare or haunt us can seem less scary when we understand that they don’t exist, or that they are animals rather than monsters. We can end up learning fascinating facts and ideas about the world around us.

3. Skill Building

Featured Skill: Drawing Conclusions

Differentiate and Customize
For Struggling Readers

Help struggling readers tackle the writing prompt by breaking it down into its components. Create three columns on the board (Old Idea, Current Idea, Why It Changed) and go through the article and sidebar, identifying ideas that have changed over time. Add the relevant information to the chart. Discuss the writing prompt while referring to the completed chart.

For Advanced Readers

Ask students: What motivates people to dedicate their lives to uncovering a mystery? Put students in small groups to discuss, reflecting on Steve O’Shea from this article and Barry Clifford from our October/November 2016 nonfiction “The Search for Pirate Gold".

For ELL Students

Together with students, create a timeline with these dates: long ago, 1873, 1960s, 2001, 2003, 2004, 2005, and 2012. Go through the article to find what happened at each date, working with kids to make sure they understand the language.

For Research

Have students choose another mythical creature to research. They should use the “Fantastic Beasts” sidebar as a guide and write a paragraph about their creature—including how it looks and behaves and whether it has a real-life basis. Students can add an illustration before sharing.