What Happened to Amelia Earhart?

Contributor: Suzanne Riordan. Lesson ID: 13983

Amelia Earhart set records as a female pilot, then disappeared on a flight and was never seen again. There are many theories about what happened to her. Read and decide for yourself which is correct!


Comprehension, History, Writing

English / Language Arts
learning style
Auditory, Visual
personality style
Beaver, Golden Retriever
Grade Level
Middle School (6-8)
Lesson Type
Dig Deeper

Lesson Plan - Get It!

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Examine some theories on what happened to Amelia Earhart with the video clip below.

As you watch, write down the five theories and consider which is most likely to be true.

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Whenever you read an informative text, it's essential to understand the arguments the writer presents and evaluate their accuracy.

You'll often be asked to write a paragraph or a whole essay in which you analyze the claims made in a text and argue which are well-reasoned and relevant and which are not.

Relevant means that the claim is related to and supportive of the writer's position.

  • How can you analyze arguments and tell which are relevant and well-reasoned and which are not?

Take it step by step.

Step One: Read

The first step, of course, is to read the text. Pay close attention to the author's claims and the facts used to support them.

Read the summary below on the castaway theory of Ms. Earhart's disappearance.

deserted island beach showing signs of life

The Castaway Theory

In her final message over the radio at 8:43 am, Amelia Earhart said she was flying "on the line 157/337 ... running north and south," which is a particular path toward Howland Island.

The International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery (TIGHAR) believes Earhart and her navigator, Noonan, might not have seen Howland Island and might have flown further south along the 157/337 line to Nikumaroro instead. They believe Earhart and Noonan might have lived on the small, uninhabited island, which used to be called Gardner Island, for a while before passing away.

TIGHAR has made at least a dozen expeditions to the remote Pacific island of Nikumaroro, turning up artifacts ranging from pieces of metal (possibly airplane parts) to a broken jar of freckle cream — but no conclusive proof that Earhart’s plane landed there.

In 1937, a week after Earhart disappeared, the U.S. Navy flew over Gardner Island but saw no sign of her, Noonan, or the plane. However, they did see signs that someone had been there recently, even though no one had lived there since 1892.

In 1940, British officials found some bones on Nikumaroro. Original measurements indicated the bones belonged to a man. Although the bones were later lost, later analysis of the original measurements by TIGHAR suggested they might have belonged to a woman of similar height to Earhart. Recently, experts from the University of Tennessee studied the bones and found they "have more similarity to Earhart than to 99 percent of individuals in a large reference sample."

Step Two: Ask Questions

After reading, go back and examine the arguments made.

  • What claims does this writer make?
  Earhart and her navigator, Noonan, might not have seen Howland Island and might have flown further south along the 157/337 line to Nikumaroro instead.
  Navy pilots reported seeing signs of recent habitation, though no one had lived on that island since 1892.
  Some bones discovered on the island are similar to Earhart's.


Ask questions about the evidence presented.

  • Are the arguments relevant and well-reasoned, backed up with facts?

All these arguments are relevant to the issue of Earhart's disappearance, but not all are backed up with enough facts to be completely convincing.

Here are some questions that require more research.

  • What is the basis for TIGHAR's belief that Earhart and Noonan were stranded on Gardiner Island (Nikumaroro)? Does any other investigator or group believe the same?
  • Is finding metal parts and a jar of freckle cream enough evidence to prove this theory?
  • What signs of habitation did U.S. Navy pilots see on the island?
  • How were the bones from the island lost, and have other scientists studied or analyzed their measurements?

Third Step: Organize Your Thoughts

A great way to organize your thoughts is with a graphic organizer.

Complete the Analyzing Arguments Graphic Organizer — from Downloadable Resources in the right-hand sidebar — with the castaway argument presented above.

Then, go to the Got It? section to analyze more arguments!

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