Project Type: Creative Writing
Suggested Grades: 2 and up
A popular version of this genre is Aesop's Fables by Charles Santore, a reinterpretation of twenty-four of the illustrator's favorites, told and illustrated in a classic manner. My favorite illustration depicts "The Hare and the Tortoise" in a trifold page, featuring the entire cast of animals posed against a rolling landscape forested with crumbling Greek pillars, witnessing the triumph of the Tortoise. In choosing the tales and creatures to include, Santore explained:
- After reading several fables, ask students to describe which human traits are typically assigned to which animals. Why these animals? What is it about their physical traits or behaviors that makes them deserving of these attributes? Challenge students to assign human traits to some animals not traditionally seen in fables.Then ask, "If you were depicted as an animal in a fable, which animal would you be? Why?"
- Provide each student with a moral. Using one of your own, model how a story might be created to illustrate its lesson. Challenge each student to choose a cast of animal characters and write an original fable (they could even include themselves from the activity above). Need some moral ideas? Check out American English Proverbs for some thought-provoking lines.
- Select an illustration from one of the books described above. Challenge students to write the fable it illustrates. Another terrific source for traditional fables is Jerry Pinkney's Aesop's Fables.
- Squids Will Be Squids
is Jon Scieszka and Lane Smith's collection
of fantastically original fables. Check out the related teaching ideas at Scholastic.
Project Type: Argumentative Essay/Research
Suggested Grades: 4 and up
While students used several Internet sources for research on this project, many students used trade books as well. One favorite was Predators by John Seidensticker and Susan Lumpkin (one of the INsiders series published by Simon and Schuster), as it featured not only profiles of some of the world's top hunters, but also sections on the weapons and instincts that make these killers the pinnacles of their food pyramids. The text reads like any excellent nonfiction text, with plenty of illustrations, captions, text boxes, and cut-away diagrams.
Top 10 Worst Killer Animals You Wouldn't Want to Meet by Fiona Macdonald and David Antram boldly counts down the top killers from around the world, providing curious readers answers to questions such as, "How do jellyfish feed?" and "How do you avoid a shark attack?" Kids find this book fascinating since it profiles not only the predators, abut also those malevolent creatures that carry infection and kill by disease.
But perhaps the hottest commodity was Predator Showdown: 30 Unbelievably Awesome Predator vs. Predator Faceoffs by Lee Martin. Students loved the grudge-matches depicted on the pages, along with the vital stats of each contender. Rather than reveal the winners immediately, the author lists the winner on the book's final page, along with a short explanation of why one animal would overcome the other. I think students enjoyed the format because its competitive nature mirrored the fierce loyalty they began to feel for their own nominee to The HOWL Museum. Unfortunately, it seems that book is out of print, so if you can't find it at your library I'd alternatively suggest Nature's Deadliest Predators by Shelly Silberling. While it is limited to sharks, bears, tigers, and alligators and crocodiles, this text demonstrates the interactions between these predators and the humans who increasingly compete with them for limited habitable space.
- Assign each student a predator, and direct them to learn about that animal's physical traits and behaviors. Below is a list of predators to get you started. Click on the icon on the lower right corner to see this document full size.
- Use a simple checklist to allow students to peer review first drafts. One of our checklists can be accessed below. Click on the icon on the lower right corner to see this document full size.
- Publish the essays and post them with an announcement about the HOWL Museum. To create the illusion of a grand opening, I used the image editing site Photo505 to create some "publicity shots." To this day, some students think the museum is real! See the photos below, and feel to use them as well.
- If you're not crazy about the notion of predators, consider research projects on animals that live in productive harmony through symbiosis, a "close, prolonged association between two or more different organisms of different species that may, but does not necessarily, benefit each member" (wordnik.com).
3. Crazy Critters
Project Type: Creative Writing/Art
Suggested Grades: 2 and up
In Scranimals, written by Jack Prelutsky and illustrated by Peter Sis, animals are not only combined with other animals, but with fruits, vegetables and flowers as well! Thus we get spinachickens, broccolions, and bananacondas. Fun poems accompany each full spread illustration. In Animals that Ought to Be: Poems about Imaginary Pets, Richard Michelson and Leonard Baskin exercise equal creative liberties in morphing creatures that are both creepy and utilitarian, such as the Nightmare Scarer which feeds upon bad dreams. In a third book of poems, author Keith DuQuette offers up some hilarious homemade hybrids in Cock-a-Doodle-Moo: A Mixed Up Menagerie.
- Explore the concept of portmanteau words with your students. Unlike compound words that simply combine two smaller words, or contractions which drop letters, portmanteau words combine words and lose letters to form new words entirely. Thus smoke and fog create smog, and breakfast and lunch create brunch. Scranimals is a terrific choice for introducing this concept.
- Have students cut apart magazine images of animals to create collage critters. Students can then write descriptions of these animals, including the unique abilities they're granted given their hybrid qualities.
- Explore the online possibilities for creating crazy animal combinations using a site like Switch Zoo or Build Your Wild Self.
In addition to language and the wheel, perhaps nothing defines human evolution more than the ability to domesticate animals. In fact, according to Keltie Thomas, there are some Animals that Changed the World:
In addition to working with humans, younger readers may also be interested to learn how animals work together. In Do Animals Work Together?, author Faith Hickman Brynie describes the many ways that animals communicate among their colonies, packs, and herds. What's neat about this book is that each spread features a picture page and a text page, with the text page containing new reader sentences at the top, providing basic information, and a fluent reader section at the bottom, providing more details. One text section isn't dependent upon the other, and both can be read without sounding redundant. Enslow Publishing provides an educator 's guide for this book, as well as all books in the I Like Reading About Animals series. (Win this book! See bottom of the post).
- Assign each student an animal that has played a significant role, for good or bad, in human history. After they've researched their animal, allow students to present to the class in a creative way. For example, what would each animal have to say about its life's work in a retirement speech? Would it be proud of its accomplishments?
- Using Animals that Changed the World and other resources, students can practice writing simple expository essays describing how animals assist people. While children can likely generate three ways that dogs are useful to people, including a resource text reinforces the the importance of backing arguments with facts and quotes.
- Pair individual accounts of animal labor from Animals that Changed the World with related fiction texts (for example, real-life sled dogs paired with Stone Fox) or related nonfiction texts (camels and their role in the Silk Route).
5. Creature Comparisons
Project: Poetry/Figurative Language
Suggested Grades: 3 and up
From the book description:
And, like all Shakespeare, each page will become easier to understand the more you read it. The brilliant words of Shakespeare are meant to be heard, not seen, so read the words aloud and listen to the rhythm. Read them again and again, and let your imagination fill in the details of the scene.
Each illustration was digitally constructed using layers of textured color. Some textures will be immediately recognizable, such as wood grain or leaves; others may be more difficult to discern, but all come together to create whimsical representations of just a few of the animals mentioned by Shakespeare.
For students seeking more details, the creators included a plate-by-plate addendum providing more data about each image, including information on habitats, physical dimensions, and behaviors, with rich words such as iridescent, preening, and vigorously. See other books in the award-winning About... series, or Win this book! See bottom of the post for more information.
- Students can create biographical poems by first selecting adjectives that they feel describe them (pretty, busy, fast, etc.) and then selecting animals that match those adjectives. Students can pair the adjectives and animals in simile form, such as, "I snore like a lion when I'm really, really tired," and "I'm busy as a beaver every day when I get home."
- Creating a flip book is a fantastic way to show off and illustrate the comparisons described above, and the sizes of the books can vary from tiny to huge.
- Collect a pile of animal poem books and let students browse them and share their favorites. Then offer trade books or simply pictures of an assortment of animals, and ask students to write simile poem inspired by a favorite critter.
6. Pack Behavior
Project: Analytic Essay/Novel Extension
Suggested Grades: 5 and up
We all know that wolves and dogs are pack animals, but did you realize that humans are as well? If you don't believe me, ask Cesar Millan, who in Be the Pack Leader has this to say:
And of course, I'd recommend a quick study in pack behavior before reading any novel dealing with dog packs, such Island of the Blue Dolphins, Julie of the Wolves, and Call of the Wild, to name just a few.
For picture books I would recommend Scruffy: A Wolf Finds His Place in the Pack by Jim Brandenburg, Wolves by Sandra Markle, and Face to Face with Wolves, also by Jim Brandenburg.
- Choose a fact-rich picture book such as Scruffy: A Wolf Finds His Way in the Pack. Once students have read and discussed the text, have them write a simple essay explaining how pack behavior is critical to survival.
- Later, assign students the challenge of drawing comparisons between the group behavior observed in your novels and the previously studied pack behavior.
7. Feathered Friends
Suggested Grades: 5 and up
|Screenshot of a LinoIt discussion of Dunbar's The Sparrow (see below)|
If you suspect a theme is developing, you would be correct. Poets in particular seem to enjoy expounding upon serendipitous meetings with birds, taking some delight in reading their stoic expressions and wondering about their mysterious lives (see Emily Dickinson's A Bird Came Down the Walk, Paul Laurence Dunbar's The Sparrow, and Edwin Morgan's A Gull).
- Share some of these poems with students, particularly Edgar Allan Poe's "The Raven." This poem's fantastic vocabulary, figurative language, and creepy author's tone can be explored interactively The Interactive Raven and Knowing Poe: Annotated Poe.
- Compare and contrast Poe's poem with others about chance meetings with birds. This post discusses using a cool collaborative site called LinoIt to create online discussions, complete with stickies, images, and videos.
- Assign each student a bird, asking them to explore its history and mythology, as well as its physical characteristics and habits. Armed with this information, challenge students to write a poem about a meeting with this bird, basing it upon some of the exemplars above.
- Check out the haunting poem Carrion Crow by John Heath-Stubbs (definitely share the audio!), which describes a literal bird's eye view of history. After discussing the text and researching the battle to which it refers, ask students to write a similar poem as observed from a bird's point of view.
- If you feel that this activity is for the birds, consider allowing students to write poetry about their own choice of animal after conducting some basic research. Eric Carle's Animals Animals features animal poems by some of the literary greats (think Kipling, Carroll, Sanburg, Rossetti) accompanied by his signature cut-paper illustrations. These poems might also serve you if you choose to tackle any of the Creative Comparisons activities listed above.
Project: Argumentative Essay/Research
Suggested Grades: 6 and up
For ages 8 and up, the dilemma of animal captivity is thoughtfully explored in Katherine Applegate's The One and Only Ivan, the 2013 Newbery Winner. From the Author's Biography: Katherine was inspired to write The One and Only Ivan after reading about the true story of a captive gorilla known as Ivan, the "Shopping Mall Gorilla." The real Ivan lived alone in a tiny cage for twenty-seven years at a shopping mall before being moved to Zoo Atlanta after a public outcry. I highly recommended this text as a read-aloud, or as a class novel for grades 4 and up. Check out the official book trailer below.
- Let students explore a number of zoo and circus themed picture books. What messages about zoos and their purposes seem to be conveyed in those texts? Have more recent titles on these topics attempted to redefine the roles of these institutions?
- Assign students to prepare both pro and con arguments for zoos, and then divide the class arbitrarily to debate the issue.
the debate's conclusion, invite students to write an argumentative
essay for the position they would like to take, being certain in their
writing to address the claims of the opposing viewpoint.
Suggested Grades: 5 and up
Animal Tribe introduces students to the mythologies and wisdom of animals as celebrated by various indigenous peoples from around the globe. Explore that site to see what's offered, and consider ways that these studies could be incorporated into your existing curriculum.
A logical connection to this project is research in how animals are being threatened by their struggles to share this planet with humans. Books such as Once a Wolf: How Wildlife Biologists Fought to Bring Back the Gray Wolf by Stephen R. Swinburne and Dorje's Stripes by Anshumandi Ruddra can get this discussion started.
In the latter book, a beautiful Royal Bengal Tiger arrives one day, broken and tired, at a small Buddhist Monastery in Tibet. He begins to lost his stripes as his fellow tigers are poached from the surrounding countryside. Hope for the future shines, however, when one day a single stripe, and a beautiful female tiger, return. ((Win this book! See bottom of the post).
- Visit Animal Tribe and see how that site's activities can be adapted to your lesson plans.
- Rather than traditional animal research projects, assign each student an animal that is threatened or endangered. In addition to describing the causes of their animal's predicament, they should offer possible solutions that serve all parties involved.
- In connection with a text such as Once a Wolf, appoint students to play various roles including ranchers, conservationists, tourists, etc. Plan a debate with each interest group required to provide support for their point of view.
10. Home Sweet Home
Project: Creative Writing
Suggested Grades: 2 and up
Not Inside This House! written by Kevin Lewis and illustrated by David Ercolini, addresses this same topic in a much more humorous way.
A curious boy named Livingstone, who finds ordinary toys and diversions a bore, loves to explore. To his mother's horror, however, he enjoys bringing the results of those explorations home. From the book:
She did implore...
"Livingstone Columbus Magellan Crouse,
I'll have no bugs inside this house!
I'll say it once. Won't say it twice.
To speak again will not suffice."
As you can see, Kevin Lewis' text is replete with wonderful words, and David Ercolini's vivid illustrations beg closer inspection. See more here at the artist's site.
- Play devil's advocate using The Salamander Room. Is it right for Brian to keep this wild creature in his home? If the salamander's comfort demands so many changes to Brian's room, then is this the best place for it?
- In Not Inside This House, the pets Livingstone chooses to bring home become increasingly large and troublesome. When his mother finally relents and agrees that he can have the one bug he started with, we have to wonder, Is this what he had planned all along? Have students choose an extraordinary animal they'd like to adopt, and then create both sensible and outlandish reasons they'd give for why this animal should be permitted.