Animal Heroes - Grades 4-6
- Understand the ways in which animals work for us or help us.
- Read and discuss stories and/or articles about working animals.
- Develop research questions.
- Gather and present information on working animals.
- Read and respond to true and fictional stories about animal heroes.
- Appreciate how animals are often stereotyped in stories and how these stereotypes can affect our attitudes and behaviour towards animals.
Children are usually interested in animals, so animal stories - true and fictional - can motivate reluctant readers. In addition, many students do not appreciate the many ways in which animals work to help us, so the content increases appreciate of our animal friends. Discussion of animal stories is a good way to address issues animal stereotyping.
Curriculum Connection: Alberta Education Program of Studies
English Language Arts
Grade 4: Respond to Texts
- Identify and discuss favourite authors, topics and kinds of oral, print and other media texts.
- Retell events of stories in another form or medium
- Make general evaluative statements about oral, print and other media texts.
- Connect portrayals of characters or situations in oral, print and other media texts to personal and classroom experiences.
- Summarize the main idea of individual oral, print and other media texts.
- Connect the thoughts and actions of characters portrayed in oral, print and other media texts to personal and classroom experiences.
Grade 5: Respond to Texts
- Express points of view about oral, print and other media texts.
- Describe and discuss new places, times, characters and events encountered in oral, print and other media texts.
- Write or represent the meaning of texts in different forms.
Grade 6: Respond to Texts
- Explain own point of view about oral, print and other media texts.
- Make connections between own life and characters and ideas in oral, print and other media texts.
- Discuss common topics or themes in a variety of oral, print and other media texts.
- Discuss the author’s, illustrator’s, storyteller’s or filmmaker’s intention or purpose.
Grade 4: Manage ideas and information
- Ask relevant questions, and respond to questions related to particular topics.
- Develop and follow a class plan for accessing and gathering ideas and information.
- Locate information to answer research questions, using a variety of sources, such as maps, atlases, charts, dictionaries, school libraries, video programs, elders in the community and field trips.
- Present to peers ideas and information on a topic of interest, in a well-organized form.
Grade 5: Manage ideas and information
- Identify categories of information related to particular topics, and ask questions related to each category.
- Locate information to answer research questions, using a variety of sources, such as newspapers, encyclopedias, CDROMs, a series by the same writer, scripts, diaries, autobiographies, interviews and oral traditions.
- Develop and follow own plan for gathering and recording ideas and information.
- Organize ideas and information in presentations to maintain a clear focus and engage the audience.
Grade 6: Manage ideas and information
- Decide on and select the information needed to support a point of view.
- Develop and follow own plan for accessing and gathering ideas and information, considering guidelines for time and length of investigation and presentation.
- Locate information to answer research questions, using a variety of sources, such as printed texts, bulletin boards, biographies, art, music, community resource people, CDROMs and the Internet.
- Use various styles and forms of presentations, depending on content, audience and purpose.
- ways in which animals that we think of as pets can actually help people, e.g. seeing eye dogs, cats in nursing homes, working horses, donkeys guarding sheep, police dogs, search and rescue dogs
- characteristics of animals that make them more helpful, e.g. smart, calm, loving, obedient. strong, identifying as many words as you can
- compare jobs of animals and people - what is the same? what is different?
Have students research one type of working animal and present the information in an essay or a class presentation. Some good resources include:
- Working Animals 2 - Higher level article on roles animals play as working animals - ASPCA
- Animal Assisted Interactions - Higher level article about the role of therapy animals - ASPCA
- Canine Assistants - Article summarizing the different ways in which dogs work to help us e.g guide dogs, hearing dogs, therapy dogs, etc.- American Animal Hospital Association. (Grade 7 reading level)
- Dogs to the Rescue: Canadian Federation of Humane Societies article on what search and rescue dogs do. (Grade 6 reading level)
- Website on working dogs Working dog's oath, links to good resources.
- Therapy Dogs Video Youtube video on dogs working in a hospital.
Have students make up interview questions for a handler of a working animal or for the animal, and then invite a handler to visit the class.
Some questions for discussion:
- What kind of animals are best suited for working?
- Do you think animals like having a job?
- Are there some jobs that only an animal could do, or could do better than people or machines? (e.g. drug/explosive sniffing dog, seeing eye dog)
- Could we ask animals to do too much work? ( e.g some sled dogs, Black Beauty)
- If you were disabled, would you prefer help from specially trained people or dogs? Why?
Animal Heroes - True Stories
Sometimes ordinary pets help us in really heroic ways. Reading short descriptions of animal heroes can be a good starting point for students to do some creative thinking and writing.
What makes a person or an animal a hero in our eyes? Will this be different for people and animals? For example, some people are heroes in sports or because of great accomplishments or brave actions. Animals tend to be heroes mainly due to bravery.
Have students think about animal heroes that they have heard about. Is there a difference between fictional animal heroes ( e.g. Lassie) and real animal heroes? What types of animals can be heroes? Only dogs?
Ask students to predict what kinds of heroic things an animal hero might do. Why would animals do this for people?
What kind of adjectives come to mind when you think about animal heroes? Make a list of adjectives, e.g. strong, brave, loyal, fearless, courageous, fast, smart, obedient, trainable.
Read together the short story about Jake, Dog of Valour.
In small groups have students share their response to the story. Some questions for discussion:
- Were you impressed or surprised with what the Jake did?
- Can you add new words to your vocabulary list of heroic adjectives?
- How would you have felt if you were the animal faced with this situation? What would you have done?
- Has there ever been a time when you needed a hero? Could an animal have helped you?
- Do you think Jake’s owners appreciated the heroic qualities of their pet before the accident?
Here are some good sources of more true short stories about animal heroes:
- Humane Society of the US - reading level grade 4-6
- Four legged Valour - National Post article(higher reading level) on dog receiving Purina hall of fame award.
- The Purina Hall of Fame stories - reading level grade 8
Have students choose a story to read and then write:
- the next chapter for one of these stories - what happens next in this animal’s life?
- the story as told by the animal himself or herself
Animal Heroes - Literature and Movies
Start by having students think about animals they have read about or seen in movies. What type of characters are these animals - the heros or the villains? Do certain types of animals seem to be shown as good or bad? Are the animals shown in realistic ways or are they more like people?
Help students to understand the meaning of stereotypes and how they can affect our thinking. Ask them if they can think of endings to the sentences like:
- All kids are....
- All Americans are...
- All wolves are...
- All cats are...
Are these statements commonly believed? Are they true? How can they negatively affect the person or animal they refer to?
Have students choose a book to read independently in which an animal is a main character. Some good books on animals for this age group:
- Marley, A Dog like no Other by John Grogan ( children’s adaptation)
- Call of the Wild and White Fang by Jack London
- Peter Pan by James Barrie
- Where the Red Fern Grows,by Wilson Rawls
- Charlotte's Web by E. B. White
- The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by C. S. Lewis
- Stone Fox by John Reynolds Gardiner
- The Trumpet of the Swan by E. B. White
- My Father's Dragon by Ruth Stiles Gannett
- Babe, the Gallant Pig by Dick King-Smith
- The Redwall series, by Brian Jacques
- Island of the Blue Dolphins, by Scott O’Dell
- Mad Dog (Animal rescue series) by Dandi Daley Mackall
- Runaway (Animal rescue series) by Dandi Daley Mackall
- Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH by Robert C. O’Brien
- My Life in Dog Years by Gary Paulsen
- Shiloh by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor
- The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane by Kate Dicamillio
- The Underneath by Kathi Appelt
Some good websites recommending books about animals are:
- ASPCA Children’s literature annotated bibliography
- ASPCA books for sale for children
- Operation Outreach USA
Have students do a book review which discusses:
- The main animal character: what kind of personality did he or she have? What words could you use to describe him or her?
- Did you like the type of character given to the animal? Why?
- How was the character different from a real animal?
As a class make a list of all the different types of animals that students read about and their main characteristics. Do some animals tend to be villains and others good guys? Are there some animal stereotypes here, for example, all wolves are evil, all dogs are brave? Have students look at the descriptors to see what kind of image is suggested. Is this image different from the real life animal?
For a few animals make a list together of fictional characteristics versus real characteristics. Cats are a good choice to discuss as there are many stereotypes about cats which can lead to their poor treatment.
The Canadian Federation of Humane Societies has prepared a lesson, Children’s Bookshelf in which older students work in pairs to review and evaluate books about animals for younger children and produce an annotated bibliography. The focus is on how animals can be portrayed in literature in ways that reinforce good or bad attitudes towards animals. It is designed for grades 7-8, but could easily be adapted for lower grades.
Kitty IQ - A fun ASPCA trivia quiz about famous cats in literature and movies.
Poetic Justice: Understanding the Life of a Tethered Dog - Humane Society of the US Youth poetry writing unit focusing on how language creates mood and meaning. Supplementary materials for this lesson are listed below.
- tethered dog cartoon
- tethered dog poem (Grade 2 reading level)
- Animal Sheltering article on rescuing a tethered dog (Grade 5 reading level)
Alberta SPCA poetry lesson unit (grades 3-7) in which students create poems expressing facts, feelings and emotions about animals, animal issues, and the human-animal bond.