As a result, classes could view a few short excerpts from the film to help stimulate a discussion: How are animals portrayed in the film?Are these portrayals accurate to how these animals are in real life? Do these portrayals contribute to positive or negative images of these animals?This is also an opportunity for cross-disciplinary work in both science and English classrooms.
The following unit sketch, designed for high school English teachers who are looking to increase engagement in writing and exploring themes of conservation with their students, can take place entirely in the confines of the classroom and school day.
It also allows teachers to either expand on past lessons about criticism or to introduce the idea of literary criticism to students.
At one high school where I worked, all sophomore students visited the Brookfield Zoo as part of their biology class.
While chaperoning this outing, I realized that there was a huge missed opportunity to involve other disciplines in the trip, especially since the biology work that students needed to complete did not take the whole day.
RECENT RESEARCH has shown that narrative structure has a powerful impact on the human brain.
Studies in neuroscience and narrative structure support this idea; some researchers are finding that narrative structures such as those used in fiction and poetry can have a much stronger impact than simple facts; when we read or hear the sensory details of someone else’s experiences, we respond to them neurologically as if they were our own experiences.1 Furthermore, studies have found that when reading literature with important messaging about behavior, students have begun to engage in more positive behaviors as suggested by the literature read in classes.2 Other areas of criticism such as feminist theory and Marxist theory have helped to raise awareness about how narratives can maintain oppressive structures, but there hasn’t been much discussion about how narratives can either reinforce or reinvent our relationships with animals.3 Moreover, it has been said that the ecological crisis that we are facing today will not be solved through science and technology,4 and there has been a growing interest in using the humanities to tackle these challenges.
Zoos are ripe for this sort of interdisciplinary learning; many zoos already have poetry installations throughout their exhibits.
In fact, five zoos across the United States have partnered with various organizations and poets-in-residence to create intentional poetry installations: New Orleans, Louisiana; Milwaukee, Wisconsin; Little Rock, Arkansas; Jacksonville, Florida; and Brookfield, Illinois.
While these lessons were designed with high school students in mind, I think they could easily be adapted for middle and upper elementary grades.
Lesson 1: A visit to the zoo A visit to the local zoo is always exciting for students.