Teaching Gorillas, Gently, How to Be Perfect Patients, By Lizette Alvarez, The New York Times-
ESL Voices Lesson Plan for this article with Answer Key.
Dr.Mark Setter, the director of animal operations for Walt Disney’s animal programs, along with his staff have developed a way to train the gorillas to be still and cooperative during their physicals. The technique works so well that zoos across the country are using it.
Photo: Silverback Gorilla Credit: H. Sleinberg
The following is an excerpt:
1. “ORLANDO, Fla. — Lying flat on his oversize silver back near the exhibit glass at Disney’s Animal Kingdom, Gino gazed far into the distance, well beyond the curious gawkers. Yes, his eyes seemed to say, I am fabulous and mighty and infinitely photogenic so snap away at my 385-pound, muscle-bound physique. Soon, though, he grew weary of the paparazzi. Garbo-like, he lifted his massive gorilla arm and rested it lightly over his face. No more, please.
2. You can’t blame Gino. Behind all that brawn, he has a weak heart, a fact of life for adult male gorillas. Like lifelong smokers and junk-food addicts, 40 percent typically die of heart problems. Moments earlier, he was inside his barn getting his periodic cardiovascular check-up. This involved Gino’s standing still in his cage, right up against the bars, while a trainer dabbed his chest with gel (which Gino swipes at and tastes every time) and then scanned his heart with a wand.
3. Not so long ago (about two years to be precise), veterinarians and ultrasonographers had to sedate gorillas to check their hearts and blood pressure.Dr. Mark Stetter, the director of animal operations for Disney’s animal programs would reply, more or less: “I don’t know. Be my guest.” Nobody took him up on his offer.
4. Then Dr. Stetter and his staff figured out a way to train Animal Kingdom’s gorillas to be still and cooperative during ultrasounds and blood pressure checks, a major advantage in helping pinpoint the state of their health. Now zoos across the country are following suit, using Disney’s guidelines and the Gorilla Health Project.
5. Trainers used verbal cues, hand signals and treats, like fruit, as positive reinforcement to teach Gino how to turn around and display the appropriate body parts. It can take several months to a year to train a gorilla to cooperate with trainers for the ultrasound scan. The gorillas have even learned to slide their arms into a special Disney-designed pressure cuff so they can have their blood pressure checked. (Of course, Gino is not the only one who benefits from special treatment. A Spade fish has received a glass eye, Komodo dragons are trained to stand on a scale and poison dart frogs have learned to respond to a clicking noise by jumping into a container that can then be weighed.) Relying on fruit and oatmeal as rewards, Beth Richards, an animal-care keeper, speaks to Gino lovingly but commandingly…”
For all of the animal lovers this is a wonderful article! Be sure to read the entire piece.
Time: approximately 1-2 hours.
Language Skills: reading, speaking, writing, and vocabulary practice.
Time: approximately 1-2 hours.
Materials: article excerpt, dictionary.
Objectives: Students will learn the new devices for examining animals in the zoo. They will also learn new terminology, practice reading, writing, and speaking skills.
I. Pre-Reading Tasks A. Prediction
Ask students to look at the photo, read the heading Teaching Gorillas to Open and Say…Ahhh (Please?) then explain what they think the article is about.B. Stimulate background knowledge
Give students 2 minutes to brainstorm terms they associate with the words, gorilla, examination, zoo.
Use a *graphic organizer KWL chart to help.
II. While Reading Tasks
1. Lying flat on his oversize silver back near the exhibit glass…(adjective)
a. bigger than the usual size
b. smaller than average
c. exact size
2. Yes, his eyes seemed to say, I am fabulous and mighty and infinitely photogenic…(adverb)
b. very great in amount or degree; limitless
3. I am fabulous and mighty and infinitely photogenic…(adjective)
b. looking attractive in photographs or on film
4. …so snap away at my 385-pound, muscle-bound physique. (noun)
a. the form, size, and development of a person’s body
b. shoe size
c. hat size
5. Behind all that brawn, he has a weak heart,…(noun)
c. physical strength in contrast to intelligence
6. Like lifelong smokers and junk-food addicts…(noun)
a. food that is healthy
b. food that is good only for adults
c. food that has low nutritional value
7. Like lifelong smokers and junk-food addicts…(noun)
a. a person who is addicted to a particular substance
b. a person who is not addicted to a substance
c. a person who can eat whatever they want
8. Moments earlier, he was inside his barn getting his periodic cardiovascular check-up. (adjective)
a. relating to the veins
b. relating to the heart and blood vessels.
c. relating to the muscles
9. …while a trainer dabbed his chest with gel…(verb)
a. hit hard
b. press against (something) lightly with a piece of absorbent material in order to clean or dry it
10. Not so long ago…veterinarians and ultrasonographers had to sedate gorillas…(noun)
a. people who are trained to use an *ultrasound machine
b. people who are trained to feed gorillas
c. people who are trained to sing to gorillas
11. …veterinarians and ultrasonographers had to sedate gorillas…(verb)
a. to kill someone (or an animal)
b. to make a person (or animal) sleep by administering a sedative drug
c. to make someone (or an animal) excited
12. Trainers used verbal cues, hand signals and treats, like fruit, as positive reinforcement to teach Gino…(noun)
a. the process of weakening a behavior
b. the process of diminishing a behavior
c. the process of encouraging or establishing a pattern of behavior by reward.
B. Sentence meaning
Match the letter of the phrases to complete the sentences taken from the article, Paragraphs 2, 3, and 4.
1. Behind all that brawn, he has___
2. Like lifelong smokers and junk-food addicts, 40 percent typically___
3. Moments earlier, he was inside his barn___
4. … a trainer dabbed his chest with___
5. Not so long ago (about two years to be precise), veterinarians and ultrasonographers had to___
6. Now zoos across the country are___
a. getting his periodic cardiovascular check-up.
b. gel…and then scanned his heart with a wand.
c. a weak heart
d. following suit, using Disney’s guidelines and the Gorilla Health Project.
e. die of heart problems.
f. sedate gorillas to check their hearts and blood pressure
III. Post reading:
A. Discussion and Reflection
Have a discussion about Gorillas. A very informative site: All About Gorillas
B. Visit a zoo where there are gorillas. Take photos, and write different captions for each one. Have a contest for the best one!
C. Two-Minute Gorilla Debates: (oral practice)
With a partner, engage in these fun 2-minute debates. Students A firmly believes in the opinions on the left, Students B supports the opinions on the right. Change partners.
1. Gorillas are the greatest animals in the world. vs. I don’t think so.
2. A gorilla would be a great pet. vs. You are totally crazy.
3. Gorillas and humans can talk to each other. vs. Not in the jungle.
4. We descended from gorillas. vs. Humans and gorillas are totally different.
5. Gorillas should be kept in zoos. vs. Gorillas belong in the jungle.
6. Tours to see gorillas are great for tourism. vs. Gorillas should be left alone.
7. The gorilla should be on the WWF* logo. vs. The panda is best for that logo.
8. Frogs are more important for conservation. vs. Gorillas should be top of all conservation lists.
* World Wildlife Fund
Activity curtsey Breaking News English
D. Writing Activity
Have students write an essay about one of the following topics. Review ESL Voices Modes of Essay Writing.
- Anesthesia is considered dangerous even for people. Write an essay in which you discuss the benefits of teaching animals to cooperate during physical examinations. Provide examples.
- Write an essay in which you describe other beneficial behaviors animals might be taught using Dr. Stetter’s technique.
- In your opinion, can children be taught certain behaviors using this technique?
Additional Lesson Plans for lower-levels:
Scholastic: Looking for Miza The lesson plans and printables will give students the background information they need to create an action plan to raise awareness of the problems facing the endangered mountain gorillas. (grades 3-8) ESL Beginners /low-level.
First School: Gorilla Theme Preschool Lesson Plan Printable Activities;
Endangered Animals | Rainforest & Jungle. Instructions and Suggestions Age: older toddlers to to early elementary.
I. Pre-Reading Tasks
A. students’ choice
II. While Reading Tasks
1. a, 2. b, 3. b, 4. a, 5. c 6. c, 7. a, 8. b. 9. c, 10. a, 11. b, 12.c
Source: New Oxford American Dictionary
B. Sentence Meaning
1. a weak heart
2. b. die of heart problems.
3. c. getting his periodic cardiovascular check-up.
4. d. gel… and then scanned his heart with a wand.
5. e. sedate gorillas to check their hearts and blood pressure.
6. f. following suit, using Disney’s guidelines and the Gorilla Health Project.
III. Post reading tasks
Students’ choice. Have students share their essays with the class.
Please come back again.