“Chimpanzees have the cognitive ability to cook, according to new research, if only someone would give them ovens… scientists from Harvard and Yale found that chimps have the patience and foresight to resist eating raw food and to place it in a device meant to appear, at least to the chimps, to cook it.” – D. Frank and J. Gorman NYT
ESL Voices Lesson Plan for this post with Answer Key
Excerpt: Chimpanzees Would Cook if Given the Chance…by David Frank and James Gorman New York Times
“That is no small achievement. In a line that could easily apply to human beings, the researchers write, Many primate species, including chimpanzees, have difficulty giving up food already in their possession and show limitations in their self-control when faced with food.
But they found that chimps would give up a raw slice of sweet potato in the hand for the prospect of a cooked slice of sweet potato a bit later. That kind of foresight and self-control is something any cook who has eaten too much raw cookie dough can admire.
The research grew out of the idea that cooking itself may have driven changes in human evolution, a hypothesis put forth by Richard Wrangham, an anthropologist at Harvard and several colleagues about 15 years ago in an article in Current Anthropology, and more recently in his book, Catching Fire: How Cooking Made Us Human.
He argued that cooking may have begun something like two million years ago, even though hard evidence only dates back about one million years. For that to be true, some early ancestors, perhaps not much more advanced than chimps, had to grasp the whole concept of transforming the raw into the cooked.
One obvious difficulty in creating an experiment was that chimps have not yet figured out how to use fire, and the scientists were wary of giving them access to real cooking devices. So the scientists hit on a method that presents the chimps with problems that emulate cooking…two plastic bowls that fit closely together with pre-cooked food hidden in the bottom tub.
When a chimpanzee placed a raw sweet potato slice into the device, a researcher shook it, then lifted the top tub out to offer the chimp an identical cooked slice of sweet potato… The chimps showed a number of indications that, given a real cooking opportunity, they had the ability to take advantage of it. They resisted eating raw food and put it in the device, waiting for cooked food.”
Level: Intermediate – Advanced
Language Skills: Reading, writing, and speaking. Vocabulary and grammar activities are included.
Time: Approximately 2 hours.
Materials: Student handout (from this lesson) and access to news article.
Objective: Students will read and discuss the article with a focus on improving reading comprehension and learning new vocabulary. At the end of the lesson students will express their personal views on the topic through group work and writing.
I. Pre-Reading Activities
Directions: Have students use the KWL chart to list the information they already know about chimps. Then students discuss the information they would like to learn about chimps. Later in the Post- Reading segment of the lesson, students can fill in what they’ve learned about the topic.
II. While Reading Tasks
Directions: Students are to infer the meanings of the words in bold taken from the article. They may use a dictionary, thesaurus, and Word Chart for assistance.
- Cooking is no small achievement.
- Many primates have difficulty giving up food in their possession.
- Chimps have shown foresight and self-control.
- Chimps would give up a raw slice of sweet potato.
- Cooking itself may have driven changes in human evolution.
- A device that emulated cooking was used in the experiments.
- They resisted eating raw food.
- The experiments showed that chimps had the patience for cooking.
- The use of fire was the major impetus.
- Chimps understood the transition from raw to cooked food.
Directions: Students choose the correct word to complete the sentences taken from the article. They are to choose from the options presented.
When a chimpanzee placed/place a raw sour/sweet potato slice/slip into the devious/device, a researcher shook it, then lifted the top tub out to offer/off the chimp an identical cooked slice of sweet potato.
It was known/noun that chimps proffer/prefer cooked food, but it was an open question whether/weather chimps had the patience/patients to wait/wade through the pretend shake and bake process.
Prepositions: in, for, of, with, by, on, at, to, as, into, around, over, from, during,
Directions: The following sentences are from the news article. For each sentence choose the correct preposition from the choices presented. Note that not all prepositions listed are in the article.
The research grew out ___the idea that cooking itself may have driven changes___ human evolution, a hypothesis put forth___Richard Wrangham, an anthropologist___Harvard.
One obvious difficulty___creating an experiment was that chimps have not yet figured out how___ use fire, and the scientists were wary___giving them access___real cooking devices.
III. Post Reading Tasks
Directions: Have students use the WH-question format to discuss or to write the main points from the article.
Who or What is the article about?
Where does the action/event take place?
When does the action/event take place?
Why did the action/event occur?
How did the action/event occur?
Directions: Place students in groups and have them answer the following questions. Afterwards, have the groups share their thoughts as a class. To reinforce the ideas, students can write an essay on one of the following discussion topics.
1. The following three statements were taken from the article. Rephrase each statement in your own words, then discuss the meaning with the members of your group.
“Richard Wrangham, an anthropologist at Harvard….argued that cooking may have begun something like two million years ago, even though hard evidence only dates back about one million years. For that to be true, some early ancestors, perhaps not much more advanced than chimps, had to grasp the whole concept of transforming the raw into the cooked.”
“The chimps showed a number of indications that, given a real cooking opportunity, they had the ability to take advantage of it. They resisted eating raw food and put it in the device, waiting for cooked food. They would bring raw food from one side of a cage to the other in order to put it in the device. And they put different kinds of food in the device.”
“In 1999, when Wrangham proposed the cooking hypothesis, it seemed silly to some to think that the use of fire was the major impetus to convert upright chimpanzee-like creatures into the first species of humans, but this paper makes that scenario the leading hypothesis in my mind.”
1-Minute Free Writing Exercise
Directions: Allow students 1 minute to write down one new idea they’ve learned from the reading. Ask them to write down one thing they did not understand in the reading. Review the responses as a class.