How Animals Play and What We Can Learn From Them

“The animal world is full of games. And tucked in among wrestling monkeys, belligerent birds and wily coyotes are lessons for us all.” E. Vance, The New York Times

ESL Voices Lesson Plan for this post with Answer Key

Baby elephants at play. Credit- Smithsonian Magazine

Excerpt: Where the Wild Things Play, Erik Vance, New York Times

“As a sophomore in college I interned at a lab that studied dolphin behavior. The animals spent most of the year doing back flips and spraying water onto tourists at a theme park…In their off months, they hung out with behavioral scientists who studied them. Almost all dolphin [studies] involved games and toys.

Dolphins at play. Credit- New Scientist

Language, consciousness, communication — all of them are easier to study if the animal thinks it’s playing a game. I remember the lead researcher telling me, ‘It has to be fun or they just won’t participate. You cannot force a dolphin to do anything.’ But you can always get them to play…Dolphins are not the only animals that like to play (though they may be the cleverest). The animal kingdom is full of frolicking, frisking, gamboling and romping critters. And while it’s YouTube gold, it also tells us a lot about what’s going on in their heads. And it may help parents better understand how their kids play.

Kitten with string -credit- catslovetoknow

All sorts of animals play for all sorts of reasons. A fawn frolics in the meadow to become more agile. A kitten chases string so that one day it can chase a mouse. 

New Zealand Kea. Photo credit- Lafeber

New Zealand keas, which are large parrots, seem to play just to irritate humans… Keas have been known to rip apart boots, tents and even car parts while campers sleep. I’ve seen them drop branches and rocks on tourists’ vehicles just to watch them thump or break a windshield…Unlike most animals, which become dominant as they age, keas are most dominant as juveniles. Perhaps kea society is just what happens when you put children in charge…Marc Bekoff, Ph.D., a professor emeritus at the University of Colorado, Boulder, has spent decades watching various animal play.

Coyote pack. Credit- Realtree

After hundreds of hours watching wild juvenile coyotes, he’s noticed all sorts of fundamental rules around fun. For instance, play has to be fair. If you tackle another coyote, you have to let it tackle you back, even if you are dominant. Those that play fair, who can discern the subtle signals of how and when to play, become popular playmates and solidify their place in the pack… The young coyotes who don’t play fair basically leave their group. Not because they’re driven out, they just leave their group because other animals don’t want anything to do with them…So, fairness and turn-taking are key to animal play.

Baby gorillas at play. credit-Transitions Abroad

Nowhere is this clearer than during gorilla tag…As with the human version, gorilla tag can devolve into wrestling matches, but even then they take turns winning… play has become a fascinating way to study how animals think. It’s hard to define yet anyone can recognize it when they see it… So why do it? What’s the benefit of play? And what can humans take from it?..Dr. Bekoff noticed that coyote play rarely escalates into real fighting the way it does in human kids. ‘Play breaks down really fast sometimes when a bully starts playing…They don’t learn to negotiate play and the subtle give and take of social cues.’He doesn’t study humans but says he is regularly contacted by school psychologists worried about bullying.”

“Former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. joined forces with his top surrogate Thursday morning [July 23, 2020] releasing a video of a conversation with former President Barack Obama that cast the current occupant of the White House as unworthy and Mr. Biden as the perfect leader to replace him.” A. W. Herndon, The New York Times

 

IN MEMORY OF JOHN ROBERT LEWIS

Born: February 21, 1940 — Died: July 17, 2020

ESL Voices Lesson Plan for this post

NOTE: Lessons can also be used with native English speakers.

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 improving oral skills. At the end of the lesson students will express their personal views on the topic through group work and writing.

I. Pre-Reading Activities

 Predictions: Using a Pre-reading Organizer

Directions: Examine the title of the post and of the actual article. Next examine the photos. Write a paragraph describing what you think this article will discuss. A pre-reading organizer may be used. (Below San Juan Edu chart)

II. While Reading Activities

Word Inference

Directions: Try to infer the meanings of the words in bold taken from the article. You use a dictionary, thesaurus, and Word Chart for assistance.

  1. At theme parks, dolphins love to spray water onto tourists.
  2. I quickly noticed a few things about dolphin research.
  3. Their idle amusement turns out to reveal an almost artistic ability.
  4. The animal kingdom is full of frolicking, frisking, gamboling and romping critters.
  5. A fawn frolics in the meadow to become more agile.
  6. Keas spend their days doing aerial acrobatics for no reason scientists can discern.
  7. They’re thinking in very sophisticated ways.
  8. Dr. Taylor studies kea intelligence and stressed that they are not malicious.
  9. Unlike most animals, keas are most dominant as juveniles.
  10. Marc Bekoff has noticed all sorts of fundamental rules around fun.

 

 Grammar Focus: Structure and Usage

Directions: The following groups of sentences are from the article. One of the sentences in each group contains a grammatical  error.  Identify the sentence (1, 2, or 3 ) from each group that contains the grammatical error.

I

  1. Human play develop predictably as we get older.
  2. We start out with simple peekaboo.
  3. The animal world is full of games.

II

 

  1. Dolphins are not the only animals that like to play.
  2. The animal kingdom is full of frolicking critters.
  3. All sorts of animals play for all sorts of reasons.

III

  1. Marc Bekoff has spent decades watching juvenile coyotes.
  2. Fairness and turn-taking are key to animal play.
  3. They’re thinking in very sophisticated ways.

Reading Comprehension

True /False/NA-Statements

Directions: Review the following statements from the reading.  If  a statement is true they mark it T. If the statement is  not applicable, mark it NA. If the statement is false  mark  it F and provide the correct answer. 

  1. The author first learned about dolphin behavior in a zoo.
  2. To the author, observing dolphins can be exciting.
  3. Language, consciousness, communication are easier to study if the animal thinks there’s food involved.
  4. You cannot force a dolphin to do anything.
  5. The author co-wrote a paper about the odd bubble rings they [dolphins] blow and play with.
  6. A kitten chases string so that one day it can grow muscles.
  7. New Zealand keas are large  kangaroos.
  8. Keas are native to the high mountains.
  9. Keas are most dominant as old adults.
  10. Fairness and turn-taking are key to animal play.

 

III. Post Reading Activities

WH-How Questions

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?

 

Discussion Questions for Comprehension /Writing

Directions: Have  students discuss the following questions/statements. Afterwards,  students share their thoughts as a class. To reinforce the ideas, students can write an essay on one of the topics mentioned.

  1. Have you ever had the opportunity to work with animals? If yes, describe your experience.
  2. Where did the author first learn about dolphin behavior?
  3. Almost all dolphin experiments involve what?
  4. What are the three major things that behavioral scientists study in dolphin behavior?
  5. According to the article what might parents better understand about their kids?
  6. Within a coyote pack what happens when a member does not play ‘fair’ with the other pack members?
  7. According to the article what is the greatest lesson humans can learn about play from animals?
  8. What new information have you learned from this article?

 

3-2-1-Writing

Directions: In 5 minutes to write down three new ideas  you’ve learned about the topic from the reading,  two things  that  you did not understand in the reading, and one thing you  would like to know that the article did not mention. Review the responses as a class.

ANSWER KEY