“The quiet young man had come to me looking for love, ideally at first sight. I asked my usual questions about his work, where he lived, how he spent his free time. I asked about his great loves of the past… Then I asked how he felt about being jumped on, slobbered on or getting mud all over his couch. ‘I’m O.K. with that,’ he said. ‘Can I meet Chance?’ Ah, Chance. The young lab-mix, with a puppy’s zeal for life, who loved to chew on the shelter volunteers’ hands as we leashed him. ‘Behave yourself for once,’ I urged Chance as I opened the kennel…when we turned to leave he began to buck wildly. My heart sank. Then I saw the face of the young man waiting by the door. He’d gone all moony. He only had eyes for Chance.” A. Sutherland, The New York Times
ESL Voices Lesson Plan for this post with Answer Key
Excerpt: Opening the Heart’s Floodgates, With a Paw By Amy Sutherland, The New York Times
“Much to my surprise, I have become a matchmaker. On Saturday afternoons I pull on my gray T-shirt and head to the Animal Rescue League of Boston, where I help people find their canine soul mates amid the barky din. Doing this work, I’ve not only learned how to pair up people and canines, I have received a master class in the expansiveness of the human heart, a lesson that I very much needed. Being a matchmaker was never my plan. I began volunteering at the shelter to help dogs. Just dogs. And the more time I spent with the dogs, the more my love for my fellow man withered.
At the shelter, I walked dogs that had been abandoned for trivial reasons or for no reason at all. I cared for pups that had been tied to utility poles on the street in wintertime, others so thin they had to wear coats in balmy spring weather, lacking the body mass to stay warm at 60 degrees. The more I walked these dogs, the more I became an animal person. To be called an animal person is not necessarily a compliment, not when it implies that you love animals with a passion matched only by how much you loathe your own species.
Then one Saturday afternoon I noticed a young, outdoorsy couple walking down the row of kennels, stopping to say hello to each dog. I asked if they wanted to meet one. ‘Can we meet Ciera?’ the man asked. ‘Ciera?’ I squeaked. ‘Really? I mean yes, of course you can.’ No one ever asked to see Ciera, a young mutt with skinny legs... Shiny and black, like a seal, she was cute but regularly pooped right in her kennel, then ran back and forth in it. This was her big chance. I didn’t want to mislead this couple about what a nut she was, but I did want her to find a home…
As I began reading the notes on Ciera out loud, I dropped her leash and hoped for the best. She began ricocheting around the room, bouncing off the couch, the bookcases and the man’s legs…As I muffled a sigh, the couple laughed. Hard. I looked up. Their faces glowed. ‘I love her,’ the man said. ‘Me too,’ said the woman. ‘We want her.’
Many of us have more love inside than we know what to do with, but are too bottled up. Which is where dogs [and cats] can come in. With them, we can let our love flow freely without fear of being judged or rejected. They are like safety valves. With humans, I had bottled myself up. And love doesn’t like to be bottled up. ..I returned to the kennels to help more people toss their hearts away.”
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 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
Predictions: Analyzing headings and photos
Directions: Have students examine the titles of the post and of the actual article. After they examine the photos, ask students to create a list of words and ideas that they think might be related to this article.
II. While Reading Activities
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.
- I have become a matchmaker.
- At the shelter, many dogs had been abandoned.
- To be called an animal person is not necessarily a compliment.
- So many people love animals with a passion.
- I had a dismal opinion of people.
- I didn’t want to mislead this couple.
- She was an air-bound blur of black fur.
- As I muffled a sigh, the couple laughed.
- There were ancient hounds and juveniles who hopped like kangaroos.
- We had no miniature dogs that day.
Directions: Students choose the correct word to complete the sentences taken from the article. They are to choose from the options presented.
Watching people fall/fell in love/loving so completely with dogs, I begin/began to see how humans/humanly long to give their hearts/heart away.
Of course, there are outliers: cool/cold customers sit/set on French bulldogs of a certain shade, or people who turn up their noises/noses at pit bulls, even the smoosh-mouthed little ‘pittie puppies.’ And the difficulties of human relationships can keep the love from flowing/flying.
Directions: The following sentences are from the news article. For each sentence choose the correct preposition from the choices listed. Note that not all prepositions listed are in the article.
Prepositions: in, for, of, with, by, on, at, to, as, into, across, around, over, through, from, during, up, off,
Animal people can be judgmental, self-righteous and cranky, all ___which I was becoming.___I spent more time ___the shelter, I found that I became less patient ___human beings, even my sweet husband. Walking the dogs would cheer me___, but my mood would darken___ I fixated___the stupidity and carelessness___my fellow Homo sapiens.___ the subway ride home I often caught myself frowning ___strangers___the train.
III. Post Reading Activities
Graphic Organizers: Finding the main idea
Directions: Have students use this advanced organizer from Write Design to assist them with discussing or writing about the main idea and points from the article.
Questions for Comprehension /Writing
Directions: In groups have students answer the following questions. Topics may be used for writing.
- With your group list at least 3 good reasons for adopting a pet.
- List 3 reasons against adoption.
- How many members of your group has ever adopted an animal? Describe the experience.
- Have each group compose a letter or note to a person mentioned in the article telling her/him their thoughts on the topic. Share the letters as a class.
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. Note: For the lower levels allow more time for this writing activity.