Robotic Duck Helps Kids Battling Cancer

“Children battling cancer can’t always express their feelings. Now a robotic duck is doing it for them.” P. Holley, The Washington Post

ESL Voices Lesson Plan for this post with Answer Key

Savi Abdallah-Sinha, a 4-year-old battling leukemia, interacts with a robotic duck (Peter Holley:The Washington Post)

Robotic Duck Help Children  By Peter Holley, The Washington Post   

It was hard enough that Savi Abdallah-Sinha was only two years old when he began undergoing chemotherapy treatment to rid his body of leukemia. What made his situation even more difficult, his parents say, was knowing that the little boy was so young he lacked the words to communicate the many varieties of acute pain he was experiencing. Each time a new drug was introduced or a round of treatment completed, the boy’s inner world remained largely mysterious to the adults caring for him. 

This adorable robot duck helps kids cope with cancer treatments. Mashable

‘He couldn’t even say, ‘Why am I taking this medication?’ his father, Rachid Abdallah, said from a family room inside Children’s National Health System in Washington D.C., recalling the first months after his son’s chemotherapy began. ‘At the same time, we didn’t have the words to give him answers or explain to him what was making him sick.’ Nearly a year ago — as Savi’s own understanding of his illness was just beginning to come into focus — the Washington D.C. family received a new tool to help them communicate through the fog of cancer: a quacking robotic duck resembling a soft stuffed animal.

My Special Aflac Duck. Broadchannel

A partnership between the insurance company Aflac, whose company mascot is a duck, and the robotics toy company Sproutel, the social robot, known as My Special Aflac Duck uses a series of touch sensors that enable the device to respond to the person interacting with it. Merging play with tools that help doctors do their jobs, the robot — which has four patents pending — can turn it’s neck, nuzzle, open it’s beak and emit sounds and vibrations. When doctors need a patient to breathe in a rhythmic pattern, the duck can emit a series of pulses, designed to mimic a heartbeat, that can help to calm a child and guide their breathing.

Aaron Horowitz, co-founder and CEO of Sproutel. People

When doctors administer medication to their patients, a toy syringe can be attached to the robot that allows a child to mimic giving the duck medication as well. Aflac, which introduced a quacking duck in its commercials nearly two decades ago, has donated just over 4,000 of the robotic ducks to nearly 200 hospitals across the country.

Though the duck is designed to be a companion for children battling illness, hospital workers say it also gives children a way to express their emotions when their words are not readily available.

The robot includes multiple plastic emoji discs, each representing a different emotion. When a disc is placed against the duck’s chest, the robot acts out the emotion, unleashing happy chirps or uneasy moans. Abdallah calls the robot a ‘great translator.’

Now four, his son is able to express how he’s feeling with much more precision, offering his parents small details that were unavailable to them when he was younger (Savi is in his final phase — and the least intensive — of his 3-year chemotherapy plan, doctors say).”

Another Great Story:

“A young girl was afraid of IVs. So she invented a teddy bear to disguise them [Medi Teddy].”

Medi Teddy is designed to conceal a bag of IV fluid, medication, or blood product from the patient.

MEDI TEDDY Website for Donations: “Donations received through this site are for the purpose of donating Medi Teddys to children from all over the world who are requesting them.  Thank you for your generosity!”

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: 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

Word Inference

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.

  1. Savi Abdallah was only two years old when he began undergoing chemotherapy.
  2. The little boy was so young he lacked the words to communicate.
  3. There were many varieties of acute pain he was experiencing.
  4. Aflac is a quacking robotic duck.
  5. The insurance company Aflac, had a partnership with robotics toy company Sproutel.
  6. Merging play with tools help doctors do their jobs.
  7. The duck can emit a series of pulses, designed to mimic a heartbeat.
  8. Aflac introduced a quacking duck in its commercials nearly two decades ago.
  9. It can be therapeutic to educate a child.
  10. Now four, his son is able to express how he’s feeling with much more precision.

Grammar Focus: Word -Recognition

Directions: Students choose the correct word to complete the sentences taken from the article. They are to choose from the options presented.

It can/was be therapeutic too/to educate a/an child or its/it can just be/bee therapeutic of/for them/they to play with an/a duck and knot/not even talk/talks about the medical aspect of/for things.

Reading Comprehension Fill-ins

Directions: Place students in groups and after they have read the entire article, have them complete the following sentencestaken from the article. They can use the words and terms from the list provided, or provide their own terms. They are to find the meanings of any new vocabulary.

To ___with the painful___of___, children often___ to develop ___strategies that either give them a sense of control in an ___environment or ___them during moments of___stress, experts say.

WORD LIST: pricks, uncertain,extreme,syringes,coping, deal, need,distract,

Discussion Questions for Comprehension /Writing

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

  1. In your opinion is this a good solution to help kids communicate with doctors? 
  2. Have you or anyone you know ever used an Aflac duck to help a child?
  3. Can you think of any improvements for the Aflac duck?
  4. Can you see any negative aspects to the Aflac duck? If yes, please explain.
  5. List 3 questions you would like to ask anyone mentioned in the article.  Share your questions with the 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.


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