Elephants have long been seen as intelligent creatures. Now it has been discovered that the African elephants can remember and differentiate between people who mean them harm and those who pose no threat to the herd.
ESL Voices Lesson Plan for this post with Answer Key
Excerpt: Elephants Can Tell Gender, Ethnicity in Human Voices by AFP
“African elephants can differentiate between human languages and move away from those considered a threat, a skill they have honed to survive in the wild, researchers said.
The study suggests elephants, already known to be intelligent creatures, are even more sophisticated than previously believed when it comes to understanding human dangers.
African elephants (Loxodonta africana) are the largest land animals on Earth and are considered a vulnerable species due to habitat loss and illegal hunting for their ivory tusks.
Researchers played recordings of human voices for elephants at Amboseli National Park in Kenya to see how they would respond, according to a report in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Some of the voices were from local Maasai men, a group that herds cattle and sometimes comes into conflict with elephants over access to water and grazing space. Occasionally, elephants are killed in clashes with Maasai men, and vice-versa.
Other recorded voices were from Kamba men, who tend to be farmers or employees of the national park, and who rarely represent a danger to elephants.
Still other voices tested on the elephants included female Maasai speakers and young boys.
All were saying the same phrase: Look, look over there, a group of elephants is coming…
When elephants heard the adult male Maasai voices, they tended to gather together, start investigative smelling with their trunks, and move cautiously away. But when elephants heard females, boys, or adult male Kamba speakers, they did not show concern.
The ability to distinguish between Maasai and Kamba men delivering the same phrase in their own language suggests that elephants can discriminate between different languages, said co-author Graeme Shannon, a visiting fellow in psychology at the University of Sussex.” Read more…
Level: Intermediate – Advanced
Language Skills: Reading, writing, speaking and listening. Vocabulary and grammar activities are included.
Time: Approximately 2 hours.
Materials: Student handouts (from this lesson) access to news article, and video.
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
Stimulating background knowledge
Directions: Place students in groups, ask students to think about what they already know about the topic. Next, have students look at the picture(s) in the text and generate ideas or words that may be connected to the article. Debrief as a class and list these ideas on the board.
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.
- African elephants can differentiate between human languages.
- African elephants are considered a vulnerable due to habitat loss.
- Maasai men herd cattle.
- The Maasai come into conflict with elephants.
- Occasionally, elephants are killed in clashes with Maasai men.
- When elephants heard the male Maasai voices they tended to gather together.
- Elephants can decipher the more sing-songy Maasai language from the Kamba tongue.
- It is very sophisticated what the elephants are doing.
- Elephant groups usually include older matriarchs.
- In those scenarios, they bunched together so that juveniles were in the center.
Directions: Review the following statements from the reading. If a statement is true they mark it T. If the statement is not applicable, they mark it NA. If the statement is false they mark it F and provide the correct answer.
- African elephants can differentiate between human languages.
- African elephants are the smallest animals on Earth.
- The local Maasai men live in peace with elephants.
- The recorded voices were played for hundreds of elephants.
- Baby elephants are born with little tusks.
- When elephants heard females, boys, or adult male Kamba speakers, they showed concern.
- The ability to distinguish between Maasai and Kamba men is the same as understanding what the words mean.
- Their response to hearing Maasai men talking was to be alert, to move away, but not to run away in fear.
- Elephant groups with older matriarchs in their midst did best at assessing the threat from different speakers.
- According to researchers, we have become a formal enemy of the elephants.
Using Adjectives to describe pictures
Directions: Have students choose a picture from this lesson and write a descriptive paragraph using adjectives. For a review of Adjectives visit ESL Voices Grammar
III. Post Reading Tasks
Reading Comprehension Check
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.
- According to the article, “Elephant groups with older matriarchs in their midst did best at assessing the threat from different speakers, further bolstering the presumed role of learning in the animals’ behavior.” How would you put this into your own words?
- The article states, “A separate study published last month… showed elephants even have specific alarm calls for when humans are near, suggesting the relationship between people and elephants has reached a troubling point and that conservation efforts are more important than ever.” Why do you think elephants fear humans?
- What are the most significant ideas in this article?
IV. Listening Activity
Video Clip: Elephants Can Tell Gender, Ethnicity in Human Voices by AFP Published on Mar 13, 2014
“Elephants can tell age, gender, and ethnicity by listening to human voices according to a team of researchers who tested a group of African elephants in Kenya recently. The study was based off of a hypothesis that proposed elephants could process information about potential human threats by the noises they made. Mark Sovel and Lissette Padilla discuss the skills that elephants have picked up over many years of survival, in this clip from the Lip News.”
While Listening Activities
Directions: Review the statements with students before the watching the video. As students listen to the video if a statement is true they mark it T. If the statement is not applicable, they mark it NA. If the statement is false they mark it F and provide the correct answer.
- The study was done in India.
- The elephants were able to distinguish between two different languages.
- The messages were played over a loud speaker.
- The other mammals mentioned in this report were Tigers.
- Elephants were afraid of the voices of women and children.
- Elephants were able to recognize a female voice even when the pitch was lowered.
- The bull elephants always charge first when the herd is in danger.
- Elephants can also distinguish between portraits on canvas.
- The narrator stated that elephants should be kept in zoos for observation.
- A similar study with elephants was done in the U.S.
Questions for Discussion
Directions: Place students in groups and have them discuss the following questions.
1. After listening to this video has your personal idea of elephants changed in any way? If yes, describe in what way. If no, describe your original opinion.
2. Discuss which parts of the video you found interesting and which ones you did not. Explain why.
3. With your group members, make up questions that you would like to ask the researchers of this experiment.