“At a recycling plant in Brooklyn, fat, stealthy rats were more than a match for feral cats, scientists found.” By N. Bakalar, The New York Times
ESL Voices Lesson Plan for this post with Answer Key
“New York rats are big and bad. They sit calmly on the subway tracks, ignoring discomfited commuters on the platform. They stroll through Central Park as if they owned the place. They pretty much rule the East Village.
And they do not have much to fear from cats, a new study suggests.
In the report, published in Frontiers in Ecology and Evolution, the authors first present some background. Cat predation of rats has been studied before: Researchers in New Zealand, for example, analyzed scat from 229 cats and learned that almost all of them ate rats. The felines even seemed to prefer rats to birds.
But New Zealand rats weigh an average of 150 grams, or about five ounces, whereas rats in the most recent experiment in New York were more than twice as large. Bulk, it turns out, is an obstacle for cats who might otherwise dine on city rats.
It was not easy for the scientists to find a place to do their research. The lead author, Michael H. Parsons, a research biologist at Fordham University, said property owners generally want their rats killed, not caught and then released for study
But the team did eventually find a recycling plant in Brooklyn whose staff members were willing to let the rat detectives do their work. Dr. Parsons and his colleagues began with another aim: tracking the rodents’ activity at the plant and their reactions to various scents…But while the researchers were watching these rats, five feral cats took up residence at the plant, so the team seized the opportunity to study them, too. Dr. Parsons used motion-sensitive video cameras to record cat behaviors in the presence of rats…All the cats stalked rats, but over the entire period only two cats even dared to chase and attack a rat. Each made just one kill. When cats appeared on the scene, rats mostly just hid…Apparently New York rats are not only large and bold, but smart and stealthy.
In any case, the researchers concluded, cats — despite their reputation as rodent killers — are utterly ineffective in controlling urban rat populations.
‘A lot of people confuse rats with mice,’ Dr. Parsons said. ‘So they’ve seen their cat bring back a mouse, and assume their cat is a rat killer. It’s not.’
Predation, by cats or any other animal, will not reduce the rat population. Only cleaning up the garbage — the rats’ food — will do that.”
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
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.
- They stroll through Central Park.
- The report was published in Frontiers in Ecology and Evolution.
- Cat predation of rats has been studied before.
- Researchers in New Zealand, for example, analyzed scat from 229 cats.
- Bulk, it turns out, is an obstacle for cats.
- The team eventually found a recycling plant in Brooklyn.
- Five feral cats took up residence at the plant.
- All the cats stalked rats.
- cats are utterly ineffective in controlling urban rat populations.
- Rats have a high reproductive rate.
Grammar Focus: Identifying Prepositions
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.
Some Prepositions: at,as, across, around,by, during,for, from, in, into,of, on,to, over,off, through, up,with,
In the report, published___Frontiers___Ecology and Evolution, the authors first present some background. Cat predation ___rats has been studied before: Researchers___New Zealand, ___example, analyzed scat___229 cats and learned that almost all___ them ate rats. The felines even seemed___prefer rats___ birds.
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.
New Zealand___weigh an ___of 150 grams, or about___ounces, whereas___ in the most recent ___in New York were more than ___as large. Bulk, it turns out, is an___ for cats who might otherwise ___on city rats.
WORD LIST: dine, average obstacle, rats, five,rats, experiment, twice
III. Post Reading Activities
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 /WritingDirections: 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.
- Where did scientist Michael H. Parsons and his team carry out this study?
- What were some of the problems the scientists faced?
- How did the team begin the research?
- Besides New York City where else has a study been conducted about feral cats and rats?
- According to the article how do the cats in New Zealand differ from the cats in New York City?
Directions: Allow students 5 minutes to write down three new ideas they’ve learned about the topic from the reading,two things they did not understand in the reading, and one thing they would like to know that the article did not mention. Review the responses as a class.