|Voices for the Animals
An Easy Prep Lesson for English Teachers
to follow viewing of The Witness
Tribe of Heart, Ltd.
Version 1.0, 2001
Summary of Activities
After viewing The Witness, students break into groups to read and summarize for their group their assigned part of the jigsaw reading, which explores nonhuman animals' inability to speak for themselves and the works of prominent authors who have attempted to give these animals a voice. Students then create their own poem, essay or short story, written in the voice of an animal, based on the animal issues exposed in The Witness.
National Standards Addressed
NL-Eng.K-12.4 Communication Skills
Students use a variety of technological and information resources (e.g., libraries, databases, computer networks, video) to gather and synthesize information and to create and communicate knowledge.
NL-Eng.K-12.5 Communication Strategies
Students adjust their use of spoken, written, and visual language (e.g., conventions, style, vocabulary) to communicate effectively with a variety of audiences and for different purposes.
1. Synthesize information from a film to understand the problems faced by different animals.
2. Independently gain additional information from printed text regarding animals’ inability to speak for themselves and the works of prominent authors who have attempted to serve as their voice through novels or poetry.
3. Communicate information verbally in a group, synthesizing each other's contributions.
4. Write a short story, essay or poem to communicate the needs of an animal, written in the animal's voice.
Activity Day One
Students view The Witness. To allow time for the entire film to be introduced and shown, you may need to arrange for students to come a little early to class or stay a little late. Introduce the film very briefly by telling students that they will be using some of what they learn from this film in a writing assignment the next day. Tell them to pay special attention to the problems faced by the animals in the film. Explain to the students that the film tells the story of one person’s journey to awareness about animal issues, and that while ultimately hopeful, the story does include some images of animal cruelty. They will be able to tell when these images are coming, and if a particular image is too much, they can close their eyes for a moment.
Activity Day Two
After viewing The Witness, students may want to spend a little time at first just processing what they saw in a general discussion, as most are quite moved by it.
When you think the students are ready to move on, divide the class into groups of five. Give each member of each group one of the parts of the jigsaw reading assignment. Explain that they are to read their part silently and prepare to summarize it to the group. They may not read it aloud to the group, except that they may choose to read aloud selected quotes (text in italics). Give students about five minutes to read silently and think about their presentation, and then about 20 minutes for the members of the groups to share what they read with each other. Through this exercise, students first are reminded of Eddie's comments about nonhuman animals' inability to express themselves in our language or advocate for themselves. They then learn about the work of prominent authors who have given a voice to animals.
Bring everyone back together. Discuss the reading as a class. You might want to ask students if they can think of other examples of books or movies that have given a voice to animals (e.g., Watership Down, Babe, Chicken Run).
Explain to students they are to compose an essay, short story or poem, written in the "voice" of one of the animals portrayed in The Witness. In other words, they are to employ the technique used in Black Beauty and Beautiful Joe and pretend that they are an animal writing for a human audience. Students may want to frame their writing as an autobiography, as was done in these two books. If writing an essay, students may argue for different treatment for the animal "writing" the essay. Ask students to include in their writing material a description of the animal’s experiences at the hands of humans, his or her feelings about the situation, and what the animal would like humans to do to help. The film should give students good ideas about what messages different animals might want to convey. Below are resources for students who may want more information.
Students will need to complete this assignment at home, or be given additional class time for completion.
Please share some of your students' stories/poems with Tribe of Heart! We will be publishing selected student writings on our web site. After some examples are posted, they will help inspire other students doing this assignment, so please share! You can email material to James LaVeck, Tribe of Heart's Co-Founder and Executive Director.
Learning More Additional Resources
For students interested in reading some of the source work cited in the jigsaw:
Black Beauty online
Beautiful Joe online
Call of the Wild online
Michael, Brother of Jerry online
Below are links to information provided by advocacy groups concerning the problems faced by the animals portrayed in The Witness:
Feral Cats and Companion Animals
The Feral Cat Coalition: Describes the Problem
Feral Cats: Alley Cat Allies Info Center
Best Friends Animal Sanctuary makes available many helpful booklets in downloadable PDF format. Here are just a few of the topics:
The No-Kill Philosophy
A Revolutionary Vision of Animal Control
How to Start a Spay/Neuter Program
Organizing Adoption Days
Caring for Feral Cats
Animals who have learned to use our language:
Boston Globe article on Alex, the parrot who is learning phonics
Videos of Koko the gorilla using sign language
Also read about how chimpanzees communicate in the wild, as documented by Dr. Jane Goodall.
Students may also be interested in The Great Ape Project, which seeks basic rights for all the great apes. Thus far this project has not been expanded to include other animals.
Exceeds Standard: An appropriate and effective voice for an animal is apparent in the short story, essay or poem. Student communicates many of the problems faced by one of the animals shown in the film, the impact on the animal, and what people can do to help.
Meets Standard: Story, essay or poem is written in the "voice" of an animal shown in the film. Some of the problems faced by the animal(s) and the impact on the animal are included. There is some indication of what people can do to help.
Does Not Meet Standard: Voice is not appropriate or inconsistent. Problems faced by animal(s) are weakly referenced.