Studying The Rights of Nonhuman Citizens of Earth

Greg Goodmacher, Kwassui University


  • Key Words: Speaking, Writing, Animal Rights
  • Learner English Level: High beginner through advanced
  • Learner Maturity Level: High school through adult
  • Preparation Time: Very little
  • Activity Time: At least one class section, plus field trip

Being a good citizen of planet Earth not only implies being empathetic and understanding of the needs of other humans, but also implies understanding the rights and needs of other creatures on Earth.

Perhaps one of the best places for the study of animal rights and abuses is a zoo. Moreover, most large cities have zoos that are easily accessible by mass transit. School administrators will usually give permission for teachers to accompany students to a zoo. As such, they provide an excellent opportunity for an educational field trip. Of course, students should do more than just idly walk around and watch animals. To focus my students attention on the issues of animal needs and rights, I gave my students tasks to complete as they wandered throughout the zoo. The students were to find information related to the conditions of the zoo animals. I provided students with a worksheet on which to record their findings. Sections of the worksheet are below:

Welcome To The Zoo Worksheet

As you walk around the zoo, look at the animals and do the following:

  1. Write the names of any animals which are listed as endangered.
  2. Think carefully about all the animals you see and answer the following questions:
    • a) Which animals look happy and healthy? Why are they happy?
    • b) Approximately how much space do those animals have?
    • c) Which animals look unhappy? Why do you think they are unhappy?
    • d) Approximately how much space do those animals have?
  3. Write three good things about zoos.
    • a)
    • b)
    • c)
  4. Write three bad things about zoos.
    • a)
    • b)
    • c)

The field trip to the zoo should be followed by activities based on the students' findings. One idea is to have your students bring their findings to the next class and arrange a debate on the positive and negative aspects of zoos. Another idea is to facilitate a discussion based on their field trip. For this purpose, I gave my students the following questions to elicit their ideas:

  1. Do you enjoy going to zoos? Why or why not?
  2. Which animals were the most interesting? Why?
  3. Do you think animals have feelings? Why?
  4. Did any animals look unhappy or unhealthy? Why?
  5. Did any animals look happy and healthy? Why?
  6. Why do people put animals in cages?
  7. Is it right for people to keep animals in cages? Why?
  8. How do you think zoos get their animals?
  9. How can zoos be made better for animals?

Another follow-up task is to have students research how far the animals they saw in the zoo usually travel in the wild. This develops their researching skills. Afterwards, each student reports his or her findings to the class. Students are usually impressed by information such as the wolf they had seen walking back and forth in a small, dank, cage would normally travel more than sixty kilometers a day if it were free in the wild. The end result of these activities is often a change in students attitudes toward keeping animals in captivity.