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Reading for the environment: ANIMAL RIGHTS

August 04, 2021 by Maria Cleary

Welcome to the eighth post in our ‘Reading for the environment’ series. Throughout the year we'll be posting monthly articles complete with lesson plans and reading tips to help you focus on different aspects of the environment and raise environmental awareness in your English classes. Our Readers Blog primarily promotes the importance of reading in language education, but we also embrace the idea of caring for our environment. We also think that literacy and language development and environmental studies mutually support each other. To put it simply: the better your students’ literacy and language skills become, the more they will be able to learn about the environment and understand the urgent need to live in a sustainable fashion. 

This month we focus on another ethical question, ANIMAL RIGHTS, following the themes of WINTER, SEEDS, RAIN, RIVERS, POLLUTION, FOOD and ETHICAL TOURISM. The question of animal rights will interest students with diverse interests as it touches upon several important questions. We think that talking and reading about animal rights will bring the topic closer to both your younger and older students. We have engaging stories for all ages as we believe that you can never start early enough to think responsibly about the lives of animals.

What are animal rights?

Start by asking your students what they think the term ‘animal rights' means. Before giving them a precise definition, ask them how they think animals are treated in their society. Then, point out some global issues we all face in terms of animal rights by giving them key words to think about:

  • wearing leather and fur
  • eating meat
  • visiting zoos
  • visiting circuses
  • testing cosmetics on animals
  • featuring animals in films
  • going to animal shows and races
  • selective breeding
  • hunting
  • using animals for hard labour

At this point, simply ask how these topics are related to animal rights, without asking students to debate them. Then, you can share the PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) definition of animal rights.

According to PETA, “animal rights means that animals deserve certain kinds of consideration—consideration of what is in their best interests, regardless of whether they are “cute,” useful to humans, or an endangered species and regardless of whether any human cares about them at all. It means recognizing that animals are not ours to use—for food, clothing, entertainment, or experimentation”.

Build an animal rights vocabulary

If you want to discuss animal rights with your students, they will need to know specific words to express their ideas or to do some research. These words will help them think more precisely about possible solutions when discussing situations where animal rights are compromised. Discuss the most interesting words from this list with your students.

  • compassion
  • cruelty-free
  • ethical 
  • factory farming
  • free-range
  • vegan and vegetarian
  • meat-free
  • non-violence
  • omnivore
  • organic
  • plant-based diet
  • raw-food diet
  • sentient
  • suffering
  • sustainable

Everyday situations

What can you do to protect animal rights? Show your students that they can do quite a lot to protect animal rights. Discuss the following situations with them and ask them how their own choices can make life better for animals.

1 Keeping pets

You live in a small flat and would really like to have a pet. However, there is not enough space for a dog or a cat. What should you do?

Possible solutions: 
  • You can adopt an animal in a zoo. 
  • You can go to a dog shelter and help out at the weekends. 
  • You can build a bird feeder.
2 Wearing leather and fur

Leather goods are fashionable and widely produced. Fur has become less popular thanks to the protection of animal rights. What can you wear to substitute leather, down and fur in your clothes?

Possible solutions: 
  • Animal-free or vegan leather
  • Cruelty-free sweaters
  • Wear lots of layers instead of wool or down
3 Using animals for entertainment

Going to a circus or visiting a zoo can be entertaining but the cruelty of watching animals perform can also be heartbreaking. Sometimes you see animals in films and you might think that they are hurt. What can you do to stop promoting places and events that treat animals badly?

Possible solutions: 
  • Only visit zoos which care about animal conservation and have animal friendly enclosures.
  • Only visit circuses which do not have animals at all.
  • Make sure that no animals are hurt in films you watch. There should be a statement on the film’s website.
4 Cosmetics 

Many cosmetic brands test their products on animals. Do an internet search for your favourite cosmetics and make sure that your choices are cruelty-free. How can you do that? 

Possible solutions: 
  • Check the ingredients of the cosmetics.
  • Check for signs which say that no animals were hurt.
  • Find a vegan sign on the cosmetic product.
5 Eating meat and dairy

This topic might be the hardest for classroom discussions as a lot of students like and are used to eating meat and dairy. Leave it as an open discussion and ask for various views on eating meat and dairy. 

Possible solutions:
  • Make sure that the produce you buy is free-range or organic.
  • If you decide to be a vegetarian or vegan, make sure you do not judge others who live differently.
  • Avoid fast-food restaurants and support local farmers.

Animal rights in stories

There have been hundreds of novels and films which directly address the question of animal rights and animal protection. Ask students for titles which deal with animals in one way or another. Ask them to tell the plot summary.

You will find a number of stories in the Helbling Readers series which address animal rights. Some of them raise the issue of protecting animals and fighting for their lives, and some others present situations which can be interesting for classroom discussions. Ask your students to pick (a level-appropriate) title and read it from the perspective of the animal. Then talk about animal rights in connection with the story.

Young readers
At the zoo by Herbert Puchta and Günter Gerngross, illustrated by Cristiano Lissoni (Cambridge YLE: Starters)

When Lizzie and her mum go to the zoo, they see lots of different animals. Lizzie loves looking at the animals as they show her what they can do. That night when Lizzie goes to bed, she thinks about her day. And she realises she can do lots of special things, too!

The jaguar and the cow by Herbert Puchta and Günter Gerngross, illustrated by Cristiano Lissoni (Cambridge YLE: Movers)

A jaguar kills a cow in a village near a reserve in Brazil. The family who own the cow think that men from other villages are setting traps for deer. Is this why the jaguar is looking for food in the village? Paulo and Catrina, together with their two friends, decide to do something about the problem.

Lost on the Coast by Rick Sampedro and Steve Sampedro, illustrated by Cristiano Lissoni (Cambridge YLE: Movers)

A baby whale is stranded on a beach after an oil spill. It is hot and the whale can't breathe. Lots of people come to look but no-one knows what to do until Rawiri arrives. Rawiri has got a plan. Is his plan good enough to save the whale?

Red Readers for teens and young adults
Holly’s New Friend by Martyn Hobbs, illustrated by Lorenzo Sabbatini (Level 1 A1)

Holly's mum and dad spend all their time working and her sister is always in her room. Holly is sad and lonely. Then she has a great idea: she can get a new friend. Can Holly and her friends convince her mum, dad and sister to let her get a dog?

The Adventures of Doctor Dolittle by Hugh Lofting, adpated by Jennifer Gascoigne and illustrated by Lorenzo Sabbatini (Level 1 A1)

Doctor Dolittle is a kind country doctor who lives with his friends Dab-Dab the duck, Jip the dog and Polynesia the parrot as well as lots of other animals. One day, he gets a message from the monkeys in Africa. The monkeys are suffering from a new illness and need the doctor's help. Can Doctor Dolittle save the monkeys? Who are the Joliginki? And what is the pushmi-pullyu? Join Doctor Dolittle on his adventures and find out.

Dan and the Missing Dogs by Richard MacAndrew, illustrated by Giulia Sagramola (Level 2 A1/A2)

When Mrs Jackson's pet dog Basil goes missing, Dan Parks realizes immediately that something strange is going on. Then when he sees thieves taking his best friend Sue's dog, Charlie he knows that there is definitely a mystery to be solved. Who is taking the dogs and can Dan and Dylan save them before it is too late?

Black Beauty by Anna Sewell, adapted by Geraldine Sweeney and illustrated by Cristiano Lissoni (Level 2 A1/A2)

The much-loved children’s story of a horse, Black Beauty. Black Beauty begins his life in a loving home. But when his owners have to sell him, his fortune changes. As Black Beauty moves from home to home and job to job, he often suffers bad treatment and living conditions. But Black Beauty still dreams of the happy life he had as a young foal.

The Stolen White Elephant by Mark Twain, adapted by Maria Cleary and illustrated by Gianluca Garofalo (Level 3 A2)

A white elephant travelling from Asia to Britain as a present for the Queen goes missing in New York. Chief Inspector Blunt of the New York Police Department puts all of his men on the case and promises to find the thieves. Are the city's best policemen and a reward of $100,000 enough to get the elephant back?

White Fang by Jack London, adapted by David A. Hill and illustrated by Stefano Fabbri (Level 3 A2)

White Fang is born part-dog, part-wolf, in the cold and snowy Northland of Alaska. He soon learns the laws of nature and before long he and his mother, Kiche, are fighting for survival. One day a native American, Gray Beaver, recognises Kiche and soon the mother and cub become his property. White Fang learns that men have laws, too, that can be both fair and cruel. But will White Fang ever learn to trust or love men?

Blue Readers for teens and young adults
The Call of the Wild by Jack London, adapted by David A. Hill and illustrated by Stefano Fabbri (Level 4 A2/B1)

Buck leads a good life in California, but one day he is stolen and taken to the harsh and freezing Yukon to work as a sledge dog. Here Buck must learn to fight for his survival. Can he rise above his enemies and become the master of his world once again?

Operation Osprey by David A. Hill, illustrated by Giovanni Da Re (Level 4 A2/B1)

Don and Mike are best friends. They both live in the sleepy town of Saltley and they both love birdwatching. Their lives suddenly become exciting when Mike spots a pair of osprey at a nearby lake. The boys decide to protect the birds so that they can make a nest. But when Mr Roberts takes an interest in the birds the boys become suspicious.

The Albatross by Scott Lauder and Walter McGregor, illustrated by Francesca Protopapa (Level 5 B1)

Levy, an old Greek sailor, takes on his last job and discovers that the cargo on board is not what he expected. Molly, an American teenager finds a body on the beach when she's walking her dog. What happens when Levy tells the captain? Why does the body disappear? And how are Levy and Molly connected?