Unlike the talking cats and dogs on television cartoons, real-life animals don't speak to each other using words. Whether you're teaching your kindergarten students about different animal noises or are looking for a more complex lesson for your middle schoolers on non-verbal communication, creative creature activities can help students to make new discoveries and learn scientific concepts.
Parrots might seem to talk like humans do, but they're simply repeating back sounds that are said to them. Preschoolers and young grade school students can learn about animal communication in much of the same way as a parrot does when mirroring words. Ask your students to tell you what animal noises they already know. Start with these -- making loud animal noises yourself -- and have the children repeat them back to you. Continue on as the students master these sounds, making new connections to other animals. Introduce animal sounds that the students might not immediately think of, such as the clicking of a dolphin, and have the children repeat back the communication noises.
Far and Away
Animals use sounds to communicate with one another when they are lost or can't find their herd. Help your students to understand how animals can use non-word types of sounds to find one another with a simple blindfold game. Create pairs of index cards that feature the same animal. For example, write out two lion cards. Mix up the cards and hand them out to the students. Blindfold the students or have them close their eyes. Each pair must find each other by making the animal noises from the cards.
Although all animals have some form of communication, some forms are closer to human communication than others. While it's unlikely that two cats could create or use a complex language-like structure, high-level apes -- such as chimpanzees -- can. After discussing how chimps can learn sign language, just like humans can, try teaching your students a few basic signs. This will provide them with a better picture of just how sophisticated these apes are in terms of their human-like communication abilities.
Have your students play the role of scientist, going out into the "field" and making animal communication observations. Take the students to an outdoor space, such as a park, and ask them to listen for animal sounds. Give the students journals, asking them to create field notes on what they hear. Instruct the students to write detailed notes that include what they think the sound is -- such as "cheep-cheep" for a sparrow -- and why the animal is making that sound. For example, the students may hear a squirrel making a high-pitched sound when startled or fearful or baby birds chirping for their mother.
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