Monday, July 11, 2016

Writing with Animal Scientist Alexandra Horowitz

Many kids think that scientists work with beakers and microscopes, but Dr. Alexandra Horowitz is a scientist who works with her pets.  By carefully watching her dogs, she gains insight into how dogs in general behave and learn.  In a recent interview with the KidsPost section of the Washington Post, she talks about her newest book Inside of a Dog, a fascinating nonfiction account about the way dogs learn, how they descended from wolves, and why they behave as they do.

Below are writing lessons for the classroom or for individual writers ages 8 and up.  They are adapted from suggested activities in Dr. Horowitz’s Inside of a Dog.

EYES OPEN, PENS READY:  Some scientists study exotic animals—like pandas and lions--in the wild, but Dr. Horowitz thinks we can learn a lot about animals that are part of our everyday life, such as squirrels, sparrows, pigeons, and our pets.  Brainstorm a list with students of possible “everyday” animals. 

Classroom Writing #1:  Ask students to choose an animal at home and observe it closely for 15 minutes every day for a week.  Have them write down what the animal does during that time.  At the end of the week, ask students what they observed about their animal.  What did it do?  Why do they think the animal did that or behaved in that way?  Were students surprised by any specific behaviors?

Classroom Writing #2:  A dog is not a person in a furry suit.  Humans experience the world by seeing it; dogs smell it.  Imagine walking into a room and being extremely aware not of the lamp or the book on the floor but of the many smells therein.  Have students close their eyes and concentrate on their sense of smell.  What are all the different smells?  Have them try this in two different rooms (perhaps one could be a kitchen at home) and record what they smell.  They also might get down on their hands and knees and pretend to be a dog and move through the rooms for about 10 minutes, experiencing things at the dog’s level.  How does the room look/feel different to a dog than a human?

Ask students to do one of two writing projects: (1) Based on what they learned/recorded in Classroom Writing #1, they might choose a particular behavior they observed (sleeping in certain postures, eating a certain way, barking, tail wagging) and do some additional research to learn why this species of animal does this behavior.  The first paragraph might focus on what they learned by watching this one animal, with the second paragraph providing information on why this particular type/species of animal does this behavior.   Or (2) Based on what they noticed about smell/perspective in Classroom Writing #2, they might pretend to be a dog (or their dog) and write a story or poem in the first person (using “I”) from the dog’s point of view.  What do their dog-selves notice about the world?

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