Legal Personhood: Activity 2 (English, Year 9)

Seeing the World Through Their Eyes – Animals’ Viewpoints in our Lives 

The learning sequence for this activity begins with students examining the idea of legal personhood and how it applies to humans but not to other animals in society. With the aim of exploring different viewpoints about the same events, students write a short story for younger children based on the viewpoint of a chimpanzee living in captivity. Stories are shared with upper primary-aged students allowing the writers to develop their skills in engaging and persuading an audience.  

Time Allocation 

8 lessons.   

Key Inquiry Questions 

  • What is the concept of legal personhood and why does it not apply to animals?  
  • How do chimpanzees experience events that take place within human communities?  
  • How might the viewpoint of a chimpanzee differ from or be similar to the viewpoint of a human?  

Learning Activities 

1. PRE-TEST 

Teachers may wish to refer to Legal Personhood APE Activity 1 and/or refer students to the Legal Personhood Glossary.   

2. EXPLORE 

Students will be writing a 300-500 word short story or picture book, for younger students from the point of view of an actual captive chimpanzee called ‘Tommy’ who lives in an undisclosed location in the United States of America. The story will be fictional but based on real events that have happened to chimpanzees brought into captivity. Students should include the way chimpanzees live in the wild, and how their life in captivity differs from when they are free. It should make reference to the Nonhuman Rights Project and Tommy’s court case. Students will need to carefully conclude their story so as to leave younger students feeling empowered about efforts to help these animals.   

Lessons 1 and 2  

Explain the task to the students. Discuss the importance of writing from Tommy’s point of view.  

Watch the Voiceless video ‘Animals: Property or Persons?’ and read the accompanying Fact Sheet. Use this information to help answer the following questions: 

  • Do you think animals should be legal persons? 
  • Should humans be able to challenge captivity on behalf of animals?  
  • What are the goals of the Nonhuman Rights Project (NhRP)?  
  • Is Tommy’s detention justified in your eyes? Why or why not?  
  • The court decision referred to in the video held that chimps can’t have ‘rights’ if they can’t uphold ‘duties’ -  does this seem fair to you, given that some humans are equally incapable of upholding duties, yet they are granted rights?   
  • Where do you think the idea that humans are inherently superior to other species comes from?  

Lesson 3 

Life for captive chimpanzees differs markedly from their life in the wild. Several references listed below explain these important differences. Use these sources to discover responses to questions such as these:  

  • What are usual behaviours for wild chimpanzees? 
  • What are usual behaviours for captive chimpanzees? 
  • What are the key differences you have discovered?  
  • What might a captive chimpanzee have experienced before they come to the attention of the NhRP?  
  • Why do you think the NhRP is focusing its arguments on chimpanzees rather than talking about all animals in captivity?  

Lessons 4 - 6  

As a class, brainstorm favourite children’s stories and their features. What makes the favourite stories from our childhoods so memorable?  

Individually, students plan their narrative following the format of Introduction, Rising Action, Climax, Falling Action and Resolution. Character development ideas can be found here www.wikihow.com/Develop-a-Character-for-a-Story.  

Students draft their work and should be prepared for more than one re-write to make their story fantastic!  

3. DISCUSS   

Lesson 7 

In small groups, practice reading the finished stories in class. Students should provide constructive criticism to one another. The use of intonation, volume and pace will be important to practice. Students might consider adding audio, print or visual props to enhance the story. Musical instruments can provide sound effects to further engage young audiences.  

4. SHARE 

Lesson 8 

Pair each Year 9 student with a primary-aged student. Share the stories with the younger readers. Photographs or drawings of Tommy, his native forest habitat and his life in captivity could add to the story for younger students.  

5. REFLECT 

After stories have been read to their audiences, invite the class to reflect upon how in reality, other animals might see the world. What does this mean for their welfare if, under the law, they are not considered ‘persons’?  

6. USEFUL RESOURCES 

On Chimpanzees  
General information  

On the behaviour of wild chimpanzees, their similarities to people and their use in entertainment 

On the work of the Nonhuman Rights Project and Tommy 

On life in captivity for chimpanzees  

On Writing Stories for Children.  
Even More Advice 

Detailed advice from children’s book author Mem Fox about what makes a good picture book and how to avoid common pitfalls for new writers: http://memfox.com/for-writers/for-writers-even-more-advice/ 

Three Traits of a Good Children’s Book  

The value of interesting and relatable stories, engaging language and an approach many cultures can identify with: www.lecturabooks.com/what-are-the-traits-of-a-good-childrens-book/ 

Graphic Organizers for Personal Narratives  

User-friendly ideas on how to structure a narrative: www.scholastic.com/teachers/blog-posts/genia-connell/graphic-organizers-personal-narratives/ 

How to Develop A Character For A Story  

This link contains ideas on how to develop a character’s physical appearance, emotional makeup and backstory: www.wikihow.com/Develop-a-Character-for-a-Story 

 

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