Fifteen years ago, a cat named Jessie came into our lives. I had said for years that I didn’t want a cat, but then Jessie showed up and that changed. She was a great member of our family and when she passed away recently, it was very difficult for all of us.
While she was getting sick, I noticed a trend emerging in children’s literature. There were a lot of books about, not just animals, but animals that were pets. All of this got me thinking about my students and their pets so I planned a pet unit. It was such a success that I wanted to share it with you.
The Pigeon Wants a Puppy by Mo Willems
Froggy Gets A Doggy by Jonathan London and illustrated by Frank Remkiewicz
Two great books about wanting a pet and the responsibilities that come with owning one if your “dream” comes true.
Presidential Pets by Laura Driscoll and illustrated by Christian Slade
A nonfiction book to help bring this unit together. I love this book because it mentions horses, goats, and a cow — just to name a few White House pets through the years. The kids loved hearing about the presidential pets although I just showed the pictures and summarized the information because it is written for an attention span that doesn't match my audience.
Favorite characters looking for a pet. One ends up with a fish and the other ends up with a human!
Gilbert Goldfish Wants a Pet by Kelly DiPucchio and illustrated by Bob Shea
Me Want Pet! by Tammi Sauer and illustrated by Bob Shea
Both books are illustrated by Bob Shea and both books have “twist” endings. Will Gilbert’s pet end up being a cat that may eat him? Will Cave Boy ever find the right pet from his prehistoric choices?
This Moose Belongs to Me by Oliver Jeffers
Sparky by Jenny Offill and Chris Appelhans
Children Make Terrible Pets by Peter Brown
"An unusual pet "is how I grouped this set of books. Super fun books from fabulous authors will bring out the laughter as students listen to stories of a moose that is unaware he is a pet, a sloth that stays true to his abilities, and Lucille Beatrice Bear who tries to tame a human boy.
This list is just the books that I’ve collected and used for this unit. I have several chapter books in my collection that I would have used for upper grades and there are many, many series about pets.
Wants and needs
Storytelling point of view
To narrow the focus of our study, I looked at several options listed above. In the end, I chose wants and needs. Many of the characters want a pet, and this compares to what a pet needs very nicely. The concept of wants and needs can be very difficult for students (and many adults) to understand. Having students fill out this Wants and Needs sheet gives you a great culminating assessment of your students’ understanding of how most pets have the same needs but different wants.
Have students bring in pictures of their pets. It’s actually a lot easier to have parents email a picture to you and share them with the class that way. With this activity, you are covering many Common Core State Standards in the area of speaking and listening. It is an authentic and high interest way to get students to speak in front of the class, and for others to ask questions for clarification. Students who don’t have a pet can bring in a picture of their “dream pet.”
What I have found is that students who never speak in class will open up about their pet. To help all your students develop a comfort level with speaking in front of the class, do what you can to lighten the mood and get the class relaxed by having fun. I do this by being silly when I show a new pet picture. If it’s just a picture of a dog, I may say, “Oh my goodness, does anybody in this room recognize this beautiful goat?” The kids all laugh and tell me that it’s a dog, while the owner of the pet makes their way to the front of the room. This is also a great time to compare different varieties of the same animals. Use math vocabulary to help the kids understand the size of each pet. "Is Jersey's dog a bigger dog or a smaller dog than Tanner's dog?"
Create a class book about pets. You can use this "pet" template or create your own. Make sure that you include a page for students who don’t have pets to participate. The last page of the template is a page for students to write and draw about the pet they wish they had at home.
Have everyone bring in a stuffed animal one day. This is a great time to talk about unusual pets. What would a bear want and need? How about a horse or a goat? Someone may bring in a stuffed whale and that could provide lots of fun information for the class to think about. Stuffed animal days are nothing new, but make sure that you use the animals for different activities. How many ways can you sort the animals? The number of legs, ideal climates, and different types of animals are just a few. Have the students fill in this story about an adventure with their stuffed animal.
Create an anchor chart and label the pets' body parts. This will provide a reference for students who are English Language Learners and students with disabilities, and will give context for students when you are discussing the pros and cons of different types of pets.
I felt like I needed to include a picture or two of our sweet Jessie!
I can’t wait to see you next week.
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