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The Return of the Wolf!

Few efforts to spur the recovery of endangered animals have evoked as much opposition as recent programs to reintroduce the wolf to the wild. What is it about this close relative of the beloved family dog that instills such fear and loathing? Are those feelings justified? This week's activities might help your students answer those questions.

Endangered Species GIF Before the arrival of European settlers in North America, the land belonged to the wolves. Hundreds of thousands of the skilled predators roamed the continent, feeding primarily on such large wild animals as deer, moose, and elk. As the human population increased, however, numbers of the wolves' natural prey decreased, and many people became convinced that their livestock was in danger from the carnivorous mammals. Determined to eradicate wolves from the continent, people instituted legally sanctioned wolf hunts, and eventually the animals were hunted and poisoned nearly to extinction.

In recent years, however, a number of recovery plans have been developed, with the goal of returning wolves to their natural habitats and ultimately removing them from the endangered and threatened species lists. Perhaps the best known of those programs is the reintroduction of wolves to Yellowstone National Park that began in 1995. Although most of the programs have been extremely successful, they have not been without controversy, and many are still being challenged in court. A judge recently ruled, for example, that the reintroductions were illegal and ordered that wolves in Yellowstone and Idaho be rounded up and removed. That decision is being appealed, and the fight will be news for many years to come.

The activities below will help your students better understand the problems, the misconceptions, and the controversies surrounding the ongoing issue. The activities are divided into two sections -- activities most appropriate for students in kindergarten through grade 3 and activities for students in grades 4 and above. However, many of the activities can be used with either group.


Draw a wolf. Read aloud one or two stories featuring a wolf, such as Little Red Riding Hood, The Three Little Pigs, Peter and the Wolf, or The Seven Little Goats. Help students make a list of adjectives that describe the wolf in the story, and ask them to draw a picture of the wolf. Then encourage students to visit The Sawtooth Pack. Read aloud, or ask students to read, about some of the wolves in this pack. Help students make a list of adjectives that describe the wolves in the pack, and ask students to draw a picture of one of the Sawtooth wolves. Ask: How are your two pictures different? Why do you think that happened?

Make a Venn diagram -- write a poem. Place the adjectives from the previous activity in a Venn diagram. Help students count the common words and compare and contrast the different words. Ask students to use the adjectives to write a poem about wolves.

Read a map. Encourage students to visit The Total Yellowstone Wolf Map Page, and help them locate where each of the packs lives in the park. Ask questions such as these: Which is the northernmost pack? In which direction is the St. Joseph pack from the Nez Perce pack? How many miles is Norris Junction from Canyon? Which pack lives northeast of Soda Butte? In which direction would you have to go to travel from Madison to Old Faithful?

Play a game. Invite students to play Wolf Hangman.

Match the animals. Ask students to match each of the animal names with the name of its group. (Answers: 1. e, 2. j, 3. a, 4. d, 5. b, 6. g, 7. i, 8. h, 9. c, 10. f.)


Take a quiz. Have students visit NOVA's Wolves and Dogs: Fact and Fiction and take the quiz provided.

Ask a question. Encourage students to visit Wolfen Around to learn about wolves at play. Discuss how wolf play is similar to human play. Then encourage students to send BoomerWolf an e-mail question.


Draw a wolf. Read or tell one or two stories featuring a wolf as the villain, such as Little Red Riding Hood, The Three Little Pigs, Peter and the Wolf, or The Seven Little Goats, and ask students to draw a picture of the wolf in the story. Then ask students to visit The CyberZoomobile and draw a picture of a wolf based on the information they learn there. Before students begin drawing, provide them with the following additional physical information about the gray wolf:

  • Weight: 70 to 115 pounds
  • Height: 26 to 32 inches tall at the shoulder
  • Length: 57 to 76 inches in length from the tip of the nose to the tip of the tail
  • Color: black, white, tan, and gray
  • Tail: 13 to 20 inches long and bushy and usually carried down or straight out, never curled
  • Ears: erect, rounded, and 2 inches long
  • Eyes: yellow
  • Muzzle: large and square
  • General appearance: is massive, has long legs, is muscular, has a narrow chest, has large paws
Have students compare their two pictures and identify the similarities and differences. Ask: What misconceptions did you have about the wolf from listening to the stories?

Create a glossary. As a follow-up to the previous activity, have students make a list of words that were important to their understanding of the wolf, such as pack, alpha, canine, range, prey, and so on. Then ask each student to find a definition for each word and to create a personal Gray Wolf Glossary.

Read a chart. Ask students to study the Visual Representation of the Yellowstone Wolf Packs and answer the following questions:

  • How many of the wolves in the Leopold pack were born in 1997?
  • What is the predominant color of wolves in the Druid Peak pack?
  • How many of the Rose Creek pack wolves are definitely female?
  • How many adult alpha male wolves live in Yellowstone?

Write a haiku. Haiku is a form of traditional Japanese poetry that expresses thoughts and feelings, usually about nature. Explain that a haiku has three lines. Lines one and two convey different images and line three brings the two images together. The first and third lines of a haiku each contain five syllables, and the second line has seven syllables. If possible, read some examples of haiku poems to help students better understand the form. Then ask them to write a haiku about the wolf. (For examples of haiku poems, see a related Education World story, Haiku, Chaiku, God Bless You: Teaching Japanese Poetry Writing.)

Stage a debate. Encourage students to read or listen to a variety of opinions on the Reintroduction of the Wolf Into the Southwest U.S.: Should It Happen or Should It Not? Then ask them to research library or on-line resources to learn more about the controversy. Help students stage a debate on the issue.

Learn about pitch. Encourage students to read the information at NOVA's What's in a Howl? and listen to the various sounds provided. Point out that they can watch the sound spectrograph to "see" as well as listen to the howls. Then ask students to compare the pitches of the howls and hypothesize about what each pitch might signify.

Write a folktale. Have students read Crying Wolf -- The Wolf as Symbol in Folklore, and discuss how common figures of speech might affect people's perceptions of wolves. Discuss the story The Boy Who Cried Wolf and its relationship to the phrase "crying wolf." Then ask students to choose another figure of speech and write a folktale about how it came to be used.

Learn about the balance of nature. Encourage students to explore the National Geographic GeoGuide to learn more about wolves in the wild. Have students click Wolves and then click each of the natural and human forces listed to see how those forces affect wolves. Ask students to answer the critical thinking questions included in each section.

Take a quiz. Have students visit the Mexican Gray Wolf Web Site for Kids, read the Kids Fact Sheet, and take the Kids Quiz.


Article by Linda Starr
Education World®
Copyright © 1999 Education World

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