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Shaun Ellis: Leader of the (Wolf) Pack



--Life Sciences
Social Studies
--Current Events


Grades 2-up

News Content

A new TV documentary explores the world of Shaun Ellis as he lives side by side with wolves in order to learn about them.

Anticipation Guide

Before reading, ask students to agree or disagree with this statement:

Living side by side with wolves is the best way to learn about their behavior and habits.
Let students share their reactions to the statement.

News Words

Next, introduce these words that appear in the News Word Box on the students printable page: dominant, survive, abandoned, imagine, recorded, and communicate. Discuss the meanings of any of those words that might be unfamiliar. Then ask students to use one of those words to complete each of these sentences:

  • The students presentations were _____ on video. (recorded)
  • The baby squirrels were _____ when their mother was hit by a car. (abandoned)
  • I use the phone and e-mail to _____ with my grandmother in Florida. (communicate)
  • Humans cannot _____ without food, water, and shelter. (survive)
  • Can you _____ a time when there were no cars and no TV? (imagine)
  • The biggest and strongest dog was the _____ one in pack. (dominant)

    Read the News

    You might use a variety of approaches to reading the news:

  • Read aloud the news story to students as they follow along.

  • Students might first read the news story to themselves; then you might call on individual students to read sections of the news aloud for the class.

  • Photocopy the news story onto a transparency and project it onto a screen. (Or use your classroom computer's projector to project the story.) Read the story aloud as a class, or ask students to take turns reading it.

  • Arrange students into small groups. Each student in the group will read a paragraph of the story. As that student reads, others might underline important information or write notes in the margin of the story. After each student finishes reading, others in the group might say something -- a comment, a question, a clarification -- about the text.
  • Click for a printable version of this weeks news story Shaun Ellis: Leader of the (Wolf) Pack.

    More Facts to Share

    You might share these additional facts with students after they have read this weeks news story.

  • Ellis was a child when he first became interested in animals. His interest in foxes that lived near the farm where he grew up eventually led to his interest in wolves. Wolves have been, and continue to be, his lifes work.
  • Ellis decided that scientists were not learning much new information about wolves using their normal methods, and he knew that Native Americans knew much more about wolves than scientists, so he decided that living alongside the wolves was the best way to come to understand their world. He knows most people think he must be crazy to live with wolves -- even many scientists question his unorthodox methods --- but he says his one-of-a-kind perspective will help the world grasp the complex nature of wolf society.
  • Ellis spent seven years studying wolves on the Nez Perce Indian reservation in Idaho. It was there that he first gained access to a pack. Later, he spent 18 months living in captivity with a three wolf pups that had been abandoned by their mother at birth.
  • Ellis has mastered the language of wolves. He communicates with them through posture, facial expression, and sound. Did you know these facts about a wolfs howl?
    --- Howls are used to communicate with members of a pack that are out of sight. They are also used to avoid conflict with competing packs.
    --- In the right conditions, a wolfs howl can be heard up to 10 miles away.
    --- Wolves often howl from an elevated position (standing up, on a rock ledge) in order to project the sound farther. Sometimes they stand in a semicircle and howl at the same time so the sound projects in different directions.
    --- Defensive howls -- meant to discourage -- are low in tone. Howls used to help wolves locate one another are higher in tone.
    --- Adult wolves teach the art of communicating/howling to young pups. The adults reward the pups learning with food and praise.
    --- Each wolf has a different sound. It sound depends upon its pack status.
  • Since Ellis aims to be the "dominant wolf" in the captive groups with which he has lived -- so he can teach the wolves how to survive in the wild -- he must behave as the dominant wolf ("alpha" wolf) would behave. With wolves, the dominant one often eats the brain, heart, liver, and kidneys of freshly killed carcasses. Since eating the raw meat would harm Ellis, his colleagues flash-cook the parts he will eat and place them in a bag inside the carcass. When the carcass is brought in, Ellis defends what is his.
  • The fact that Ellis has gained acceptance among wolves is even more unusual because wolves usually become jittery around strangers. Ellis warns against trying what he does. "It's very dangerous for people who haven't been trained, who think that they can just walk into a wolf pack and be accepted," he told ABC News.
  • When Ellis is with the wolves, he tries to put aside all emotions (for example, fear, guilt, and remorse). He tries to do that because wolves do not feel emotions like humans do. When Ellis returns to human society, some people have said it is difficult to communicate with him for the first few weeks. "But I seem to be able to move more easily between the two worlds now," he told National Geographic.
  • Ellis is the founder of Wolf Pack Management (WPM), an organization devoted to promoting knowledge and awareness of wolves. The group is headquartered at the Combe Martin Wildlife Park in North Devon, England, where Ellis works with 13 captive wolves. WPMs aim is to release the captive animals back into the wild and to use lessons learned to teach wolves to avoid conflict with man.
  • You can purchase the "Man Among Wolves" video in the National Geographic online store.

    Comprehension Check

    Revisit the Anticipation Guide at the top of this lesson; ask students to respond again to the statement Living with wolves is the best way to learn about their behavior and habits. Now that students have read about Shaun Ellis, have any of their opinions voiced before reading the article changed?

    You might follow-up that activity by asking some of these questions:

    Recalling Detail

  • Why has Shaun Ellis decided to live with wolves? (He wants to learn more about their lives and their habits. He wants to learn about them in order to help them live peacefully with humans.)
  • In what ways does Ellis behave the same as the wolves with which he lives? (He sleeps with them. He howls, snarls, and growls like them. He eats with them from the carcasses of dead animals)
  • Why has Ellis been studying the sounds that wolves make? (He wants to learn about the sounds wolves make so he can better communicate with them, teach them, and protect himself.)
  • When Ellis lives outdoors with wolves, how does he keep warm on cold nights? (Body heat from the wolves keeps him warm.)

    Think About the News
    Discuss the Think About the News question that appears on the students news page.

    Follow-Up Activities

    Language - plurals. Words that end in f are sometimes made plural by changing the f to v and adding -es. For example the plural of wolf is wolves. Demonstrate to students how the word wolf is made plural. Then provide students with the following list of words. Ask them to say and spell the plural of each of the words: wolf (wolves), sniff (sniffs), calf (calves), elf (elves), giraffe (giraffes), half (halves), knife (knives), life (lives), surf (surfs), loaf (loaves), cliff (cliffs), self (selves), shelf (shelves), thief (thieves), wife (wives), safe (safes), hoof (hooves), scarf (scarves), and wharf (wharves). You might follow-up this activity by presenting "A F-able" by F.E. Words. Another possible follow-up activity: Plurals of f Words crossword puzzle.

    Language arts - interviews. Share with students this National Geographic video interview with Shaun Ellis. Challenge students to come up with other questions they might ask Ellis if they had the opportunity to meet or communicate with him. Here is another video clip you might want to share.

    Language arts research/technology. Gather library books, magazine articles, and other wolf resources. (In addition, you might include the list of Internet resources below.) Challenge students to use the resources to learn more about wolves. As they read, have them write five facts about wolves that they did not know before reading about them.

  • Wild Wolves (NOVA/PBS)
  • International Wolf Center: Just for Kids
  • Gray Wolf (Wikipedia)
  • Boomer Wolf
  • Wolves of the World
  • eNature Field Guide: Wolves
  • ThinkQuest: Wolves


    Use the Comprehension Check (above) as an assessment. Or have students work on their own (in their journals) or in their small groups to respond to the Think About the News question on the news story page or in the Comprehension Check section.

    Lesson Plan Source

    Education World

    National Standards

    National Standards

    GRADES K - 4
    NS.K-4.3 Life Science
    NS.K-4.6 Science in Personal and Social Perspectives
    GRADES 5 - 8
    NS.5-8.3 Life Science
    NS.5-8.6 Science in Personal and Social Perspectives
    GRADES 9 - 12
    NS.9-12.3 Life Science
    NS.9-12.6 Science in Personal and Social Perspectives

    See recent news stories in Education Worlds News Story of the Week Archive.

    Article by Ellen Delisio and Gary Hopkins
    Education World®
    Copyright © 2007 Education World

    Originally published 04/18/2007
    Updated 09/19/2007