Lesson of the Day: ‘2021’s Most Fascinating Animals’

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Lesson of the Day: ‘2021’s Most Fascinating Animals’

This lesson is a part of our new Accessible Activities feature, which aims to welcome a wider variety of learners to our site and to The Times. Learn more and tell us what you think here.


Featured Article: “2021’s Most Fascinating Animals” by Michael Roston

Sea slugs that can crawl around without their bodies. Tortoises that hunt baby birds. A bird with a broken beak that uses a tool to comb himself. These are some of the animals profiled in The New York Times’s roundup of the most fascinating animals of 2021.

In this lesson, you will learn about six different animals and what makes them special. Then, you will research another interesting animal discovery that The New York Times reported on last year.

In your journal, respond to these questions about animals using words or drawings:

  • What is your favorite animal? Why? What is special or unique about it?

  • Think about the most unusual or strange animal you’ve heard of: What makes this animal so interesting or different?

Take a look at the 11 words below. Do you know what they mean? Are any of these words new to you?

1. generate
2. parasite
3. kingdom
4. defenseless
5. ecologists
6. dexterity
7. compensate
8. enterprising
9. mischievous
10. fortify
11. moray

Make sure you are familiar with these 11 words before reading the featured article. Go to vocabulary.com to learn what each word means and to practice using them.

Read the article below, or as a PDF, then answer the following questions:

1. Why do some sea slugs “dump their bodies”? Does this remind you of an action any other animals or organisms take?

2. The article says that giant tortoises “look so gentle,” but they aren’t always. Why not? Do you agree with Justin Gerlach, a Cambridge ecologist, that witnessing their behavior is “horrifying”? Why or why not?

3. Why do you think scientists found it so fascinating that elephant trunks could pick up a tortilla chip without breaking it? What else would you like to see an elephant pick up to test its nimbleness?

4. Why do you think the author called Bruce, the kea, “one of the most charming creatures of the year”?

5. The author described titmice and other Parids as “mischievous.” Why?

6. Do you understand the joke about the eel in the final slide? Listen to this excerpt from the song “That’s Amore” and follow along with the lyrics. What is the play on words that the author used in this slide?

All of the animals you read about first appeared in the Trilobites column. Learn about another animal by reading one of these short Trilobites articles in its entirety:

As you read, write down three fascinating facts you learned about the animal. What makes this creature special or different? Then, write down two questions you have about the animal or its behavior. Finally, draw one picture of the animal based on its description in the article.

Share what you found with your classmates and learn about the animals they researched.


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