We Are All Animals: Comparative Biology With a Compassionate Twist

At first glance, a survey of the animal kingdom reveals substantial differences in form and function—from cnidarians to chordates and every phylum in between. Studying these differences using comparative anatomy is what taxonomy is all about. But how can we as teachers address animals’ similarities as sentient beings with needs and desires that are unique to them as individuals? In this feature, TeachKind addresses both differences and similarities—with a compassionate twist!

To introduce the important message that animals are alike in all the ways that matter, ask your students a few questions:

  • How are humans different from other animals?
  • Do all animals feel joy, hunger, thirst, love, fear, and pain?
  • Do all animals deserve to live free from suffering and exploitation?
  • What life-sustaining needs do humans have in common with other animals?
  • Is it acceptable to treat individuals differently because they don’t look like us?

Show your students the video below, which is suitable for all ages, and features talented entertainer and entrepreneur RZA to illustrate the similarities among all animals and reinforce the concept that humans aren’t different from other animals in any important way.

Check out TeachKind’s list of grade-specific Next Generation Science Standards–aligned lessons for more creative ways to teach about the animal kingdom.

©iStock.com/ajma_pl

To compare the form and function of several species and expand into genetics with advanced biology students, you can use one or more of the following software programs and activities:

  • eMind Fly offers a genetics lesson with virtual drosophila on sex-linked traits and basic genetics.
  • Froguts Genetics Lab allows users to choose between pea and fly virtual labs in order to learn Mendelian genetics.
  • Digital Frog introduces comparative anatomy through digital dissection of a frog and by comparing anatomical features to the human form.

As a group activity, have your students create a phylogenetic tree and a running list of differentiating physical characteristics.

Make sure that the theme of compassion for animals is woven into every science lesson. Whether you’re teaching genetics, taxonomy, or the differences between animals with fins and fur, remind students that all animals—including humans—are alike in all the ways that matter. But we can and should appreciate others for their spectacular differences.

To stay up to date with new content to help you integrate humane education into your curriculum, sign up for TeachKind E-News below.

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 Ingrid E. Newkirk

“Almost all of us grew up eating meat, wearing leather, and going to circuses and zoos. We never considered the impact of these actions on the animals involved. For whatever reason, you are now asking the question: Why should animals have rights?” READ MORE

— Ingrid E. Newkirk, PETA President and co-author of Animalkind