Delle the Dolphin Says: Pronouns Are Important! (Grades K–2)

Hundreds of schoolchildren around the world are getting the opportunity to meet and interact with a “dolphin,” thanks to Edge Innovations’ life-size robotic dolphin named Delle, whose larger-than-life personality and message of compassion are captivating—and empowering—young audiences. You can see her here in “Dolphin Adventure,” hosted by TeachKind and Edge Innovations:

Delle is an ambassador for all animals. Her mission? To inspire kids to take care of our world while allowing wild animals to live free. Her powerful presentation highlights the necessity of cultivating empathy for others and reminds students that animals are individuals with complex lives and families. It’s also an excellent springboard for the following lesson on distinguishing between living, feeling beings and nonliving things and on using personal pronouns when referring to animals. Use these resources to discuss with students the importance of acknowledging that all animals are individuals with thoughts and feelings and of choosing inclusive language when talking about them.

If you haven’t already covered the difference between living beings and nonliving things with your students, begin by explaining these concepts using a T-chart. Label one of the columns “Living” and the other “Nonliving.” Then have students provide examples for each group. (Note: If they provide plant examples for the “Living” category, divide the column into two sections to distinguish between plants and animals. See the image below for reference.) Make sure students suggest humans (boy, girl, teacher, etc.) as well as other animals, including fish and insects, for the “Living” column. If necessary, pose questions like “What about ants? Are ants living or nonliving?” If students are unsure, keep a running list of these examples and place them in the correct category after discussing the differences between living beings and nonliving things. Once you’ve created a list of about 10 examples in each column, use the following talking points to discuss the characteristics of each group.

  • Ask students what all the living beings on the T-chart have in common. (Possible answers: All living beings grow and require an energy source—food in the case of animals and sunlight in the case of plants—as well as water and air. All living beings respond to changes in their surroundings—e.g., animals seek warmth in the winter and avoid danger, while plants grow toward the sunlight and their roots seek water.)
  • Ask students what all the nonliving things on the T-chart have in common. If they struggle to generate responses, ask them to identify the differences between the living beings and the nonliving things on the chart (e.g., Do the nonliving things grow? Do they require energy, water, or air?)
  • Remember to revisit any examples that students were uncertain about and place them in the correct category.

Next, above the “Animal” column, write the pronouns “he,” “she,” “his,” “her,” and “him.” Explain to students that we use these words when talking about living beings who are animals—and that humans are also animals. Remind them that they probably refer to their animal companions at home as “he” or “she,” because they’re individuals with thoughts and feelings—not nonliving things—and that we should refer to all animals in this way. Provide an example (e.g., Delle the dolphin likes to swim and explore. She loves her family.).

Then, above the “Plant” and “Nonliving” columns, write the pronoun “it.” Explain to students that we use this word both when talking about nonliving things, which don’t have thoughts or feelings, and when talking about plants—because, although they’re alive and shouldn’t be harmed unnecessarily, they don’t have thoughts or feelings. Provide examples (e.g., The dish broke, so I threw it away. The sunflower is tall, and it has yellow petals.). Leave the T-chart available for students to refer to as they complete the activity packet below, and review and discuss the answers as a class.

Note: This activity focuses on using traditional singular personal pronouns. Use your professional judgment to determine whether your students are ready to use “they” and “them” as singular personal pronouns to refer to individual animals whose sex is unknown. Additionally, the scientific community is just beginning to recognize plants’ advanced capabilities, and we now know that they experience a variety of sensations. Whether it can be proved that they experience pain or not, a vegan lifestyle is the compassionate choice, because it requires the deaths of fewer animals and plants. Learn more about plants and their advanced capabilities here.

The language that we use when talking about animals has the power either to combat speciesism or to reinforce this misguided and harmful belief that other animals are inferior to humans or even lack feelings. Challenge your students—and yourself—to make a permanent habit of referring to animals using personal pronouns by creating a classroom “It” Jar. Every time someone slips and calls an animal “it,” drop a marble into the jar. If you and your students can stay below a certain number of marbles during a predetermined length of time, reward yourselves for being considerate of animals!

it jar

TeachKind has several lessons, activities, and resources to teach students to use animal-friendly language. Make these important lessons an integral part of your English language arts curriculum to promote inclusivity, compassion, and empathy for all sentient beings.

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