December 4, 2021

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Lesson of the Day: ‘2021 Has Been a Bad Year for Manatees’

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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 Has Been a Bad Year for Manatees” by Johnny Diaz

What do you know about the gentle and cute, but odd-looking, manatee, sometimes known as the sea cow? Have you ever seen one?

Sadly, in Florida, manatees are dying at an alarming rate. In the past year, the state has lost about 10 percent of its population.

In this lesson, you will learn about the manatee and the dangers the species faces. In a Going Further activity, you will make a poster to inform others how they can help these gentle giants.

Part 1: Give your hot takes on animals.

Before reading the article, tell us your opinions on the animal kingdom using the following prompts:

  • I think the most beautiful animal is _________.

  • I think the coolest animal is _________.

  • I think the scariest animal is _________.

  • I think the funniest animal is _________.

  • I think the strangest animal is _________.

  • I think the cutest animal is _________.

  • My favorite animal is _________.

Share your list with a partner. Then, reflect together: Did you have any animals in common? Did either of you include the slow-moving but lovable manatee on your lists?

Part 2: Learn about the manatee.

Watch the three-minute video below, “Manatees Are the ‘Sea Cows’ of the Coasts,” by Nat Geo Wild. Then, answer the following questions in writing or in a discussion with a partner:

  • What are two facts you learned about manatees?

  • What is one question you have about them?

  • The video calls manatees “gentle giants.” Do you agree with this description? What adjective would you use to describe the manatee?

Here are 12 words you’ll find in this article that you may not know:

1. alarming 2. worrisome 3. decline 4. startling 5. estuary 6. graze 7. lagoon 8. sewage 9. septic 10. algae 11. malnutrition 12. collision

Which words are you familiar with? Which are new to you?

Go to Vocabulary.com to learn what each word means and to practice using them.

Click through and read the article above as a slide show, or read it here as a PDF. If you want to learn more about the dangers facing manatees, you can read a longer version of the article here. Then, answer the following questions:

1. Look at the photos in the article: What do they tell you about manatees and how they live?

2. What is one new fact you learned about manatees from the article? What is one new question you have about them?

3. How many manatees in Florida have died so far in 2021? How does that number compare with past years?

4. What are two reasons for the manatees’ deaths?

5. The article does not specify how to protect the lives of manatees in Florida. But based on what you learned about the reasons for their deaths, what is one possible solution you would recommend?

6. Describe or draw a manatee for someone who has never seen one. How would you capture the animal’s unique shape, size, movement and personality?

Option 1: Make a poster to inform the public about the plight of manatees.

How can you inform others about what you have learned from the article?

You might use information from the article or your own research to create a poster. You can draw your poster or use Canva or another graphic design program to produce your designs. Then, share what you made via social media or with peers at your school.

Who would be your target audience — teenagers, adults or the general public? What message do you want to communicate? What do you want your audience to know about the dangers facing manatees? What kind of language, images and graphics will grab their attention?

For your poster, include:

  • A drawing or picture of a manatee

  • One statistic from the article

  • One reason for their recent deaths

  • One possible way that we can all help protect this animal

  • A tagline or message

Option 2: Learn about more endangered and threatened animals.

Manatees are federally protected under the Endangered Species Act and the Marine Mammal Protection Act.

Visit the World Wildlife Fund for Nature to learn more about which animals around the world are endangered and threatened. What do you notice about the list of endangered animals? Are any of the animals from the list you created in the warm-up activity endangered or threatened?

Then, select one endangered or threatened animal to research.

Find out at least two facts about the animal you chose to research, one reason for their decline, and one possible way we can better protect them. Share what you learned with your class.


Want more Lessons of the Day? You can find them all here.

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