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Learning Activity

Recognizing the Others


Art Forms
Creative Dramatics, Visual Arts
Science, Art, Social Studies
Grade levels
You will need
cheesecloth blindfolds; crayons/markers, tagboard or heavy duty construction paper for making masks; scissors; "glue-on items for Natural Beings" mask string or elastic; masking tape; green crepe paper streamer roll
One or two hours

Special Note to Teachers

This activity asks students to express the habitat-loss which is vastly reducing animal and plant numbers and species worldwide.

Habitat loss is the direct result of the global explosion of the human population.

This is difficult stuff to teach about, of course, but it is also Earth’s largest problem, for almost seven billion reasons.

Every second five people are born and two people die, a net gain of three people every second. That is 259,200 new human beings every day!

Caution: Do not encourage students to finger-point. It's not Them. That’s too easy. We are all culpable. It’s not the other guy, it’s all of us.

Caution: Never, Never, Never encourage kids to dislike humanity. You cannot dislike your species without disliking yourself. That is a terrible thing to do to anyone. It’s also very tempting at times, when you are personally outraged at some excessive human act.

As a teacher, you must remind yourself that beneath your outrage is love.

Your fundamental caring is where you must go to find out what you can usefully teach.

We must find ways to help kids see the results of the human population explosion without robbing them of their hope, and without stealing their intuitive love for humanity. And without telling them that they can solve this problem now, while they are kids.


We humans are rapidly crowding the other animals and plants out of existence.

In Recognizing the Others, students experience habitat-loss and Balance issues by role-playing a creative dramatics exercise. The activity takes place in the Circle of Life.

This activity assumes that one of society's largest problems, habitat loss, stems from humanity's forgetting or refusing to admit our kinship with the Others, the other living beings with whom we share the earth.

In a real sense the Others live inside us. The animals and plants are our extended family.

Recognizing the Others asks students to look inside, and strongly suggests that our crowding the Others out of existence will continue unless we learn to honor all parts of ourselves.

Recognizing the Other suggests that healing this enormous problem of habitat and diversity loss begins with the recognition that when we injure the Others, we injure our selves.

Stress with students that this activity is not about good and evil. It is about Causes and Effects.

For background, look at the Sixth Great Extinction.

Background and Review

Discuss: There is an old saying, “You can’t have too much of a good thing.”
True or False?

This is one of the most stupid ideas ever passed down. Of course too much is too much! Do you eat only ice cream and nothing else because you think ice cream is a good thing?

Native Americans and other traditional peoples such as the Australian indigenes lived in relative harmony with natural systems because they knew that humans were part of those systems.
Traditional cultures know that society’s essential job is to help keep the ‘Natural Order’ in balance. Living in harmony with nature requires active efforts to keep it that way.

• Atraditional culture may seasonally harvest the wild-growing roots of a certain lily for food.

• They do not take them all, even if people are hungry.

• They leave some to flower and make seed, and more roots, so in the future their society will always have this food available.

• And they will have flowers.

Many traditional peoples believe in the intrinsic value of all life.

• Living things, the Others, are to be given respect.

• If a human takes a life so he or she can eat (which humans must do), he should thank the life he has ended.

• If he eats a root, he thanks the plant for the gift of life.
• If he eats a deer, he thanks the deer for the gift of life.
• This is one way of keeping the balance of things.

People intuitively know that a balance of things is important.

Part of Balance is Numbers

Discuss: When one species suddenly explodes in population, the whole natural community can break down.

Grasshoppers in certain conditions of crowding suddenly change their forms and become long-distance flyers called locusts, take off in numbers that blacken the sky, and eat everything wherever they land.

Mind Experiment: Picture a goldfish bowl. Not big—it holds only two quarts of water. As you know, the surface of the water in the bowl dissolves oxygen from the air into the water, which the goldfish breathe with their gills. Now imagine the bowl holds two goldfish. They swim around, apparently comfortable. Now add more goldfish, say ten. Now some of the fish are always coming to the surface, looking uncomfortable.

Crowding has broken down the oxygen system. The oxygen twelve fish are taking out of the water surpasses the water’s ability to dissolve more oxygen from the air into the water.

Twelve goldfish in one 2 quart bowl is way too much of a good thing.
How can balance be restored?

The starting point is caring—recognizing the suffering of the Others.

Part of Balance is Valuing

Discuss: What we value has a great deal to do with loss of habitat. Much of the natural world is being crowded out of existence.

It is said that when Europeans first came to the Atlantic coast, a squirrel could travel from New York to the Mississippi River without touching ground.

We have vastly changed North America.

We have vastly changed almost all the land surface of Earth. We have not valued the Others much recently.

It is time that we change ourselves.

• If we believe that all life is valuable, for its own sake, how should we behave?

• If we believe that every life deserves an opportunity to be lived, do we restrict that to human life? Or do we include all life?

• Should we value human children more than the offspring of all other species? These are hard questions.

The Bottom Line of Balance is Habitat:
Places to Live

Define: Habitat refers to the physical context where an organism exists.

Other members of the organism’s living community are part of its habitat.

Habitats are homes. Every living thing must have a home-place to survive.

Discuss: But the Other living things are in trouble. We are crowding them out. Healing begins with a recognition that the Others are part of us, are inside us and always have been.

Preparing for the Activity

Before you begin the Play, the class makes a Member Inventory of one important natural community in your local area. Make sure they include plants of different sorts, insects, reptiles, amphibians as well as mammals and birds. (See Balancing a Community.)

Example: oak tree, woodfrog, red osier dogwood, tree swallow, nettles, garter snake, grapevine, monarch butterfly, milkweed, tree frog, whitetailed deer, cherry tree, woodchuck, elderberry bush, squirrels, dandelion, dragonfly, honeysuckle, bluebird, spruce tree, and so on.

Note: This Member Inventory probably should be done before the class does this activity.

The class should practice "mirroring" before doing this activity.
Directions for Mirroring are here.

Pass out the Play Directions for students to read.

Emphasize that the Director will remind the actors what to do and when to do it.

Emphasize the seriousness of this Play.


(Read aloud to players)

Once the play begins, it must be done entirely in silence (except for the Director).

No pushing or shoving; no violence (no “pretend” violence)

Setting the Stage

1.) Create the Stage, the Circle of Life

With masking tape, tape-off a large circle on the floor.
Outdoors, a rope or garden hose does well. “The Circle of Life” should be large enough to contain the whole class, plus it should have space around the outside of the Circle.

2.) Divide the class into two groups and assign roles.

Group One, the Others: Each student is given an animal or plant role to play. (from the Natural Community Inventory, described above.)

• Assign roles by lot. (Put role names on slips of paper in a hat and draw. Include more roles in the hat than there are students in the group.

• Group Two are the Humans: Half the class are Humans.

3.) Illustrate the Roles:

• Others now make simple masks representing what they are.
• (Cut extra-large eye-holes, so students can move freely and safely.)
•Others may attach additional materials to their masks to enhance their power.

• Humans put on blindfolds that they can actually see through.

•Cheesecloth works well

Variation: Humans now make simple masks from black or darkened material.

• Human masks may be reversible, green on the other side, for later in the play.

4.) Enter the Circle & Practice Roles

Before beginning the play, ask Others to ‘enter’ and practice their characters by moving around for awhile the way that character should move or stand.

• Actors should invent ways of moving that fit their characters.
Remind students of the silence rule and the no violence rule.

Humans will begin their role-playing by wearing "blindfolds" which they can actually see through. Have Humans practice this.

Director reminds the actors of the rule of silence, and reminds them that they will receive instructions periodically as needed.

Play Directions

Sequence One

The play begins with the Others wearing their masks as they move about, being themselves in the Circle of Life.

Sequence Two

One by one, the "blindfolded" Humans enter the Circle.
(Director sends each in with a tap)
Each Human chooses one Other (of the same sex) and slowly crowds the Other out of the Circle of Life.
As the Others leave the Circle, they stay right outside the Circle and "go to sleep."

Sequence Three:

As more and more Humans take over the Circle, they mill about as a group, looking trapped and scared. The crowd moves frantically at times, they surge and rush about. This movement dies out and the humans tire and sit down and look vacantly about.

Sequence Four

Now the Others begin to wake, and slowly, one by one, re-enter the Circle.
(The Others each carry a green ribbon.)
Each Other chooses a Human (of the same sex), removes the Human's blindfold, begins to mirror the Human, and tries to get the Human to mirror in return.

The Other does actions that fit its particular plant or animal role.

The Human gradually begins to "see" the Other, and mirrors in return, more and more actively, becoming more and more like the plant or animal.

Final Sequence

Now the Other stops the mirroring and drapes the Human with the green ribbon.

As each human is greened, he or she relaxes, smiles, feels good, holds hands with the Other.

Once all the Humans have been greened, once the Others have all reclaimed their places with the humans, they dance in one circle or concentric circles within the Circle of Life.

Alternate Ending

Sequence Four

As the Humans stare vacantly, the Others wake , stand, and step into the circle. A Human stands as each Other come into the circle, goes to that Other, and slowly, gently pressures the Other to leave the Circle of Life.

As each Other leaves the Circle of Life, it quietly dies. The Humans inside the Circle rush around a minute, then each sits and stares vacantly around.

Process the Play

Discuss: Do not try to solve the population problem in discussion. Instead, focus on the art experience:

• What was the most powerful part of the drama for you?
• How did it feel to be "greened"?
• How was the mirroring for you?
• Why could you see through the Humans' blindfolds?

Remind actors that the play is about Cause & Effect, Not Good & Evil.

The advantage of both creating art and being an audience for art is that you can engage the heart. But, if you intellectualize the experience immediately afterward, the heart quickly disengages and gets out of there.

On the Web

As possible, visit a population clock on the Web. There are several online.

Creating From the Activity

Practice the Play. Work on character and movement patterns in the circle.

Perform the Play for another class.

• Make it a Show Experience more than a Tell experience.
• Show causes and effects, not good and evil.

• Have the class make journal entries (draw/paint/write) about how it felt to experience this drama.

Have students create brief movement or dance exercises, or body sculptures, as responses to the Play. (This is a useful way to process the experience.)