How Grizzly Bears and Wolves Helped A.C.E. Students Improve their English

A.C.E. Level 5 students at the West Yellowstone Grizzly &Wolf Discovery Center

Smiles abounded and cameras clicked as Level 5 students from A.C.E. Language Institute at Montana State University saw their first wolves at West Yellowstone’s Grizzly and Wolf Discovery Center. Spending the day learning about the habitat and behaviors of wolves and grizzlies provided the students with the chance to learn more about one of the most important ecosystems in the United States, one that is only a couple of hours from their campus in Bozeman. While important, the primary reason for the trip was to cultivate interest and build background knowledge – an essential part of becoming a skillful reader. The Level 5 reading course is a unique opportunity for students to learn reading strategies, vocabulary, and critical thinking skills through content.

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A.C.E. Instructor Valley Peters (far right) poses with A.C.E. Level 5 Reading Students

 

“Wolves in Yellowstone” is a pilot course at A.C.E. designed to teach students how to grapple with authentic texts. Student develop reading skills such as annotating texts, creating concept maps, hypothesizing, interpreting illustrations and charts, and making inferences. Students improve these skills by demonstrating comprehension of a wide range of texts, such as magazine articles, letters to the editor, non-fiction literature, historical data, and websites. In previous levels, students are exposed to graded reading appropriate for their stage of learning. As we prepare students to exit the program, we want students to develop skills for extensive reading, especially of texts with academic vocabulary. This course also builds critical thinking skills as students examine multiple perspectives on the controversial reintroduction and management of wolves and draw conclusions based on course readings.

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A.C.E. students examining a pelt in the Warming Hut

 

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The Center is home for seven wolves that live in two different packs. The wolves were born in captivity and are unable to live in the wild.

 

While at the Grizzly and Wolf Discovery Center, a biologist gave students a tour of the facility and answered student questions. Students viewed two wolf packs and five grizzly bears during their visit. Between animal observations, students learned more about the animals’ history in Yellowstone and what day to day life is like for these animals in the wild. The displays reinforced information they had read about in previous class texts and prepared them for discussing new concepts like the “trophic cascade” in which ecosystems experience an array of effects when a keystone species is removed and reintroduced. Students also viewed an IMAX movie of Yellowstone which brought the history of the nation’s first park to life through stories of Native Americans and early trappers. Upon returning to their studies following the field trip,  students commented on how much easier it was to understand the readings. What I noticed as an instructor was a new light in their eyes when we talked about wolves – several light bulbs had flickered on that brought a new dimension to our reading course!

By: Valley Peters, A.C.E. at MSU Instructor, Special Correspondent to the A.C.E. Blog

Want a more detailed look into A.C.E.’s trip to the Grizzly & Wolf Discovery Center?  Take a look at our student’s perspective video, here.

For more information on the creative programs at A.C.E. Language Institute at MSU, please visit our website at www.cultural.org/esl/msu.php

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