Students explore kindness and caring through the story of Owen and Mzee, a true story about how a 130-year-old tortoise (Mzee) helped a baby hippo (Owen) survive after separation from its family during the 2004 tsunami. The story is told by the father and daughter team of Isabella and Craig Hatkoff and Dr. Paula Kahumbu, director of the Kenyan animal sanctuary where Owen and Mzee live.
• Students will understand the importance of caring in the world.
• Students will be able to explain ways they can show caring to those around them.
• Transparency with discussion questions for students
• Student worksheet
• Pretend you are a new person at a brand new school and it was your first day at school. In each class you went into there were one or two students who went up to you and said hi, asked your name, and told you theirs. How would that make you feel?
• What if the opposite happened? No one came up to you. No one said hi. No one tried to get to know you and the students just ignored you. How would you feel then?
2. The teacher explains: Now we are going to read a true story about how a tortoise showed human kindness to a baby hippo and how it much it helped this baby hippo to survive. In order to save time, the teacher may wish to read the story Owen and Mzee.
3. Discussion: After reading the story, the teacher should field any questions students have about the story – perhaps emphasizing the trait of human kindness.
4. Handout: The teacher puts up the transparency and reviews the questions with students. The teacher then hands out the student worksheet. Students should then select one or two questions to answer, depending on the grade level of the students and the time available.
Extensions and Adaptations
Teachers may extend this lesson by building on the students’ empathy for Owen and Mzee in order to explore the human loss that occurred as a result of the 2004 tsunami.
Related Links and Resources
Hatkoff, C., I. Hatkoff, and P. Kahumbu. Owen & Mzee: The True Story of a Remarkable Friendship. New York: Scholastic Press, 2006.