Dogs bring out the best in us. We give them our time, our resources and our affection, and they love us unconditionally in return. The family dog presents an opportunity to practice responsibility and a steadfast example of loyalty, and each one is unique. Dogs bring us closer to those inside our household and connect us to others beyond. Once dog lovers start sharing about their furry friends, it’s hard to get them to stop.

When creating this project, I aimed to pick a big idea which is just that—natural to consider and engaging to discuss. This starting point provided us ample opportunities to practice written and verbal communication, and focusing on dogs added a powerful motivator: empathy.

Territorio de Zaguates, a local shelter with close to 2,000 dogs, is evidence of the power of empathy itself, but their existence draws attention to the issue of dogs on the street. In EL3, JR1 and JR2 English this semester, we investigated the question How can we best support and ensure that dogs find the right homes?

EL3 started the semester by creating dog breed infographics. A graphic design expert visited and taught us more about displaying information in a visual format, and then pairs of students were assigned a breed. Through their research, they realized that certain breeds had specific care criteria, so they wouldn’t be a good fit in every household.

The students were ready to take on their next role with this new knowledge, but first they needed an audience. They wrote persuasive letters to share with their communities calling for volunteers for our “Pet Proposal Interviews,” in which they asked questions to determine the right kind of dog for their interviewees.

After our field trip to the Territorio early in the semester, JR1 and JR2 began fictional narratives inspired by what they had experienced but stretching their creativity. It was a truly collaborative effort as each class brainstormed multiple story ideas, settled on one, and divided the plot so that each classmate would be responsible for one chapter.

The drafting process was full of character development, checks for continuity, feedback and revision. Teacher Nate, a talented creative writer, guided them through a final round of revisions before formatting and printing all four stories in the Tales of the Territorio. We dedicated and gifted the book to Lya Battle, the founder of the Territorio de Zaguates.

After the narratives, JR1 created care manuals for various breeds to complement the EL3 pet proposals and wrote argumentative essays using only our experiences throughout the project as evidence. JR2 focused on precise language and clear instructions in their how-to infographics, then wrote persuasive emails to friends and family asking for donations to our Territorio drive.

Everything came together at the Dog Fair. In answer to our driving question—How can we best support and ensure that dogs find the right homes?—students learned that dog adoption provides a great but limited solution; we must also educate ourselves and others about the responsibilities of owning a dog. Our guests and vendors provided authentic examples as well as a chance for students to practice their leadership skills.

JR1 assumed the role of hosts, communicating with them ahead of time and welcoming them the day of. JR2 were facilitators, organizing the procedures that ensured the event was successful and special activities that kept us so entertained.

EL3 led their families with personalized infographic guides about the visitors and attractions. I was able to enjoy the Dog Fair myself considering the students did all the work, but I still wasn’t able to catch every moment of it, and I wish I could have!

This was a “super project”—two semesters, six grade levels, and countless learning goals. The students were compelled to question the widespread acceptance of strays and search for solutions within their grasp. They produced a variety of work and made decisions about voice and presentation according to purpose and audience.

They cultivated soft skills like communication, resourcefulness and openness to feedback. I chose dogs for this project to provide my students with an outlet to practice all of this; in the future, I hope they use what they practiced to help fix a problem that they choose.

By Kelsey Jiménez, Language Arts teacher

Photographs by Leandro Natale