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Environmental Lesson Plan for ESL Learners: Cane Toads

written by: Anne Vize•edited by: Rebecca Scudder•updated: 2/2/2011

Cane toads are a devastating pest causing havoc to Australian wildlife in the north. But determined groups of locals are getting together to stop their relentless march across the country. Explore this environmental lesson plan for ESL learners with a focus on vocabulary and comprehension.

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    Cane Toads: Background Facts for an Environmental Lesson Plan for ESL Learners

    Cane toads are not a native species in Australia. They were introduced in the 1930's from South America to try and deal with the cane beetle, which was in turn causing problems for the sugar cane industry. They failed to do their job with the beetle, but they have instead done an extremely good job of negatively affecting many different types of Australian wildlife through vast sections of the country.

    Cane toads are a major problem because, being an introduced species, they have no natural predators to keep their numbers under control. They have a highly toxic poison which is generally fatal to animals which eat them. They breed quickly, and can easily out compete many native species of frogs.

    The toads are continuing to spread from Queensland, where they were first introduced, westwards across the Northern Territory as well as south into New South Wales. Their rate of travel varies, but in the Northern Territory it is around 30 to 50 kilometers per year.

    Vocabulary Focus:

    toad, frog, pest, native, introduced, species

    Comprehension Focus:

    1. What is the average rate of travel of the cane toads across Australia?
    2. Are cane toads native to Australia?
    3. When were the cane toads introduced to Australia?
    4. From which country were they introduced?
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    Stop the Toad

    Volunteers have long been the backbone of much of rural and outback Australia. And now dedicated groups of folk from near and far are banding together to try and round up as many toads as they can and stop them crossing the state border from the Northern Territory into Western Australia. For once they reach WA, the toads are on target for the Kimberley region - one of Australia's most precious and beautiful natural environments.

    Toad musterers are currently engaged in a pitched battle around the water holes of outback stations to try and catch and kill as many cane toads as they can during a four week 'Toad Muster'.

    Shade cloth barriers have been erected around water holes, as toads can only survive a short time without water. They have been piling up at the barriers, making them easy targets for the waiting volunteers.

    To date, the statistics for this hardy group of volunteers are impressive:

    • During the 2008 muster to date, they have removed around 18,000 cane toads from the environment
    • 3000 toads caught in a single night around the shade cloth waterhole barriers
    • 70 volunteers involved in this year's muster, including famed Australian author, Tim Winton
    • 60,000 toads caught in the three years the muster has been operating

    Vocabulary Focus:

    discuss Australian idioms and colloquialisms such as the word 'muster'

    Comprehension focus:

    1. What does Tim Winton do for a job?
    2. In which year were 18000 cane toads removed?
    3. How many toads have been caught in the three years of the muster in total?
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    Links for more information

    There are a few great sites that are well worth a look, as they represent the hard work of many volunteers who donate enormous numbers of hours to their mission of trying to keep the insidious cane toad out of our precious Kimberley region.These links also help extend your environmental lesson plan for ESL learners by encouraging students to research, pose their own questions and engage in wider and varied reading about cane toads and other elements of Australian culture and wildlife.

    Stop the Toad is a volunteer group that organizes each yearly muster, as well as having lots of great information online about the toad

    Kunanurra Cane Toad Forum

    Government Cane Toad information