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Teaching Guide
Speaking Chimp
Understanding Travel Routes
Speaking Chimp
Representing Social Networks
Image of Chimp with a talk bubsble

In Chimp Nations, scientists investigate several aspects of chimpanzee learning, including the possibility that certain behaviors are handed down through chimp generations. Although chimps do not have a sophisticated spoken language, they can communicate through calls and vocalizations. Jane Goodall identified dozens of different calls including barking, hooting, screaming and grunting. Although most calls seemed to be linked to a single emotion, some communicated two or more states of mind. Through this communication, the social structure of the group and the needs of individuals are expressed and addressed.

Note to educators


This activity page will offer:

  • an introduction to chimp communication
  • a list of chimp emotions with their associated calls
  • an opportunity to analyze and explore canine communication
  • an operational definition of vocalizations such as grunts and hoots


Are you ready to participate in a field study of animal behavior? Our subjects will be dogs. But don't worry - you won't have to go out and watch these canines. We'll develop our field study from the observations and interactions you've already made.

Body Looks (Communicating Through Body Language)

  1. Describe how a dog's tail communicates different states of emotion. Identify each state and describe the position and movements of the tail. How does the tail respond as the animal's state of mind changes from fear to apprehension to acceptance to enjoyment?
  2. Describe how a dog's posture communicates different states of emotion. Identify a stance and describe how this particular posture communicates an emotion. Use the space below to sketch the animal's posture.
  3. Describe how the hairs on a dog's back and neck can communicate different states of emotion.

Check out the table below. It presents a list of chimp emotions and their associated vocalization. Some calls use a single sound, while others are more complex since they are formed by the combination of basic vocalizations. As you review this list, produce each of the chimp vocalizations.

Fear Wraaa
Puzzlement Huu
Annoyance Soft bark (cough)
Fear Pant - bark
Anger Waa - bark
Distress Hoo
Enjoyment of body contact Lip smack
Enjoying food Aaa call
Enjoyment/excitement Pant - hoot
Sociability feelings Soft grunt
  1. Examine the emotions presented on the list above. Which of these states do you think are experienced by dogs?
  2. Make a list of dog emotions based upon the chimp emotions illustrated on the left side of the chart. Are there ANY additional emotions not included in this list? If so, what are they? Include these additional emotions in your list.
  3. Examine your list of dog emotions. From your experience, identify any vocalizations associated with these states. Describe and distinguish each call as shown for the chimp vocalizations presented in the right hand column of the chart.

Your ability to produce advanced sounds arises from the sculpturing of sound by your tongue and facial musculature. Without these muscles, your sounds would be limited. Have you ever tried producing sounds using these muscles? Recite the vowels a, e, i, o and u. As you recite them, be aware of your tongue's position. Also take note of how your lips and mouth change to produce each distinct sound. Now, sink your tongue to the bottom of your mouth and keep it still.

  1. Keep your lips in the same open position as well. Recite the vowels. What happens?
  2. Keeping your tongue and lips immobile, try making different types of calls. What are some samples of the different sounds you can generate?
  3. Compare and contrast your limited sound ability with the calls generated by chimps?


Library of downloadable primate sounds

Chimpanzee and great ape language resources on the net

Paper on the evolution of language from hand gestures


The activities in this guide were contributed by Michael DiSpezio, a Massachusetts-based science writer and author of "Critical Thinking Puzzles" and "Awesome Experiments in Light & Sound" (Sterling Publishing Co., NY).

Academic Advisors for this Guide:

Corrine Lowen, Science Department, Wayland Public Schools, Wayland, MA
Suzanne Panico, Science Department, Fenway High School, Boston, MA
Anne E. Jones, Science Department, Wayland Middle School, Wayland, MA

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