Rats in the Class

This post is here for three purposes:

1) To share useful information about having rats in the classroom

2) So that I can conquer my fear of rats by writing about them, and

3) Because Amy pointed out that know one has written about rats in the class yet.

Let’s get started!

Rat – Definition: a rodent similar in appearance and behavior to a mouse, only considerably larger. Proportionally, a rat’s body is longer than a mouse’s and its ears are smaller.

The biggest obstacle to successful rat ownership in the classroom will not come from the students. Most students, being refreshingly open-minded, will take one look at a domestic, or “fancy,” rat and immediately become rat advocates. Adults, however, tend to take a bit longer to overcome their squeamishness. I just wish that rats didn’t have their tails. They give me the willies!

Here are some suggested tips I found for dealing with folks who, like myself, may not be as receptive to the “joys” of rathood.

1. Refer to rats by other names, since “rat” is an emotionally laden word… “raffins” is common among fanciers; Using  krisa or krisi (Czech for “rat”),students will take great pleasure in finding out how to say “rat” in other languages. Most often, teachers refer to their class rats as “the class critters.”

2. Prepare a flyer about the positive traits of rats for students’ families in advance… or, better yet, make a lesson out of it.  Rats can be used as a jumping-off point for discussions about prejudice and stereotype, and have students find rat facts to bring in and add to a rat scrapbook.

3. Find and acquire a color of rat that is unusual and attractive… the poor white albinos are often trapped in the “lab rat” stereotype, and the brown-and-black agoutis, when grown, may resemble their wild relatives too much for some folks. Most people, however, are receptive to colors they don’t usually see on rodents… their fascination with the color will overpower their initial reaction to “RAT!!!”

4. Become a genius and teach your rats some neat tricks for your students to show off to visitors… people tend to be impressed by what they see as “smarts” in an animal.

Teaching Ideas

  • Study the anatomy of a rat – ears, whiskers, tail, and incisors. Make and label a chart.
  • Research different words for rats in many world languages.
  • Use rats to teach the parts of speech – make a chart of nouns related to rats, verbs that show what rats can do, adjectives that describe our class rats, adverbs that describe how our rats move and run, prepositional phrases that show WHERE a rat might hide in a classroom, and interjections that a principal might use if our missing rat turned up in his/her office unexpectedly.
  • Discuss the differences between wild rats and pet rats. Make a compare and contrast chart, or a Venn Diagram, to list the differences.
  • Discuss stereotypes and prejudice – what do “most people” think about rats? Why? Do you think they would change their minds, if they met our pet rats? Why or why not?
  • Read Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH by Robert C. O’Brien. In what ways were the rats like people? What will the rats’ new home in Thorn Valley be like? How will it be different from a human home?
  • What foods does your rat like best? Present a variety and let each rat choose. Chart the results – food eaten first, food eaten second, food eaten last.
  • Rats wash themselves like cats. How do other animals keep clean? Create a comparison chart.
  • Study rat body language. How do two rats greet each other? What do friendly rats do to show their affection?
  • How smart is your rat? List the tricks you would like your rats to learn. Discuss how a rat could learn to perform basic tricks.
  • Do rats have good memories? Test them – design a maze with a favorite treat at the end. Time the rat as it learns to run the maze. What happens each time the rat is placed in the maze?
  • Rats have long, bare tails. What kinds of tails do other animals have? What are tails used for?
  • What books can you find that have rats or mice as main characters?

I honestly feel slightly more freaked out by rats now… but hopefully, those who do like rats have some wonderful ideas for their classroom. Bonne nuit!


2 thoughts on “Rats in the Class

  1. alasamy says:

    Thank you for posting about rats in the classroom! I think that using a class pet that most people have negative feelings about (fear, nausea, etc.) is a GREAT idea for talking about prejudice in the classroom. Idioms or common sayings could be introduced and students could study how they came to be (you dirty rat/he ratted me out). It would be a wonderfully simple and natural way to frame a study of what prejudice and stereotypes look like and a springboard for positive discussion. You offer so many creative ideas for integrating not only rats into the classroom, but any class pet! Thank you again!!!


  2. fbleam says:

    I LOVE THIS! Great job! I was wondering how on earth you could deal with having a rat in the classroom, but these are great ideas and the students will love it. I actually know a friend who has two rats and they are rather freaky, but after hanging out with them they are pretty sweet! You can literally feed them ANYTHING. So even assigning a student to bring in something different everyday and see if the rat eats it would be an awesome way to learn about it’s digestive system and how it can handle so much crap. Thanks for sharing, I enjoyed it! 🙂


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