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Learning objectives

Students will learn:

  • the meaning and characteristics of sentience
  • living things, including animals under human control (such as pigs, cows and chickens) have unique needs
  • Farm animals have needs that need to be met by human carers
  • Farm animals require humane treatment and care through all stages of their life.

Vocabulary: sentience, sentient, domestic animal, natural behaviour, freedom

Lesson prep

Information for educators

The Five Freedoms for Animals outline five basic aspects of animal welfare under human control. It was originally written in 1979, and has since been adopted by professionals (e.g. veterinarians) and organisations like the World Organisation for Animal Health and the RSPCA.

The Five Freedoms are:

  1. freedom from hunger or thirst
  2. freedom from discomfort
  3. freedom from pain, injury or disease
  4. freedom to express normal behaviour
  5. freedom from fear and distress.

Teaching sentience

This lesson introduces students to the concept of animal sentience, and how it shapes animal welfare laws and practices.

Sentience is the capacity to feel, perceive or experience things, such as pain, hunger, heat or cold.

Read more about sentience here.


This lesson involves group work. You will need five Animal Cards to give to each group. These can be square cut-outs of paper. Write one animal per card: pig, hen, cow, sheep and goat. Arrange tables to accommodate five groups of students.

Materials required

References/additional links

  • A short summary of the five freedoms, including a classroom display, can be found here.

Lesson procedure


1. Brainstorm animal needs vs. plant needs. Plants need light, water, air, nutrients, and a place to grow. Animals need food, water, shelter, air, and space to survive.

Here are some animal needs that plants do not have:

  • freedom to move
  • cool shade when it’s hot
  • warmth when it’s cold
  • food (plants or other animals)
  • companionship (“friends”) from the same species.

Animal needs are different from plant needs. Remind students that humans are animals too, and share similar needs to other animals.

2. Explain that there is an important difference between animals and plants. A good way to introduce this is to ask:

  • Can you hurt a plant by cutting it? (No, in fact many plants require regular trimming to grow) 
  • Can you hurt an animal by cutting it? (Yes, animals can feel pain!)

3. Introduce the term ‘sentience’ and ‘sentient’, and talk about how animals are sentient, just like us (they can feel pain, hunger and fear), and plants are not.

Part Two

4. Brainstorm the needs of farm animals like pigs, cows, chickens and sheep. Record student responses. Some suggestions may include: food, water, shelter, warmth, space to roam, cleanliness, safety from predators, freedom from harm, and companionship.

5. Ask what will happen if these needs weren’t met. Answers may include: animals will feel sad, scared, lonely, cold, hungry, thirsty or uncomfortable.

6. Explain that animals under human control need to be cared for properly, just like companion animals like dogs and cats. Unlike wild animals whose needs are met naturally, domestic animals rely entirely on their human carers to survive.

Part Three

7. Write down the Five Freedoms for Animals on the board or display the poster provided here. Read each point one by one. The five freedoms exist because animals are sentient–they can feel pain, cold, heat, hunger, thirst, fear, distress and discomfort.

Part Four

8. Organise students into groups of five. Give each group a written label with one of the five freedoms written on it. Provide one large sheet of construction paper and coloured pencils or crayons. Then give each group one Animal Card: pig, hen, cow, sheep and goat.

Part Five

9. Instruct groups to draw a picture describing the label and animal they’ve been given. Help students research the natural behaviours of each animal. You can find helpful information from Compassion in World Farming here. For younger students, make a short list of natural behaviours for each animal.

Students may draw hens performing natural behaviours like dust bathing, pigs enjoying the sun outdoors, sheep grazing in green pastures, and cows given the freedom to feed and nurture their offspring.

Part Six

10. Gather construction paper from each group and piece them together to form a large classroom display showing all five freedoms for animals.

Additional procedure (ACSHE035)

Talk about how humans can monitor and study different animals to better understand how to meet their unique needs. For example, in recent years scientists have learned that pigs are highly social and intelligent, so are happier with companions. Hens like to dust bathe, perch and brood eggs, which means they’re not very happy living in small cages. Cows develop strong bonds with their calves and become distressed when humans separate them.

Discussion questions

  • Why don’t plants have any freedoms?
  • What ways can humans better meet the needs of farm animals?
  • Should farm animals have more freedoms?
  • What should happen if farm animals aren’t given their five freedoms?
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