Group Discussion: Animals and Pets

Hello and thank you for checking out the Start Gate English blog!

Every week on Monday at 3pm and Tuesday at 7pm we have a one-hour group discussion on a different topic. This class is open to any and all students, but recommended for intermediate and advanced. We have 2-4 students in each class. The teacher asks questions and discusses the answers with the students, and students can ask questions to each other (and the teacher, too!). You are welcome to bring a dictionary or ask the teacher if you need help. One lesson is 1500-2500 yen, depending on how many tickets you buy. If you are interested, please check out the website or contact me directly. If you are not available on Monday at 3pm or Tuesday at 7pm, but would like to join, please tell me your available days and times and I will be happy to set up another class for you!

On to the discussion!

First, here is the lexical set (a group of words and expressions necessary for the discussion):

Animals and Pets Lexical Set






Trick(s) [芸当]





Grow up with





Acceptable [容認できる]





It’s ok to V (O) […をしても大丈夫です。]

Look like […のように見える]

Pros and cons [賛否両論]

What do you think of… […のことをどう思いますか?]

What about N is ADJ? [名詞のどこが形容詞?]

N = noun

V = verb

O = object

Now, here are the questions and answers:

1. Do you like animals?

Most of the students liked animals, but one student kind of likes them. One student said she loved all kinds of animals, even insects!  Her favorite animal is an alpaca!  She likes it because there’s a famous Japanese cartoon character that is an alpaca.

2. What do you think of zoos?

One student didn’t like them.  He felt that animals should live in their natural habitats.  Other students, on the other hand, found them beneficial: we can see animals that we normally couldn’t see, like penguins.  This is especially good for children who are curious about animals.

3. Do you often see any animals in your neighborhood?  What kind?

One student said he sometimes sees weasels, squirrels and rabbits.  Another student said she saw stray cats and dogs.  Another student used to live in a rural area, so he sometimes saw raccoons, foxes, moles, rats, snakes and other wild animals.  I didn’t know there were moles in Japan!  All of the students said they’ve seen insects and crows.

4. Are you afraid of any animals?  What kind?  What about them is scary?

Most of the students were afraid of snakes!  One student said he was afraid of rats and some students said they were afraid of sharks.  One student’s wife and daughter were afraid of cockroaches.  One student said she wasn’t afraid of any animals!

One student said it was the shape of the snake that was scary.  He also said the way they slither is scary.  We also discussed the group named “slytherins” in Harry Potter and the meaning of “slithery”, an adjective that is related to the verb “slither”.  As for sharks, the students said Jaws made them scared of sharks!  Their pointy, sharp teeth are scary too.

5. Have you ever ridden an animal?  What kind?

Most of the students have ridden horses before.  One student said he took horseback riding lessons before.  Another student said he rode an elephant in Thailand once!  Another student said she has ridden a turtle before!

6. Is it ok to eat meat?  What do you think of vegetarians?

All of the students thought it was ok to eat meat.  They all concluded that animal protein was necessary.  They had mixed feelings about vegetarians and vegetarianism.  One student said he thought vegetarians couldn’t get the right type of protein.  One student said she would like to be a vegetarian, but then she changed her mind a few minutes later!  LOL

7. What kinds of animals can people keep as pets in Japan?  What are some unusual pets you’ve seen in Japan?

The students said that birds and fish are common animals to keep as pets.  One student’s grandchildren keep beetles as pets!  One student said he went to one of his son’s childhood friend’s home and they had five snakes!  Another student said one of his neighbor’s owned an iguana, a big reptile.  One student also mentioned that he saw that someone owned a crocodile as a pet on TV.  Another student said she has seen monkeys in pet shops.

8. Do you have any pets?  Did you grow up with pets in your home?

Most of the students currently did not have pets.  One student has a dog.  He’s a five-year old Shiba.  He has brown fur and a curly tail.  He can do some tricks: he can sit and lay down.  One student said he was too busy to keep pets.  The other is not a big fan of pets.  One student always had a dog and a cat when he was growing up.  One student said his brother raised a parakeet as well as up to 10 pigeons at one time!

9. What kind of pet or pets is or are best to own and why?

Many students thought dogs are the best because they are easiest to understand; they are very similar to people.

10. What do you think of animal testing?  Is it acceptable?

One student said he thought it was acceptable on any kind of animal.  But he understood why some people would be against it: Animals seems to have consciousness, like human beings.  Dolphins, for example, seem very similar to humans.

That’s it!

Again, we have these discussion groups every Monday at 3pm and Tuesday at 7pm, and anybody is welcome to join!  If you would like to join, but aren’t available on Monday at 3pm and Tuesday at 7pm, please contact me! Next week’s topic will be Friends and Friendship!  Hope to see you there!

New vocabulary used during the lesson:


Alpacas: アルパカ

Beetles: カブト虫

Cockroaches: ゴキブリ

Crows: カラス

Foxes: キツネ

Iguanas: イグアナ

Moles: モグラ

Parakeets: インコ

Parrots: オウム

Pigeons: 鳩

Raccoons: アライグマ

Reptiles: 爬虫類

  • Remember, in English, “animals” refers to all living things that can move by themselves, including fish, birds, reptiles and insects!  So even mosquitoes or spiders are considered animals.

Adjectives for describing animals in English:

  • Domestic: 家庭の

– relating to the house or family

  • Domestic animal: 家畜

– an animal kept by people, usually as a pet.

Example: Most dogs are domestic animals.  Tigers are not domestic animals!

  • Stray: はぐれた

– have wandered away from one’s natural habitat or home

  • Stray animal: 野良ー

Stray dog/cat: 野良犬・野良猫

Example: There are a lot of stray cats in my neighborhood.

  • Wild: 野育ちの

– opposite of domestic

Wild animals: 野生動物

Example: You can see wild animals in the zoo.

Other related words!

  • Slither (V): 滑るように進む

– glide or slide; describes the way a snake moves

Example: The snake slithered across the grass.

  • Slithery(ADJ):

Literal meaning: ずるずる滑った

Figurative meaning: 狡猾な (negative!)

– Literal meaning: to be slippery, to slide a lot

– Figurative meaning: tricky, clever, cunning (negative!)


1. Snakes are slithery.

2. That guy is very slithery.  I don’t trust him.

  • Habitat (N): 生息場所

– The area or environment where something or someone naturally lives.

Example: The jungle is a lion’s natural habitat.

  • Fur (N): 毛

– The hair covering the body of a mammal.

Example: Your dog has really long fur!

注意! Most Japanese call this hair!  Only humans and monkeys have hair.  Other mammals have fur.

Animal Collocation

I noticed my students often used incorrect verbs with pets or animals:


raise pets X

To “raise an animal” means to help an animal grow for a specific purpose, usually to eat later or as a circus animal, for example!  Most people don’t help their pets grow for a specific purpose, they just want to have a pet.

grow up pets X

This is grammatically incorrect.  “Grow up” is an intransitive verb, so it cannot be used with a direct object.  So “A pet grows up” makes sense, but “I grow up a pet” has no meaning in English.

bring up pets X

To “bring up” something means to take care of AND educate!  Most of us don’t “educate” animals, we just take care of them.


Keep a pet O

Have a pet O

Take care of a pet O

Own a pet O

Other useful vocabulary and expressions:

  • Besides (PREP): 以外「に」

– in addition to, other than, except for

Example: Besides soccer, I also play baseball and tennis.

  • Curl (V): ひねる

– twist into a spiral shape

Example: When did you curl your hair?

  • Curly (ADJ): 巻き毛の

– having or looking like curls

Examples: My dog’s fur is very curly.

  • Hold: [手に] 持つ

– keep in one’s hand

Example: Hold (on to) the hand rail while on the escalator.

  • Rural (ADJ): 田舎の

– relating to the countryside

Example: Shiga is a very rural area.

  • “There are all kinds of people in this world” ・さまざまな人がいます。


  • (have) mixed feelings (about N)・[名刺についての] 複雑な心境 [です]。

Example: I have mixed feelings about getting married.

  • I guess… ・ やっぱり。。

Example: Hmm.  The map said the restaurant was here, but I don’t see it.  I guess this is the wrong place.

  • Would like to be N名刺になれればいい。

Example: I would like to be a vegetarian, but I like meat too much.

Useful Communication Patterns!

I’ve noticed that my students often want to ask questions or say certain things, so I’ve included some patterns here that you can use when you are having communication problems in English!

  • What does ___ means?  Use this question when you want to understand the meaning of a word or expression!
  • What does ___ mean in this context?  Use this question when you want to understand what a word or expression means in the conversation you are having!  This is often useful when you hear a word you know but you don’t understand why the speaker used it that time.
  • Could you give me an example of ___?  Use this question if you want to hear an example instead of an explanation.  Sometimes it’s easier to understand examples, so this question is pretty useful!
  • How do you pronounce this?  Use this question when you see or read a word but you don’t know how to pronounce it.  Be sure to point at the word when you say “this”!



A: Lions are carnivorous animals!

B: Did you say “carnivorous”?

A: Yes, I did!

B: What does carnivorous mean?

A: It means only eats meat.

B: Oh, I see!  Thank you!


A: This wine ages well.

B: Did you say “ages”?

A: Yup!

B: I see.  I know what “age” means, but what does “ages” mean in this context?

A: Oh, it means to become mature, to taste better.

B: Oh, I see!  Thanks.


A: A pig is a mammal.

B: Did you say “mammal”?

A: Yeah.

B: What does mammal mean?

A: It’s a warm-blooded animal that feeds its baby milk.

B: Umm… I still don’t understand.  Could you give me an example of a mammal?

A: Sure.  Dogs are mammals.  Cats are mammals.  Monkeys are mammals…

B: Oh, I see! 哺乳類! Thank you!

Additional advice!

Some of my students make very common mistakes while they speak.  Here are some mistakes that my students made this week, as well as the correct, more natural expressions that native English speakers use!

  • MISTAKE #1

A: Do you like animals?

B: So so.  X

The question was a yes/no question.  Usually we just answer with yes or no, but sometimes we have mixed feelings.  In these situations, Japanese people often say “so so” but that’s incorrect!  The correct answer is “kind of” or “sort of”.


A: Do you like animals?

B: Kind of. O

“So so” is in between “good” and “bad”.  “Kind of” is in between “yes” and “no”.

A: How was the movie?

B: So so. O

A: Did you like the movie?

B: Kind of. O

  • MISTAKE #2

A: I have a dog.  Dog name is Shiba.  X

Shiba is not a name of a dog.  It’s a kind of dog!


A: I have a dog.  It is a Shiba. O

A: I have a dog.  My dog is a Shiba. O

People give animals or other people names.

A: I have a dog.  His name is Kentaro.  He is a Shiba.

A: I have a dog.  My dog’s name is Kentaro.  He is a Shiba.

  • MISTAKE #3

A: What’s your favorite animal?

B: My favorite animal is an alpaca.

A: An alpaca?  What is that?

B: It’s an animal. X

Look at the first question.  The topic is animals, so Person A already knows that an alpaca is an animal!  This answer isn’t helpful.  LOL  Instead, it’s better to describe it (talk about its appearance, for example!)


A: What’s your favorite animal?

B: My favorite animal is an alpaca.

A: An alpaca?  What is that?

B: It’s an animal that looks like a llama.  O

B: It looks like a llama. O

  • MISTAKE #4

A: What kind of animals do you like?

B: I like dogs.

A: Only dogs?  What else do you like?

B: Besides dogs?  X

This is actually not too bad.  If your tone is very natural, it sounds good and a native speaker can understand this.  But sometimes it’s confusing, because it’s not a full sentence.  If you want to clarify what the other person is asking you, try this:


A: What kind of animals do you like?

B: I like dogs.

A: Only dogs?  What else do you like?

B: Do you mean besides dogs?  O

That’s it!  I hope that was helpful!  See you next week!


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