Elk Communication – Early Elementary (PEEC)


Participants will learn how elk communicate with other elk and why this is important to the herd. The information will be reinforced using a game of Elk Asks where the participants will act out ways elk communicate.

Grade Level:

K - 4

Recommended Setting:

Indoor classroom

Outdoor Activity:



Ponca Elk Education Center, Ponca, AR


Education Program Coordinator, 870-861-2432



30 - 40 minutes

Suggested Number of Participants:

Up to 25


  • Learn how elk communicate
  • Exhibit how elk communicate through play.

Key Terms*:

Alarmed stance


Courtship stance

Fighting stance

Herding stance

Submissive stance

Threatening stance

*See glossary for definations


Elk silhouette communication cards

Rubber stamp and ink pad (optional)


Elk, like other animals, communicate with one another. They communicate through noise and body postures.



  1. Strike various poses that clearly communicate something (looking sick, scared, anxious, very excited, etc.) Ask the participants to guess what you are trying to tell them.
  2. Have the participants share some poses they know might mean something (what their parents look like when they are unhappy with the child or proud of them).
  3. Discuss other ways humans communicate with each other.
  4. Show them a picture of an elk. Explain that elk, like other animals (including humans) also communicate with one another. Unlike humans, however, they cannot use words, only noise and body postures.
  5. Hold up one body posture language card at a time. Let the participants guess what the elk is communicating, then tell them. Be sure to include the following information:
    • Submissive posture – head and neck lowered, nose stretched out and ears folded back, sometimes while crouching down. Cows use this posture when a bull is courting or herding them around. Small bulls will also act submissive to avoid a costly fight with a larger bull.
    • Fighting posture – standing on hind legs and flailing front hooves with ears laid back. Both bulls and cows may assume this posture when fighting over the best food, bedding areas and other scarce resources.
    • Threatening posture – ears laid back, nostrils flared, upper lip curled, head and neck upright. These signs mean an elk may rise up on its back legs and fight. Cows, calves and bulls without antlers threaten each other this way when they compete for food.
    • Herding posture – ears laid back, antlers tilted back, neck stretched out low, nose tipped up and eyes open wide. A bull will use this posture to let stray cows know they should stick with the group or “harem,” or he might chase after them. Sometimes the bull will yelp and bugle while in this posture.
    • Courtship posture – antlers and head held high and slightly forward, tongue sticking out. This is how a bull approaches a cow when trying to attract her during the mating season or rut. Using this posture, an older bull will gently move toward the cow, displaying his antlers to impress while trying not to threaten her.
    • Alarmed posture – head held high, body standing straight and tall, leaning slightly forward, ears cocked forward or to the side, eyes wide open and nostrils flared. An alarmed elk moves stiffly but is ready to take off in a flash if there is truly danger in the area. Sometimes elk will “bark” sharply when nervous to warn others in the herd. In the early summer, cow elk use the alarm posture and bark to tell their newborn calves to dive for cover.
  6. As a group, devise ways these postures can be demonstrated. For example, place the hands at the ears, pressing them forward to demonstrate “ears cocked forward,” or place the hands on top of the head, fingers held wide to demonstrate the antlers during a posture.
  7. After the class has determined what each posture will look like, play the game, Elk Asks (Simon Says). Participants stand up, facing the instructor. The instructor will say, “Elk asks for _______ pose.” Then the participants will strike that pose. If the instructor asks for a pose without saying “elk asks” first, the participants should not strike that pose. If they do, they are out of the game. Continue to play until the postures have been displayed a few times or there is only one player left.


After introducing the participants to the different postures, group them into two teams. Line them up and have a posture identification relay race. To play, call out a posture, and have the first participant on each team run and touch that silhouette. This participant will then run to the back of the line, and the instructor will call out another posture to be tagged by the next two participants. Continue until all participants have had a turn tagging one or more postures. Stamp the players’ hands at the end of the game


  • Why does a bull elk use the herding posture?
  • Why do cows and calves threaten each other?
  • What kind of noise does a bull elk make to communicate with other elk?



Alarmed stance (elk) – stance in which the head is held high, the body is straight and tall, leaning slightly forward, the ears are cocked forward or to the side, the eyes are wide open and the nostrils are flared


Communicate (animal) – any behavior on the part of one animal that affects the current or fture behavior of another


Courtship stance (elk) – stance in which the antlers and head are held high and slightly forward with tongue sticking out


Fighting stance (elk) – stance in which the elk is standing on the hind legs and flailing the front hooves with ears laid back


Herding stance (elk) – stance in which the elk’s ears are laid back, the antlers are tilted back, the neck is stretched out low, the nose is tipped up and the eyes are open wide


Submissive stance (elk) – stance in which the head and neck are lowered, the nose is stretched out and the ears are folded back; sometimes occurs while the elk is crouching down


Threatening stance (elk) – stance in which the elk’s ears are laid back, the nostrils are flared, the upper lip is curled back and the head and neck are upright