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Curriculum Matrix

Lesson Plan

Think in Pictures: Like Dr. Grandin (Grades 3-5)

Grade Level
3 - 5

Students compare agricultural inventors and inventions by creating a timeline of important dates, explore cattle flight zones, and work as agricultural engineers to design a corral system that uses the research of Dr. Temple Grandin. Grades 3-5

Estimated Time
2.5 hours
Materials Needed


Activity 1: Comparing Inventors

Activity 2: Cattle Flight Zones

Activity 3: Curved Cattle Chute



agricultural engineer: career in which people design farm machinery or help plan farm structures

alleyway: a narrow corridor built for livestock to travel through when being herded from one location to another nearby

flight zone: distance from an animal a handler must maintain for the animal to feel comfortable

handling: the manner in which an animal is treated

livestock: farm animals (such as cows, horses, and pigs) that are kept, raised, and used by people

squeeze chute: a device used to restrain large animals, especially cattle and horses

Did You Know?
  • Temple Grandin was diagnosed with autism at age 2 and only began speaking after she was four years old. She went on to earn a bachelor's degree in psychology from Franklin Pierce College, a master's degree in animal science from Arizona State University, and a doctoral degree in animal science from the University of Illinois.
  • In 2010, Temple Grandin was included in Time magazine's list of 100 most influential people in the world in the "Heroes" category.
  • Dr. Grandin is an advocate of humane livestock practices and improvements of standards in slaughter houses, serves as a consultant to the livestock industry regarding animal treatment and behavior, and is a professor at Colorado State University.
Background Agricultural Connections

Moving livestock can be difficult if you do not understand how the animals think and move. Livestock handlers want to keep their animals calm when moving them to avoid stress and injury. If there are loud noises or other distractions, such as sights or even smells, many animals will become fearful or hesitant to move. An animal that is afraid can be dangerous for both the animal and the handler. Keeping the area free of distractions can help reduce animal handling problems. If the animals are kept calm and feel safe, they will usually move with little or no effort. Handlers want to keep animals calm so the animals are not negatively impacted. Stressed animals can have lower weight, reduced reproduction rates, and increased sickness.

Cattle producers use alleyways and squeeze chutes to move cattle while doctoring them. By understanding cattle behavior, such as their flight zones, along with creating alleyways and chutes with rounded turns and closed sides, producers can keep livestock calm. This greatly reduces the animals' stress levels while they are being handled. Understanding animal instincts allows producers to handle them easier.

As animals of prey, livestock have wide angle vision, which allows them to see predators as well as handlers. Cattle and pigs have a visual field in excess of 300°. In sheep, the visual field ranges from 191° to 306° depending on the amount of wool on the head. Due to their wide angle vision, they are aware of their surroundings. If the handler is in their blind spot, the animal will turn to see them.

Dr. Temple Grandin, a professor at Colorado State University, focuses on animal behavior and has made, and continues to make, a huge impact on how livestock are handled. She researches how livestock perceive their environment and helps producers develop livestock handling facilities that help keep animals calm.

Temple Grandin was diagnosed with autism as a young girl in the 1950s. In 1961, she spent the summer at her aunt's ranch in Arizona. She became interested in the cattle and realized they were visual thinkers; they saw the world in much the same way as her and noticed details in their surroundings most people missed. In fact, Temple often describes herself as someone who "thinks in pictures." As a senior in high school in 1965, she created her first invention, a squeeze machine. The inspiration for this invention came from cattle chutes that keep cattle calm during vaccinations by squeezing them firmly, like a hug. Temple grew to love animals and earned her master's degree in Animal Science in 1975. In 1976, she invented the curved chute system for moving cattle. She earned her doctoral degree in Animal Science in 1989. Dr. Grandin was inducted into the National Cowgirl Hall of Fame in 2010 and was also named one of Time magazine's 100 most influential people that year.

Dr. Grandin's research led her to believe that the way animals, especially cattle, are handled and transported can potentially cause stress, pain, and fear. When cattle are moved on wet or slippery slopes or in poorly lit areas, they can be injured. She believes that this is cruel and unnecessary. In order to design a better system for handling livestock, she decided to put herself through the handling process. Using her instincts, which are often similar to cattle, she realized cattle prefer pens and chutes with solid sides and well lit areas, keeping them free from distractions, dark tight spaces, and shadows which could scare the cattle. Her invention of the curved chute system came from the realization that cattle tend to move in a circular pattern around their handlers. By designing a system with solid walls, non-slip floors, and a curved walkway allowing cattle to move in a single-file line through the alley, cattle are handled in a calm manner. Today, half of the cattle in United States and Canadian meat processing plants are handled with equipment that Grandin designed.

Dr. Temple Grandin travels and speaks to groups about animal behavior. Many professional speakers wear suits, however Dr. Grandin is well known for her unique style. She wears Western shirts, often paired with cowboy scarves. She may wear fancy or simple Western shirts, but her Western shirts are as constant as her passion for agriculture. In 2011, she even wore a Western shirt to the Golden Globe Awards in Hollywood!

Agricultural engineers are important to livestock producers. They often assist producers in designing livestock handling areas using the research from Dr. Grandin. They help producers apply basic science and engineering principles as they develop these livestock facilities. Often, agricultural engineers design machinery such as tractors and implements, animal housing or handling facilities, irrigation and drainage systems, and soil conservation systems. Agricultural engineers help design methods to decrease labor, which also increases a producer's ability to produce food. 

  1. Discuss the words and definitions from the Thinking in Pictures Word List.
  2. Use the Thinking in Pictures Frayer Model to focus on unfamiliar vocabulary words.
  3. Show the students the video Thinking in Pictures: The Temple Grandin Story.
  4. Discuss what it would be like to "think in pictures."
  5. Share words from the word list and ask students to share what they see in their mind. Emphasize that there are no right or wrong ways to think; we all think differently.
  6. Divide into two teams. Each person will take turns being the team illustrator.
  7. Set the timer for 3-5 minutes. Both teams will pick a card and draw at the same time. For each new word, a new person should draw. Teams will keep track of how many words they guess correctly. The team with the most correct words wins. The teams will have the same words to illustrate, but might not draw them in the same order.
  8. Explain to the students that they will be exploring how "thinking in pictures" helped Temple Grandin to develop livestock management systems that benefitted the animals and the agriculture industry.
Explore and Explain

Activity 1: Comparing Inventors

  1. Read the books The Girl Who Thought in Pictures: The Story of Dr. Temple Grandin by Julia Finley Mosca and John Deere, That's Who! by Tracy Nelson Maurer.
  2. Have the students use the Temple Grandin and John Deere reading pages and the Comparing Inventors Timelines to construct a timeline for both Dr. Grandin and John Deere to show important dates in the lives of the inventors. 
  3. Lead a discussion about how Temple Grandin's and John Deere's inventions benefitted agriculture.
  4. Provide each student with a copy of the Comparing Inventors Venn Diagram and ask them to complete the graphic organizer to show similarities and difference between the inventors and their inventions.

Activity 2: Cattle Flight Zones

  1. Show the video Understanding Flight Zones to help students understand what a flight zone is and how it affects the comfort of the animals.
  2. Discuss cattle movement and how entering and exiting the flight zone affects their movement.
  3. Pass out a Cattle Flight Zones Reading Page and a Cattle Flight Zones Reading Comprehension Sheet to each student. Ask the students to do a close reading of the reading page and then complete the comprehension sheet. 

Activity 3: Curved Cattle Chute

  1. Present the following scenario to the students: A local cattle operation has a problem. They need to move their cattle from pasture through a cattle chute to doctor them, but the cattle are afraid to walk through the chute. 
  2. Explain to the students that their job is to design a cattle chute using the following guidelines:
    • The chute should have at least 3 turns causing the cattle to change directions.
    • The chute should end with a squeeze chute or pen to collect cattle.
    • The chute should start wide and then narrow as it reaches the squeeze chute or final pen, requiring the cattle to move through in a single-file line.
  3. Pass out an Engineering Process handout to each student. Walk through the engineering process as a class.
  4. Organize the students into small groups and have each group work as a team to design a cattle chute using the Engineering Process.
  5. Provide each group with a paper plate, scissors, glue, and tape and access to card stock, yarn, straws, construction paper, and pipe cleaners to construct their prototypes. Give each group marbles to represent the cattle who will be moving through the chute.
  6. After the prototypes are built and tested, allow time for the groups to share their designs. Ask the students to consider the following:
    • What happened to the marble's motion when it hit the wall?
    • Can the motion be predicted?
    • Was there a change in energy?
    • How does this compare to how cattle process information and respond to the chute and/or distractions?
  7. Show the video Design of Curved Cattle Chutes.
  8. Discuss cattle movement and chute design. How do cattle use their senses to process information? Discuss how the chutes on the video are similar and different from the student designs.
  9. Challenge the students to modify their projects to create a chute that follows Dr. Grandin's guidelines—solid walls and curved alleyways which narrow—but do not duplicate the chute shown in the video.
  10. Have the students measure the length and width of their alleyways and the angle of their turns and then compare their designs. Ask the students to consider the following:
    • Which angles worked best to turn the cattle?
    • Does the length and width of the alleyways affect the cattle movement? 
    • What is the widest the chute can be to only allow one calf to pass through at a time? 
  • Temple Grandin wears Western shirts, often paired with cowboy scarves. Watch the video Temple Grandin and Her Cowboy Shirts. Discuss facts the students have learned about Temple Grandin such as her inventions, her thinking, her autism, and her impact on agriculture. Have the students use the Design a Western Shirt and Scarf activity sheets found in this lesson's Essential Files to design a unique Western shirt and scarf. Have the students share their designs and explain what inspired them.

  • Read the book How to Build a Hug: Temple Grandin and Her Amazing Squeeze Machine by Amy Guglielmo to learn more about Temple Grandin and her squeeze machine invention. The book tells the inspiring story of autism advocate Dr. Temple Grandin and her brilliant invention: the hug machine. As a young girl, Temple Grandin loved folding paper kites, making obstacle courses, and building lean-tos. But she really didn't like hugs. Temple wanted to be held—but to her, hugs felt like being stuffed inside the scratchiest sock in the world; like a tidal wave of dentist drills, sandpaper, and awful cologne, coming at her all at once. Would she ever get to enjoy the comfort of a hug? Then one day, while visiting her Aunt's cattle ranch, Temple had an idea. If she couldn't receive a hug, she would make one...she would build a hug machine!


After conducting these activities, review and summarize the following key concepts:

  • Livestock handlers want to keep their animals calm when moving them to avoid stress and injury.
  • Temple Grandin researches how livestock perceive their environment and helps producers develop livestock handling facilities that help keep animals calm.
  • By understanding cattle behavior, such as their flight zones, along with creating alleyways and chutes with rounded turns and closed sides, producers can keep livestock calm.

Some information in the Background Agricultural Connections and Activity 3 were adapted from the California Foundation for Agriculture in the Classroom lesson Build it Better .

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