Show the students the front cover of Chicks and Chickens by Gail Gibbons. Begin a discussion about the physical differences and similarities from the picture which displays a rooster, hen, and a chick. Point out the size, color, and shape of each animal example. Tell the students, they will be learning about the similarities and differences in chicken breeds, the body parts of a chicken, and their life cycle.
Read pages 1-17 of Chicks and Chickens which will take you through the differences of roosters, hens, and chicks. These pages also display and label their body parts and identify certain breeds. Be sure to point out that roosters can be more colorful than hens within the same breed.
Separate the students into groups with three to four children. Give each group a Chicken Vocabulary List and have them brainstorm what they think the vocabulary words represent. Each group can be given a different list of vocabulary words. Have students define what they think the words mean and record the meaning in the space provided on the lists. If time permits they can also draw a picture to represent the meaning for each word.
Once all of the groups are done have each group report the words with their definitions. As they define a word that was labeled as a body part on the chicken seen in Chicks and Chickens, point this out in the book. The lists of vocabulary terms are grouped together focusing on certain topics. Point out that list #1 are types of chickens, list #2 are physical features found in chickens, list #3 are parts of the digestive system, list #4 are chicken behaviors, and list #5 are chicken housing needs.
Next, have each group write three sentences using a vocabulary word from their list in a sentence. These sentences can be assessed for definition accuracy as well as conventions.
Activity 2: Chicken Genetics
Use the Genetic Characteristics of Chickens PowerPoint to teach students about the basic genetic characteristics found in various breeds of chickens. Explain that each breed of chicken has specific genes which indicate what it will look like, how many eggs it will produce, how large its body will be, etc.
As you go through the PowerPoint, explain that some genetic characteristics can be seen simply by looking at a chicken. For example, feather color, feather texture, type of comb, etc. However, other characteristics cannot be seen simply by looking at a chicken. These characteristics can be measured by farmers as they keep records. For example, a farmer can record how many eggs a hen lays or how much a chicken weighs.
With a basic introduction to chicken characteristics, your students are ready to learn about a few chicken breeds. Divide your class into groups and give each group a set of eight Chicken Pictures and a blank Chicken Characteristic worksheet. Have the students look at the pictures and identify the characteristics of the chicken that are associated with its appearance. They will record these characteristics in the box. Once they are finished have the groups share their characteristics for each chicken. Compare each group's characteristics to each other. Are they similar or different? Were they able to identify feather color, egg color, feather texture, etc? Were they able to determine if the picture represented a rooster, hen, or chick?
Next, give each group one set of Description Cards. The students will match the Description Cards to the pictures. They should also be asked to compare their own, written descriptions from step 3.
Review and summarize with students that an animal's genetics determine it's physical characteristics (feather color, comb type, etc) as well as it's performance (egg or meat production). Ask your students to apply what they have learned by choosing the breed of chicken that would be best for each scenario below:
Imagine you are a chicken farmer and you are raising chickens for their meat. Which breed would you choose?
The Cornish chicken (#3) is the best meat producing chicken
Imagine you are the manager of a layer farm. Your goal is to produce quality, white-shelled eggs. Which breed of chicken will likely be best for your farm to produce the most eggs?
The White Leghorn (#2) is the best choice. White leghorn's are the most widely used breed in white-shelled egg production in the United States.
Imagine you are raising chickens in your backyard for a hobby and you'd like to learn how to show them. Which breed would you choose?
Students can choose any breed they'd like. Ornamental breeds such as the Cochin, Silkie, and Polish Crested are raised mostly for their novel feathering patterns. Hens of these breeds do produce eggs, but not as efficiently as other breeds.
Imagine you are raising chickens for eggs and you'd like brown shells. Which chicken would you pick?
The Sussex, Rhode Island Red, and Plymouth Rock all produce brown eggs. Be sure your students know that there is not a nutritional difference between white-shelled eggs and brown-shelled eggs. It is simply a consumer preference.
Ask the students questions that refer to the genetics of a chicken. If both parents are the same breed what would you expect the offspring to look like? If the parents are different breeds, what would you expect the offspring to look like? Compare the genetics of the chicken to humans. Ask the students, "What characteristics do you have that are similar or different from your parent(s)?" You can use the chicken pictures as a visual when asking these questions. Be sure to point out once again the similarities and differences found in the breeds.
Activity 3: Chicken Life Cycle
Finish reading the book, Chicks and Chickens. The last half of the book talks about the chicken life cycle. Ask the students if they can name or describe other living things that experience a cycle of life. Ask, "Do humans experience a life cycle? If so, what are the stages? If a chick takes 4-6 months to become an adult, how long does it take a child to become an adult?"
Tell the students that chickens and other birds have a unique life cycle that they will illustrate with their next class activity.
Using the Hen Picture and Life Stages Cards and the following instructions, assist students in assembling individual life cycle wheels.
Using one plate facing down, punch the brad through the center of the plate. Cut out the Hen Picture and glue onto the center front of the plate over the brad.
Cut out each Life Stage Card and punch a hole on the opposite end from the numbered tab approximately 1/2 inch from the edge of the card.
Tie each length of yarn to the brad knotting securely. Each yarn piece will attach to the brad in the center of the plate, radiate outward, and attach to an individual Life Stage Card.
Have students write the correct text on the back of each Life Stage Card. Use the attached document, Life Cycle Wheel Text.
Using the previously punched holes, tie one Life Stage Card to the end of each length of yarn.
Stretch each length of yarn with card attached out past the edge of the paper plate. Space these equally apart around the circle of the plate. Make sure that the cards are numerically sequenced.
Place the second plate on top of the first plate, face down. The plates should “nest” one inside the other.
Using five staples, secure the plates together. Ensure staples are evenly spaced around the plate making sure there is room between the staples for one card to be pulled through each space in sequence.
Have students form pairs and demonstrate their life cycle wheels to one another.
For homework, have students demonstrate and discuss their life cycle wheels with family, friends, or neighbors. Upon their return to school, have students discuss their sharing experience.
Concept Elaboration and Evaluation
After conducting these activities, review and summarize the following key concepts:
Both chicken meat and eggs are produced by chickens on farms.
Chickens grow through a life cycle just like other plants and animals. They begin their development inside an egg, they hatch approximately 21 days later, and then grow until they are mature.
There are many breeds of chickens. Each breed has a different set of genetic characteristics.
We welcome your feedback! Please take a minute to tell us how to make this lesson better or to give us a few gold stars!
Have the students watch and learn to perform The Hen Dance as a class.
Visit the Interactive Map Project website and view the map representing Egg Production in the United States. Identify the state that produces the most eggs, then find where your state ranks for egg production.
Read Issue6 of Ag Todaytitled Plants & Animals...Providing Food, Fiber, and Energy! This reader can be printed or accessed digitally. Explore the facts about the renewable and non-renewable resources that make the products and byproductswe need for survival. Learn how agriculture provides energy through biofuels and hydropower, fiber through cotton and wool, and various food products from plants and animals that have been improved through biotechnology and crossbreeding.
Visit Penn State Extension for information about the 4-H Embryology Project. To provide hands-on, experiential learning activities related to life cycles, contact the Cooperative Extension Service/4H in your county. This community agency may be able to provide materials, instruction, and expertise that will allow students to hatch chicken eggs at school. Once the chicks hatch, farmers in your area may take them to live on their farm or call your county Farm Bureau office and they may find someone for you.
Give examples of likenesses between adults and offspring in plants and animals that can be inherited or acquired. For example:Collect samples or pictures that show similarities between adults and their young offspring.
Agricultural Literacy Outcomes
Science, Technology, Engineering & Math
Provide examples of science being applied in farming for food, clothing, and shelter products (T4.3-5.d)
Food, Health, and Lifestyle
Diagram the path of production for a processed product, from farm to table (T3.3-5.b)
Plants and Animals for Food, Fiber & Energy
Provide examples of specific ways farmers meet the needs of animals (T2.3-5.d)