To help children understand the importance of carefully observing and caring for eggs and chickens in the classroom.
This lesson is intended to help students realize that they can learn a lot about chickens—and animals in general—through close observation. They also should come to understand that it is important to learn about the special needs of eggs/chicks in order to take care of them, whether on a farm or in a classroom hatching project.
This lesson can be used as an orientation for students before doing a chicken-hatching unit in class. It may also be used in conjunction with the unit to emphasize the importance of the proper care for eggs/chicks.
Students begin the lesson by expressing what they know about chickens in general and then are encouraged to think and talk about how eggs hatch into chicks and the kinds of special things that are needed to care for eggs/chicks. Students then watch a short movie of a chick hatching from an egg. They discuss what they observe to help reinforce and broaden what they are learning. Then students are prompted to think about what they would need (and how they should behave) if they were to have an egg-hatching project in their classroom. To help reinforce their ideas, they read about one kindergarten classroom's egg-hatching project and close the lesson by depicting the materials and acting out the processes and behavior that would be needed to successfully hatch eggs and take care of newborn chicks in a classroom.
In teaching students at this early level, it would be helpful if they walked away from this lesson with an understanding that they can learn a lot about the animals, plants, and other worldly things around them simply by observing and exploring. (Benchmarks for Science Literacy, p. 333.) When possible, it is recommended that students work in small teams to ask and answer questions about their surroundings and to share their findings with classmates. It is also important to foster scientific values by recognizing instances of them in the work of individual students and student groups. For example, praise should be given simply for curiosity and creativity. (Benchmarks for Science Literacy, p. 15.)
In lessons involving the collection and housing of live animals in a classroom for observation, it is important to remember that, while most children want to treat animals carefully, not all do, and that some children can be cruel. Nevertheless, students at this early level should have opportunities, in the context of science, to interact with living things in ways that promote respect. If you are not already familiar with the National Science Teachers Association's Guidelines for Responsible Use of Live Animals and Dissection in the Science Classroom, please familiarize yourself with them. (Benchmarks for Science Literacy, p. 15.)
You may wish to read Hatching Eggs: A Step by Step Guide, which details how to properly incubate eggs and care for newly hatched chicks in a classroom environment.
Another more detailed and science-related resource that is worth reading is Hatching Eggs in the Classroom: A Teacher's Guide (pdf).
You may also wish to consider these 7 Rules for a Successful School Hatching Project from My Pet Chicken.
As a fun and interesting way to get the class thinking and talking about chickens, ask a number of basic orientation questions like these:
- What can you tell me about chickens?
- What do they look like?
- What kinds of sounds do they make?
- Where do they (usually) live?
- What kinds of things do they do? Eat? Need to survive?
Once students are tuned into the lives of chickens, get them to start thinking about how baby chicks are born and the kinds of special circumstances necessary for chicks to be hatched successfully. Ask questions like these:
- How are baby chickens or "chicks" born?
- How long do you think it takes for an egg to hatch?
- What kinds of things do eggs need to hatch?
- What happens to an egg if it doesn't get these things?
- Once a chick is born, what kinds of things does it need to grow up healthy?
- Can you think of any other animals that are hatched from eggs?
(Accept all reasonable answers. Encourage students to elaborate on their responses.)
Having students think about these and other related egg-hatching questions will help them develop a better understanding of what chicks need to hatch from eggs (and the kind of special measures that would be needed if they were to do their egg-hatching project in class).
Begin this section of the lesson by asking the class this question:
- Would you like to see a baby chick being hatched?
With that, have students use their Hatching Chickens student esheet to watch Baby Chicks Hatching, a movie of an egg being hatched in an incubator, from the Museum of Science and Industry. Students can play the short movie over again and again so they can see and discuss all the different aspects of what they are observing. This would include identifying and talking about: the incubator and its purpose; how the chick uses its beak to peck out of the shell; and the look and condition of the tired, wet newborn once it has been fully hatched. This can be done by asking questions like these:
- Where is the hatching taking place?
- What is the chick doing during the hatching process?
- How does the chick look?
Make sure to emphasize the special needs and delicacy of the hatching process. Also, as noted on the website, make sure students understand that, even though the movie doesn't show it, the chick spends about 5 minutes pecking at the shell, followed by about 15 to 20 minutes of rest.
Now that students have a better idea of the birthing process and the special conditions necessary for its success, you may wish to have students do the Egg Poem and Chick Song student sheet. Students can chorally read/sing along with these works to further reinforce what they have just watched and learned about what eggs need to enable chicks to hatch.
Next, have students imagine that they have the job of taking care of and hatching some chicks in their classroom. Have them brainstorm about what the classroom would need in order to properly take care of an egg, what they would need to hatch it, and how they would care for a chick once it is hatched. Have them address key questions such as these:
- What would we need to do this project?
- What would we need to do (or not do) to help the eggs hatch?
- What would we need to do to help the chicks survive once they are born?
(Encourage all answers with students supporting their views with examples.)
To get a better idea of the kinds of things (and measures) that would be needed in an actual classroom hatching project, have students use their student esheets to watch a video Mrs. Jimenez made about agriculture in the classroom and the chicken she and her second-grade class raised. Mrs. Jimenez starts out the video by talking about the life cycle of a chicken. She then shares pictures and the story of their chick, Lucky. During the exploration and discussion, emphasize key points like:
- It takes 21 days for a chick to grow inside an egg.
- Eggs need to be warmed in an incubator when there is no hen to sit on them.
- After being hatched, chicks will need to be housed in a separate brooder, or "chicken house" with plenty of food, water, and warmth.
- The chicks will need to be taken to a farm or other place where they have room to roam about and continue to grow big and healthy.
This can be done by asking these questions, which are posed on the student esheet:
- How long does it take for a chick to grow inside an egg?
- What temperature do eggs need to be kept at? If a hen isn't around, how do you think you could keep eggs at that temperature?
- Where did the class put the chick after it was hatched?
- At the very end of the video, Mrs. Jimenez says what happens to her class chicken. Where did it go?
Make sure students understand that often some eggs do not hatch. Mrs. Jimenez's class only had one chick hatch successfully. Have students think about why this may happen. Answers may include because an egg is not healthy or doesn't get enough warmth.
Depending on your preference, student understanding of the lesson can be assessed using one of the two activities below:
Option 1: This Is How We Hatch an Egg
As a way to review the lesson material, divide the class into four main groups:
- The Eggs—two to four students who portray eggs, which hatch and become chicks
- The Incubator—four to five students hold hands in a circle to warm the incubating eggs
- The Chick House—four to five students hold hands in a circle housing the newborn chicks
- The Caretakers—the rest of the class watch over the eggs, transfer the chicks to the chick house, and provide food, water, and warmth
As suggested above, the eggs can be placed inside the hand-holding incubator group to be warmed. The caretakers can use a calendar and pretend to count off the 21 days needed for the eggs to hatch. When the special time comes, the eggs can begin to peck at their eggshells and pretend to be newborn chicks. (It might be fun to have the class sing the short "I'm a Little Chicken" song they may have performed earlier as a way to celebrate this remarkable hatching process.) Once the chicks have hatched, the caretakers will need to set up the chick house, having group members form a circle holding hands, and providing props—real or portrayed by students—for water, food, and a heat lamp. Then the caretakers can carefully move the chirping chicks to this area to be housed. After the caretakers have counted off a couple of days, they and the former incubators can gently pet and handle the growing, fluffy chirping chicks.
(If possible, at different points, members of each group should talk about what they are doing and why it is important or necessary.)
Option 2: Caring For Eggs
Hand out the Caring for Eggs and Chickens student sheet. Have students first look over the sheet, then have them circle the images or phrases that are an important part of caring for eggs during the incubation and hatching process. Conversely, have them cross out the images or phrases that are not appropriate in this process. Then hold a class discussion to discuss what students circled and crossed out and why.
To summarize the lesson, you might want to hold a general discussion reviewing what students learned from this lesson. Questions may include:
- What did you learn about chickens today?
- When hatching eggs, what do you have to be careful about?
- What special needs do chicks (and other baby animals) have?
- What kinds of things could happen if you are not careful with an egg, chick, or other animal you might be taking care of?
In addition to the resources cited as "Background Reading" at the start of this lesson, here are some other resources that can be used to help guide an in-class hatching project:
- Embryology in the Classroom
- Lancaster County 4-H Embryology: Parent and Teacher Resources
- Classroom Embryology Projects: Health Risk Myths and Facts
- Hatching Quail Eggs in the Classroom
42eXplore's Topic page on eggs features an extensive listing of diverse and interesting egg-related Web resources, lessons, games, and activity ideas that students may enjoy.