Lesson plan

Chinese Zodiac Animals

Animal lovers will rejoice with this lesson about the Chinese zodiac animals. It will give young students a whole new meaning to the year they were born!
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Students will be able to communicate new information they have learned about Chinese zodiac animals through drawing and other symbolic representations.

(5 minutes)
  • Call students together. Show students a calendar.
  • Ask students to name the different days of the week.
  • Ask students to name the months of the year. (Can any students name all the days of the week and all of the months?)
  • Ask students if they know what is made up of 12 months. (Guide students to the concept of a year if necessary.)
  • Ask students if they know what year it is right now. Do they know what year they were born?
  • Show students some stuffed animals or pictures of Chinese zodiac animals and ask students to think why these might be related to years.
(15 minutes)
  • Read students The Great Race: The Story of the Chinese ZodiacBy Dawn Casey.
  • After finishing the story, ask students to name all of the animals that they remember from the book. Create a class list.
  • Then ask students to think about the qualities of the different animals in the story. Add these qualities to the list next to the animal they apply to.
(5 minutes)
  • Explain to students that the 12 Chinese zodiac animals include: Rat, Ox, Tiger, Rabbit, Dragon, Snake, Horse, Goat, Monkey, Rooster, Dog, and Pig. Every year has a specific animal associated with it.
  • Remind students of the attributes of these animals that they just listed, and tell students that people born on the year of each animal are believed to have certain characteristics associated with that animal.
  • Explain to students that they will be expressing what they know about the Chinese zodiac animals through activities at several stations. These include:
    • Creating a class Chinese zodiac mural where students can add anything they think is representative of the Chinese zodiac animals,
    • Creating a personal Chinese zodiac animal collage,
    • And making an animal mask for their favorite Chinese zodiac animal.
  • Show students where each of the various stations are located and what supplies are there:
    • A long piece of butcher paper should be spread out on table for the class Chinese zodiac mural with crayons, colored pencils, and markers spread around, so that students have access to a variety of different writing instruments.
    • The Chinese zodiac animal collage station should have scissors, magazines, construction paper, and glue/tape. Students should be encouraged to cut out any pictures that represent the Chinese zodiac animals.
    • For the animal mask station, students can either decorate pre-cut out animal faces or create their own animal face on construction paper. A hole can be punched on each side of the animal face for a string to create the final mask.
  • Before sending students off to stations to begin their work, review any expectations for independent work periods and station times. (These might include staying seated, using a quiet voice, etc.)
(20 minutes)
  • Any adults in the room should be located at the various stations keeping students on track, answering questions, and taking anecdotal notes about student work and conversations.
  • Playing soft Chinese New Year music in the background can help to create a festive feel and keep unnecessary conversations to a minimum.
  • Establishing a clear rotation among the stations and a signal to rotate can help ensure that students make it to each station before time for the activity has run out.

Support:Providing pre-cut pictures of animals can help some students. Adults can also provide assistance by providing examples of completed work at each of the stations. For students needing a little extra assistance, working with a partner can also help to scaffold this activity.

Enrichment:For students needing a greater challenge, students should be encouraged to learn what animal they are and what animal any other family members are. Using this information, they should make a Chinese zodiac mural about their family.

(5 minutes)
  • Anecdotal observations about students' contributions during class discussions and independent work time can be used to assess student knowledge about Chinese New Year and the zodiac animals involved.
  • Examinations of student drawings and the details included can be used as a tool to assess whether or not students are able to convey the information they have learned about Chinese New Year and the zodiac animals involved.
(10 minutes)
  • Call students back together.
  • Ask students to name all of the Chinese zodiac animals. Can any student name all of them by themselves?
  • Encourage students to pretend to be each of the different animals. Then have students choose their favorite animal to act out and have other students guess what animal they are pretending to be.
  • Ask students to think about all of the activities they did in the stations. Take a class vote to find out which activities were students' most and least favorites.
  • Conclude by hanging up the class mural as a reminder of the Chinese zodiac animals.

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