Project Description

How to Teach Life Cycles

Teaching life cycles to students is a way to engage young minds in the abstract concepts that we associate with birth, aging, and death while using a particular model of the process to deliver a basic cornerstone of science education. By learning about the life cycle of a fly or a frog, a butterfly or a chicken, children can be introduced to the marvelous intricacies of the natural world around us. By expanding the learning process to include vocabulary development, comprehension, guided writing, Venn Diagrams, activities, and crafts, its education is enriched in both engrossing and comprehensive format.

Photo credit: ESB Professional,

Vocabulary Development

Think and Discuss Strategy

Providing students with the structure and time to think about the life cycles encourages an individual way of understanding the topic and then sharing their ideas with another classmate. The students themselves generate classroom participation rather than simply reciting answers to the teacher’s questions.

Picture Glossary

A picture glossary is an effective way to teach the concept of life cycles while expanding the student’s vocabulary.   For instance, if the subject is the life cycle of the butterfly, children may see images of caterpillars, larva, milkweed, wings, etc. and associate these illustrations with the words that match them.  Teachers can use this format to teach the lesson and parents can also use the material to reinforce what is being taught.

Visual Learning

The classroom itself is also a teaching tool, as anchor charts, word walls, and posters present the life cycles in a vivid and colorful medium.


What about a PowerPoint presentation to show the different development stages, with keywords spotlighted on the individual slides?  The slides may also be printed in booklet form to read to one another in small groups to facilitate guided readings. By listing several keywords on an index card, the students have cues that they can use to summarize the main concepts of the life cycles.

Flash Cards

To develop a complete understanding of life cycles, the teacher may choose to use flashcards for the students.   This tried-and-true teaching tool allows the student to absorb facts in a method that’s easily absorbed and can also be fun, as a student tests his or her own knowledge against the flashcard.

Developing Comprehension and Understanding of Life Cycle Sequencing

Teaching life cycle sequencing helps the student learn that events happen in a particular order:  a butterfly does not emerge from the cocoon until it has first become a caterpillar. There are specific events in the process, and lessons can be developed that strengthen the understanding of the sequence of events in the life cycle.

Cutting and Pasting Pictures

This format is useful when combining a vocabulary log with the actual stages of the life cycle. Cutting out pictures of the life cycle and arranging them in sequence teaches the student what happens during each phase.  Labelling each stage supports the learning process and reinforces an understanding of the sequencing.

Vocabulary Log

The student will delve into the words used in the life cycle lesson by creating a vocabulary log.  Categories for the log include:

  • The target word;
  • The definition of the word that fits the context in the life cycle lesson;
  • An associated meaning of the word;
  • Relating the meaning of the word.

Guided Writing

Guided writing allows the teacher to work with a group of students to encourage learning the life cycles through writing. Using a writing journal, the student will describe the individual stages of the animal’s life cycle, using the vocabulary that is relevant to the animal. Some students may have difficulty with guided writing assignments, but this is where the vocabulary log, the picture glossary, and other supports can help the student develop a deeper understanding through the life cycles’ writing.

Venn Diagram

The evolution of an animal through the stages of its life, comparing and contrasting the life cycles, can be effectively demonstrated using Venn Diagrams. A student can compare two different species—for instance, a bear and a human—by creating one Venn Diagram showing the life cycle of a bear on the left side of the paper and another Venn Diagram that describes the life cycle of a human on the paper’s right side.  Using words that compare and contrast, the student will determine what characteristics belong in the overlapping section of the Venn Diagram.

Supplementing the Learning Process

Drawing and Labeling the Life Cycle

This basic exercise details the specific facts of the animal’s life cycle so that the student is able to understand, in a methodical and orderly fashion, the steps that the animal undergoes throughout its life.

Memory Game

Games are a fun way to instill concepts in a student.  Students can engage in a memory game, matching the picture or word with the appropriate life cycle stage. The “I Have, Who Has” game can be played with the entire class or in small groups.

Small-Group Play

  • The student deals the cards to all the players.
  • Players arrange the cards, face up, in front of them. Students may be encouraged to develop a system for arranging their cards, for instance, in order from the least to the greatest, so that they can find their cards quickly.
  • Someone asks the question.
  • The student with the card that answers the question reads the answer.
  • The student then reads the question on the card.
  • The student turns over the card after reading it.
  • The first person to turn over all his/her cards is the winner of the game.

Classroom Play

  • The teacher distributes a card to each student.
  • Extra cards are distributed to the stronger students when the game is first played; later, as the students are more familiar with the cards, they may be handed out randomly.
  • Choose the student with the starter card to begin the game.
  • Play continues until returning to the original card.

After the students have become adept at the game, the teacher may add a new element: a stopwatch. The students will try to compete with their previous time.

Life Cycle Craft

There is an abundance of crafts that supplement the teaching life cycles. Depending upon the ages of the students, crafts may be simple or elaborate. In many cases, paper plates, construction paper, glue, uncooked pasta, yarn, and food coloring are needed to inspire a child’s artistic creativity while providing a visual resource for the life cycle lesson.