What Is a Life Cycle?

Virginia Dept. Of Education
Type Category
Instructional Materials Assessment Materials
This resource, vetted by NSTA curators, is provided to teachers along with suggested modifications to make it more in line with the vision of the NGSS. While not considered to be "fully aligned," the resources and expert recommendations provide teachers with concrete examples and expert guidance using the EQuIP rubric to adapted existing resources. Read more here.


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Students explore and develop an understanding of a variety of animal life cycles through reading and research, investigation and data collection, mathematical analysis, and presentation in this five lesson unit. In Session 1, students read a teacher-selected non-fiction text about any species and begin a class chart to record "Young Animals That Look Like Their Parents / Young Animals That Don't Look Like Their Parents". In Session 2 they explore butterflies and moths life cycles as well as wing symmetry using pattern blocks. Session 3 revolves around the life cycle of frogs and includes an activity researching and graphing frog lengths on a ruler.  Session 4 and 5 invlolve creating life cycle models and a life cycle project that acts as a summative assessment. Though this lesson sequence is one of seven from a unit on Virginia-native animals, the authors have chosen to allow teachers discretion in selecting available non-fiction texts about animal life cycles and written generic lessons that map apply to any organism. Interested teachers my want to view the opther topics in this unit at: http://www.doe.virginia.gov/instruction/cross-curricular_instruction/science/animals_habitats/



Intended Audience

Educational Level
  • Upper Elementary
  • Grade 5
  • Grade 4
  • Grade 3
Access Restrictions

Free access - The right to view and/or download material without financial, registration, or excessive advertising barriers.

Performance Expectations

3-LS1-1 Develop models to describe that organisms have unique and diverse life cycles but all have in common birth, growth, reproduction, and death.

Clarification Statement: Changes organisms go through during their life form a pattern.

Assessment Boundary: Assessment of plant life cycles is limited to those of flowering plants. Assessment does not include details of human reproduction.

This resource is explicitly designed to build towards this performance expectation.

Comments about Including the Performance Expectation
This resource is focused explicitly on students learning about the life cycles of the multiple animals of different types, discussing, writing about and comparing them, and making models of them to demonstrate understanding. The animals in this lesson are butterflies, moths and frogs - all animals that undergo metamorphosis (young animals that do not look like their parents). Students would need to learn about life cycles of young animals that look like their parents (possibly from the teacher-selected texts) as well as the life cycles of plants to fully meet this performance expectation.

Science and Engineering Practices

This resource is explicitly designed to build towards this science and engineering practice.

Comments about Including the Science and Engineering Practice
Students review symmetry and then create visual models of one moth or butterfly wing and challenge a partner to match the opposite side. They create visual and written models to describe the life cycles and physical characteristics of frogs, butterflies, and other animals. To better address this practice, students could predict similarities and differences between these life cycles and those of other types of animals. This could also be done with plants to more fully develop understanding of the performance expectation.

Disciplinary Core Ideas

This resource is explicitly designed to build towards this disciplinary core idea.

Comments about Including the Disciplinary Core Idea
This core idea is explicitly addressed, but students will benefit from examining similarities among various organisms as well. Since teachers will choose different texts for use in some activities, not all will address reproduction directly. This unit does a thorough job of comparing the life cycles of animals, but to more fully address the Core Idea, the teacher should also follow up with lessons on the life cycles of plants.

Crosscutting Concepts

This resource appears to be designed to build towards this crosscutting concept, though the resource developer has not explicitly stated so.

Comments about Including the Crosscutting Concept
Students learn about the life cycles of several animals in this unit, but are not explicitly asked to use patterns as a basis for explanations. After looking at the first life cycle (butterflies), the students could then predict what the life cycle of the second animal might look like (moths), and after studying the second animal, they could predict the life cycle of the third (frog). The teacher could point out patterns (differences between male and female from length, similarity of life stages among seemingly diverse species, etc.) and ask students to notice their own. This can provide support for explanations of plant or animal classification, and similarities between life cycles of different organisms. For a resource providing examples and worksheets about many types of animal life cycles, navigate to http://www.kidzone.ws/animals/lifecycle.htm

Resource Quality

  • Alignment to the Dimensions of the NGSS: Students completing this topic will be engaging multiple dimensions to make sense of phenomena through a series of logically sequenced lessons that also incorporate CCSS skills in Math (symmetry, measurement), and ELA (identification of non-fiction text features, research). Teacher selection of animals and texts encourages use of local species familiar to students. For teachers that choose other species, some handouts may need to be recreated to match them. Since the crosscutting concept is not explicit in the lesson, The teacher would need to make it more explicit through questioning or making it a part of comparison of the models.

  • Instructional Supports: Students have opportunities to represent their ideas and explanations orally, in writing, and using models. Use of teacher-selected texts facilitates connecting instruction to the students' community. Struggling students will benefit from the partner activities and from whole group clarifying/review activities, although there are no differentiation supports. Illustrations, photos, screenshots and handouts provide necessary materials, and suggestions are made for accessing other resources. Management tips are suggested, and questions for each phase of each lesson are provided, along with the answers.

  • Monitoring Student Progress: Students make claims in journal entries and orally, create diagrams and physical models of animal life cycles, compare them on a Venn diagram, and engage in ongoing discourse. Simple criteria are provided for the physical life cycle models, but not an analytic rubric. A formative assessment probe like Page Keeley's "Does it Have a Life Cycle" can provide valuable information about student preconceptions prior to starting the unit.

  • Quality of Technological Interactivity: Links are provided to information on frogs of Virginia for research on length to analyze. The authors suggest that the life cycle models could be create in the form of a slide presentation or claymation video if the technology is available to do so.