Grades 6-8: The Symbolism Behind Animals of the Chinese Zodiac Blog Feature

By: Julia Cremin on February 2nd, 2015

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Grades 6-8: The Symbolism Behind Animals of the Chinese Zodiac

Grade Level: Intermediate (3-6) | VariQuest Tools: Poster Maker 3600 | VariQuest Tools: Cutout Maker 1800 | Academic Subject: Social Studies and History | Featured Topics: Lessons and Activities | Featured Topics: Templates for FREE download

In this lesson, students will explore the animals that are symbolic of the Chinese Lunar Zodiac Calendar, then use what they have learned to write a poem.


Prior to this activity, print multiple copies of the Animals of the Chinese Zodiac graphic organizer, one for each student, and one poster-sized chart. Click here to download the graphic organizer.

Also, cut out each of the twelve animals of the Chinese Zodiac:

  • Rat (ANI856)
  • Musk Ox (ANI842)
  • Tiger (ANI1089)
  • Jackrabbit (ANI371)
  • Dragon (HOL164)
  • Rattlesnake (ANI394)
  • Horse (ANI1023)
  • Sheep (FAR054)
  • Monkey (ANI755)
  • Rooster (FAR053)
  • Dog (ANI1017)
  • Pig 2 (FAR066)

Part I

Begin this lesson by explaining to students how the Chinese Lunar Calendar is different from the Gregorian or Western calendar that we use in the United States. The Chinese calendar is divided into 12-year cycles and each year is associated with a different animal. Introduce each animal by showing the cutout of the animal.

Read aloud a short text (consider the one available here), or show a video (such as the one available here) to inform students about how the animals that symbolize each year were chosen.

Distribute copies of the Animals of the Chinese Zodiac graphic organizer and model how to fill in the first row on the poster-sized chart. Have students work with a partner to add the positive and negative traits associated with each animal. After 5-10 minutes, have students get into groups of four to share what they’ve recorded. Assign one animal to each pair and have them record the positive and negative characteristics for their animal on the poster. 


Either individually, or as a whole class, have students explore the symbolism for each animal. The following websites offer explanations about what each animal symbolizes:

Part II

Next, determine the animal linked to the year of birth for the students in your class. There will most likely be two different animals based on student’s birth years. Review the traits linked with each animal. Have students partner up with someone who shares the same Chinese Zodiac animal and discuss how these traits do or don’t apply to them.

Have students write an acrostic poem using the letters of their first name vertically from top to bottom on the left side of a piece of paper. For each letter, students should brainstorm an adjective or phrase that describes one of the traits related to the Chinese Zodiac animal for their birth year. Display students’ acrostic poems on a bulletin board in your classroom.

Extend this lesson by having students identify a different animal that symbolizes their year of birth, and list the positive and negative traits associated with that animal. 


Julia Cremin is a 6th grade Reading, Language Arts and Math teacher at O'Keeffe Middle School in Madison, WI. She is certified in Elementary Education (grades 1-9) with a minor in Mathematics. This is her fourth year teaching middle school.