“Chicken Little” is a very good story for young students, with its high level of repetition and simple, cumulative story. But I also like it as a lead-in to disaster preparedness issues for the older ones.
“Chicken Little” is also sometimes called “Chicken Licken.” It is even sometimes called “Henny Penny.” By any title, this is a story about a little chicken who has something fall on him (or her) and thinks that the sky is falling. What falls on Chicken Little varies, but his reaction is always to rush around to all his friends and tell them, “The sky is falling! The sky is falling! And we must tell the king!” Actually, the words used vary quite a bit, but I like the rhythm of that version, and that is what we always use when we tell the story. All the barnyard friends go along with Chicken Little, wandering around looking for the palace, until a fox offers to show them the way. The birds follow the fox, who intends to eat them, and sometimes they do get eaten. Sometimes they are “never seen again,” and sometimes they escape and Chicken Little learns a lesson. It depends which version of the story you read.
- An online version which is no longer available explained that the story was about “atmospheric dynamics and speculative meteorology.” Nothing special about the telling of the story, but I like that explanation.
- An easy reader version with nice vintage illustrations. A warning, here — this is a version in which the birds all go into Foxy Loxy’s den and never come out again.
- Steven Kellogg’s Chicken Little is recognizable as the traditional story, but of course there are some witty changes in the illustrations, especially.
- Rebecca and Ed Emberley’s Chicken Little pokes fun at the original story.
- Jonathan Allen’s Chicken Licken is a lift-the-flap book, which makes it appealing for young children, as long as your group is small enough that everyone can see the flaps.
- Vivian French’s Henny Penny is a bit more clever and resourceful than the usual hero of this story, and the pictures are charming.
- Paul Galdone also has a version called Henny Penny. Galdone is one of our favorites, and this book is awesome.
- Jane Wattenberg’s Henny-Penny uses updated language (“chicka-chicka-bunga” and “What’s buzzin’, Cousin?” for example) and arresting photo montages to present the story.
- “Chicken Little” includes a number of birds, and in particular birds which are farm animals. Use the story as a starting point for sorting farm animals into birds and mammals. Start with Farm Picture Cards or a list of farm animals written on sentence strips, and have students sort the cards into birds and mammals. Once they’ve sorted, come up with a list of characteristics of birds (they lay eggs, they have feathers, they have two feet and two wings) and of mammals (they have hair or fur, they have live babies, many have four feet, few have wings). Pack it up after class and use it to make a center.
- In some versions of the story (and we always tell it this way) each bird asks the previous bird how he knows that the sky is falling. “Ducky Daddles told me,” says Goosey Loosey, and so on till they get to Chicken Little, who says, “I saw it with my eyes and I heard it with my ears, and part of it fell on my tail.” This could be a fine introduction to a discussion of evidence and observation.
- Chicken Little believed he was facing an emergency, but he didn’t have a very good plan for coping with it. He thought he would go tell the king, but didn’t know where the king was. He wasn’t accurate in his assessment of the danger, either, or even of the type of emergency he might be facing. He was not well prepared. The government site for kids to prepare for emergencies, including PDF files and online games about preparing an emergency kit and making a plan. This page at that site has definitions of various kinds of natural disasters, which could kick off an earth science unit.
- “Chicken Little” and “The sky is falling!” are often used to suggest that people are overreacting to things like global warming or the diminishing supply of fossil fuels. Let older students enjoy the story and then do some research to compare concerns about climate change to the birds’ worries about the sky falling. Have them write a paragraph agreeing or disagreeing with the accusation.
- The coronavirus pandemic is going on as of this writing, and Chicken Little’s experience could be a good way to start a conversation about one of the controversies it has brought up. There are people who think it is very serious, and people who think it’s just another flu. Search online news sources to find evidence for one view or the other. With older kids, you might also look at how different political leaders have responded. Has your state issued a stay at home order or closed businesses? Some have and some have not. Compare the reasons the governors have given for their decisions.
- “Chicken Licken” has so much word play — again, depending on the version you use — that you should use it in your preK-2 classroom just for that. In most versions, the birds’ names rhyme: Henny-Penny, Goosy-Loosey, Turkey-Lurkey, Foxy-Loxy. In some, they use alliteration: Ducky Daddles. Use these names for phonemic awareness activities.
- The repetitive sections are perfect for choral reading. Many retellings leave these out, but for preschool and kindergarten, this is the best part. Help your students develop a good rhythm and unison sound, and their future teachers will thank you.
- This is a simple story, so it is a great choice for a first experience of identifying the beginning, middle, and end of a story. Have students join you in creating a sentence for each part: “An acorn fell on Chicken Little’s tail, and he thought the sky was falling,” “He told all his friends, and they went to tell the king, but they met a fox along the way,” and “The fox ate them” or “The fox almost ate them but they escaped” are possibilities. These sentences allow you to work on conjunctions, but you could also divide them into simpler sentences for your younger students. Ask the kids to draw pictures for each of the parts of the story, and make a bulletin board with their creations.
- Cut strips of paper about 1″ by 6″ for each student. Have the kids write the names of all the characters on the strips. Make the “Chicken Little” strip into a loop and glue it closed. Put the next animal (often Henny Penny) through the first loop and glue it closed. Continue, putting the animals in order to make a chain which follows the order of the story.
- List the vivid alternatives for “said” in Stephen Kellogg’s fun non-traditional version of Chicken Little.
What is the moral of “Chicken Little”? As is so often the case, you can take your pick from several interpretations. I say, pick the one that goes best with your curriculum goals.
- “Chicken Little” can be about courage. Chicken Little overreacts to a perceived danger, so much so that he misses the clear signs of a real danger in the person of Foxy Loxy. For the same reason, this story can give a message about making accurate estimates of danger.
- “Chicken Little” can be about stranger danger. Chicken Little puts not only himself but also his friends in danger by listening to Foxy Loxy.
- The story can also be about gossip. The information that Chicken Little was spreading was false, but it still spread very quickly. You can play the game “rumor” or “gossip” with the kids to show that even information which is accurate at the source can end up distorted. Here’s how to play the game: have the kids get into lines of 10 or so and give each team a fairly complicated sentence written on paper. The first player whispers the sentence to the next player in line, and so on to the end of the line. The last player says the sentence aloud. Usually, the sentence has gotten mangled along the way. After the game, ask the students to write about a time — real or fictional — when a rumor hurt someone.
- “Chicken Little” can also provide a lesson about reacting to situations. Chicken Little went with an immediate emotional response instead of investigating further or giving himself time to cool off before deciding how to respond. Discuss with the class how Chicken Little could change his response the next time a worrying situation arises in his life.
- A couple of the earlier suggestions dealt with evaluation of evidence and drawing conclusions from information. These are essential critical thinking skills, as well as skills for science and writing.
- Finally, you could examine Chicken Little’s decision to go and tell the king. Going to a person in authority for help in an emergency is certainly something you want students to learn, and that should be pointed out. But the animals decided to go see the king even though they didn’t know where the king was. Perhaps there was a better choice of helper available to them. Use graphic organizers to help the class determine all the sources of help that they have available, and to make a flow chart showing whom they should approach.