Growing Penguins

Students match written descriptions and photographs of Adelie penguins at various stages of development then make a timeline of chick growth and development. Materials:
  • Photographs and descriptions of penguins at various stages of growth and development (one set for each group of 2-4 students).
  • Chart paper
  • Markers
  • Rulers
  • Tape or glue
  • Computers with Internet access
  • Two weights: 100 grams and 3000 grams (measured bags of rice work)

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A Windows to the Universe classroom activity by Lisa Gardiner with photographs courtesy of Jean Pennycook and the Penguin Science research program.
Grade level:
Grades 5-7
Approximately 20 minutes preparation time and 40 minutes class time
Student Learning Outcomes:
  • Students will learn how quickly young Adelie penguins grow and mature during the Antarctic summer.
  • Students will learn about population ecology of Adelie penguins.
  • Students will learn about adaptations of Adelie penguins that allow them to survive the harsh Antarctic environment.
Lesson format:
Hands-on activity, craft, discussion, and online learning

Standards Addressed:


Preparation: Print photographs and descriptions in color (one sided) and cut apart along the dotted lines. Each student group will need one set of photographs and descriptions. Consider laminating the sets for repeated use. You may wish to print an extra set and not cut it apart to use as a teacher key.


  • Provide students with general background information about the Antarctic and Adelie penguins. The background section below provides general information on these topics and more detail about Adelie penguins can be found at
  • Explain that each year during the Antarctic summer (opposite to Northern Hemisphere summer) is the breeding season for Adelie penguins. The chicks must grow and mature very quickly to be large enough to care for themselves by the end of the summer. In only about 43 days the chicks grow from less than 100 grams (birth weight) to over 3000 grams.
  • Allow students to hold examples of 100 gram and 3000 gram weights to develop an understanding of how much the penguins grow in a short amount of time.
  • Explain that in this activity, students will be challenged to match the written description of the stage of chick development with the photograph of chicks at that stage. Then, students will construct a timeline and post the photos and descriptions along it.


  1. Distribute supplies to student groups (set of photos and description cards, chart paper, ruler, tape, and markers).
  2. Students match descriptions with the photographs that they describe.
  3. Students draw a timeline on the chart paper, marking it with a scale that runs through the days of December, January, and at least the 6th of February (which is the date of the last photograph).
  4. Then students attach the photo and description cards to the timeline according to the dates on the description cards to get the big picture of penguin chick growth.
  5. Have students visit Postcards from the Field: Antarctica on Windows to the Universe.( and explore the postcards submitted by Jean Pennycook, an educator with the Penguin Science research team during the 2006-2007 Adelie penguin breeding season.

Suggested discussion questions:

  • How do Adelie penguins change over this two month period?
  • Why do Adelie penguins need to grow so quickly?
  • How are chicks vulnerable when they are young? How are they protected from these dangers?


  • Different species of penguins are impacted by climate change differently. Have students research how penguins are being impacted by climate change through a web search. Assign a different penguin species to each student group and have the group report back to the class about what they discovered.


There are more than 2.5 million breeding pairs of Adelie penguins in Antarctica. They are the smallest penguin species in Antarctica – approximately 28 inches tall and 4 kilograms (8-9 pounds).

In the Antarctic winter, Adelie penguins live on the ice. As summer approaches, in October, they migrate several miles to rocky coastlines where they settle in large colonies that are called rookeries. The large size of the colonies protects the birds somewhat from skuas, predatory birds that eat Adelie eggs and chicks. In the colony, they mate and build nests out of pebbles. The female lays one or two greenish-white eggs in early November. Both the male and female of the pair take turns incubating the eggs keeping them warm in the incubation pouch between their legs. The eggs hatch after about 35 days of incubation. When first hatched, a young chick must stay within the incubation pouch to keep warm. Both parents help raise the chicks, taking turns at the nest while the chicks are young. After a few weeks, the chicks are large and their downy feathers are very thick and warm so they can be left alone at the colony while both parents search for food in the sea. The older chicks huddle together in groups called crèche to stay warm and protect from attacking skuas. Eventually their downy feathers are replaced with adult feathers that give the penguins their distinct black and white coloring and are well-suited for swimming.

Penguins live in many places in the Southern Hemisphere, but they are perhaps most well-known as residents of Antarctica. The Adelie penguins are one of several penguin species living in Antarctica. The majority of this continent, which is roughly centered on the South Pole, is covered with a thick layer of ice called an ice sheet. Ice shelves extend over the Ross and Weddell Seas. The little bits of land that are not covered by ice are very rocky. Adelie penguins make their nests on rocky ground during the breeding season. Temperatures can be very low. East Antarctica is colder than West Antarctica because it has a higher elevation. The Antarctic Peninsula has the warmest climate on the continent, however high temperatures still average slightly below freezing.

During the 2006-2007 breeding season, the Penguin Science research program was in Antarctica studying Adelie penguins. Educator Jean Pennycook, who is part of the Penguin Science team, contributed postcards to Windows to the Universe that described the penguins' growth and development and explained the science that the research team was conducting. For more information about Adelie penguins and this research program, please visit the Penguin Science web site at (link below). For more information about Antarctica, please visit Earth's Polar Regions on Windows to the Universe (link below)



Last modified October 3, 2007 by Lisa Gardiner.

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