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Teaching Guide
Activity 2: Grades 5-8
Backbones - Chicken-Style

Chiropractic is one of the most widespread forms of alternative medicine in the United States, with over 40,000 practitioners who use spine manipulation to treat a variety of illnesses. Such practitioners believe that by properly aligning the spine, they open up the flow of "nerve energy" and "innate intelligence," thereby curing ailments. Skeptics, however, cite questionable techniques and a lack of scientific evidence to support such claims.

As you saw in Adjusting the Joints, the backbone is the target of chiropractic. In this activity, you'll get a chance to observe the individual bones that comprise the neck portion of a chicken's backbone. After cleaning the bones of tissue, you'll examine these dried vertebrae and observe how they are adapted for support and protection.

Image of Chicken Bone
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This activity page will offer:

  • An activity in obtaining and examining chicken vertebrae.
  • An opportunity to observe articulation of chicken vertebrae.
  • An insight into chiropractic skepticism.


  • Neck of a roasting or frying chicken that has been prepared by the instructor
  • Scrap newspaper (to protect desktop)
  • Large Ziploc bags
  • Rubber medical gloves
  • Plastic knife
  • Bell wire (from local hardware or electronics store)
  • Glue
  • Access to a stove burner, oven, and refrigerator.

Cooking and preparation should be performed by the instructor. The bones should not leave the classroom since they can present a choking hazard to dogs and other animals.

Instructor's Preparation

  1. Obtain a chicken neck for each group of two students from a local butcher or meat section of a large market.
  2. Prior to class, place the necks in boiling water for about 40 minutes.
  3. Once they have been boiled, place the necks in a large pan and allow them to cool.


  1. Work in groups of two. Spread out scrap newspaper to protect the desktop during this activity. Put on a pair of rubber gloves.
  2. The instructor will supply you with a cooked and cooled chicken neck. Carefully begin to remove the soft tissue and muscle from around the bones. Do not pull the tissue too hard, since excessive force will disassemble the neck. Examine this item closely while you work, then answer Question #1 below.
  3. Thread a section of bell wire through the hole within each vertebra to keep these bones together and in order.
  4. Once the meat has been removed, seal the bones in a Ziploc bag. Label the container with your names and give it to your instructor. The instructor will place the container in the refrigerator.
  5. Clean up your station and dispose of the chicken tissue according to your teacher's instructions. Clean and wash your hands well.
  6. Wait five days.
  7. After five days, cover your desktop with scrap newspaper. Put on another pair of rubber gloves. Over the classroom sink, remove the chicken bones from the bag and rinse the bones thoroughly.
  8. Have the instructor place the bones in a kitchen oven (convection) at 200 degrees for about one hour.
  9. Remove the bones from the oven and let them cool off. Scrape off any remaining tissue. You may need to use a plastic knife to reach any meat left in the bone recesses.
  10. Once the vertebrae have been dried, press them together. Observe how they move and connect with each other. Note the points of contact. Move and bend the series of bones. Observe how the structure of the backbone can offer a strong but flexible column. Draw a diagram of this structure.
  11. When you have completed these observations and the questions below, clean up your station and dispose of the bones and waste material according to your teacher's instructions. Clean and wash your hands well.


  1. What types of tissues and structures could be identified in the raw neck section?
  2. How many vertebrae were found in the neck?
  3. How are the neck bones adapted to protect the delicate spinal cord?
  4. How are the neck bones adapted to allow flexibility of the spinal column?
  5. Compare and contrast the role and structure of chicken and human neck bones. Check out the comparative anatomy Web site below for more information.

Learn more about comparative anatomy here:


Know Your Vertebrae
Although they have minor differences in appearance, human and chicken vertebrae share several common characteristics. Use a classroom model (or the bones you obtained from your chicken neck) along with print and electronic resources to find and identify the following bone parts: spine, vertebral foramen, centrum, lamina, and pedicle. Draw a diagram and label these parts.

Source of Illness
According to Daniel Palmer, the founder of chiropractic, most illnesses can be traced to a pinched nerve caused by a misaligned spinal column. Apply what you know. Use critical thinking strategies to examine and critique this chiropractic connection to infectious disorders such as measles, flu, and AIDS.

Let Them Be?
Some people believe that as long as chiropractors are not harming patients, they should be allowed to practice. Others feel that a belief in a scientifically unsubstantiated therapy might dissuade an individual from seeking an accepted medical procedure or treatment. Still others believe that the risk of damage to neck arteries by chiropractors is sufficient to stop all such practices. What do you think? Does the government have a responsibility to curb unfounded claims? Why or why not? Who should decide whether a therapy works or doesn't work? What criteria should be used in this evaluation?


Human Bones and Muscles
This site provides great detail about human anatomy.

The Skeleton of the Chicken
Facts about a chicken skeleton.

Chiropractic: A Skeptical View
A detailed article about chiropractic and its lack of scientific backing.

The activities in this guide were contributed by Michael DiSpezio, a Massachusetts-based science writer and author of "Critical Thinking Puzzles" and "Awesome Experiments in Light & Sound" (Sterling Publishing Co., NY).

Academic Advisors for this Guide:

Corrine Lowen, Science Department, Wayland Public Schools, Wayland, MA
Suzanne Panico, Science Teacher Mentor, Cambridge Public Schools, Cambridge, MA
Anne E. Jones, Science Department, Wayland Middle School, Wayland, MA


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