All Sorts of Insects – Activities

FOCUS: Honeybees, grasshoppers, and butterflies are all insects, yet they look and behave very differently from each other. So what makes an insect an insect, and how is it different from other animals? Insects all share the same basic design of three body parts, six legs, wings, antennae, and compound eyes. Variations in the size and shape of these parts account for their great diversity. We’ll learn to recognize common groups of insects by their characteristic features and watch them as they go about their daily lives.

Objective: To begin to explore and ask questions about insects.

Give a variety of adult insects in jars to children to examine in small groups, and ask what they notice and wonder about them.

Materials: a variety of live adult insects collected in clear jars with lids, magnifying lenses.

Objective: To construct and compare felt insect models and identify common features and differences in insect anatomy.

Ahead of time, create bags of insect parts using the five Build an Insect templates and a variety of craft materials. In every bag use the same material to represent the same body part. (For example: use pipe cleaners to represent insect legs in every bag, make all insect bodies with the same color of felt, etc.) Each packet will contain the same number of body parts, but these parts will vary in the size and shape for the different insects. Have the children work in groups of three or four and give each small group a bag of insect body parts. Have the children assemble the parts to form an insect. Afterward, as a whole group, use the Insect Anatomy diagram to review insect anatomy, identifying the body parts and correct placement of legs and wings (all attach to the thorax), antennae and eyes. Note how all share the same basic body plan and yet differ in size and shape of body parts.

Alternatively, provide children (in small groups) with the Insect Anatomy diagram in a sheet protector, or consider making a large poster instead. While looking at their insects in jars, have them help to “dress” a volunteer as an insect with all its parts: cardboard cutout of an insect thorax and abdomen (3’ tall – volunteer’s head can be the insect’s head); 6 knee high stockings stuffed with batting for legs, 4 plastic bags for wings; 2 pipe cleaners for antennae; eye glasses with sticky dots on lenses for compound eyes; three sticky dots to put on forehead for simple eyes; straw for sucking mouthparts; hair clip for chewing mouthparts.

Materials: felt or foam in two colors: one color used for the insect body, the other for wings; pipe cleaners for legs; various sized pom-poms for eyes; toothpicks for antennae; clear plastic sheets for membranous wings; Build an Insect templates, Insect Anatomy diagram. For each group: bag of pre-cut insect parts to create one insect.

Objective: To identify patterns of similarities and differences in insect anatomy and to sort insects into groups based on similar features.

Begin by showing children stylized silhouettes of eight different insect groups in Insect Groups Silhouette and point out identifying features. Place these in a central location. Have children work in pairs and give each team one to two insect photos from the Insect Photo Set. Ask them to look for distinguishing features and compare their insects to the eight silhouettes. Then have students place each photo next to the silhouette of the insect group to which it belongs. With the whole group together, look at the silhouettes and photos by each. Use the Key to Insect Photos to check students’ choices and make any corrections needed. How many of these insect orders are already familiar to the children?

Materials: Insect Group Silhouettes, Insect Group ID Guide, Insect Photo Set: 24 cards, Key to Insect Photos.

PUPPET SHOW “Toad Gets Bugged”
Objective: To learn basic insect anatomy and observe the variations that distinguish one insect from another.

Perform the puppet show or have a group of children perform it for the class. Afterward, ask questions to review the key details and vocabulary in the story. What are key characteristics that make insects different from other animals? (Three body parts, six legs, wings, antennae, compound eyes.) Review insect anatomy with a song (sung to the tune of “Head, shoulders, knees and toes”).

Head, thorax, abdomen, abdomen

Head, thorax, abdomen, abdomen

Six legs, four wings, two antennae, compound eyes

Head, thorax, abdomen, abdomen.

Discuss differences in the size, shape and color that distinguish the three kinds of insects in the puppet show.

Materials: puppets, script, stage.

Objective: To conduct a survey to gather evidence of insects and other arthropods living in the schoolyard.

Divide the class into small groups and supply each team with an Insect Safari card, clipboard, pencil and collecting kit.  Direct them to look for insects and evidence of insect activity. Ask each group to use surveyor’s tape to mark their most exciting insect discovery. Pass around insects in jars for all to see, and take a tour of the different groups’ findings.

Do not collect anything that looks like a bee, wasp, or hornet!!

Gently collect one of the insects you discover while on this search to inspect more closely later on. Avoid collecting any moths or butterflies as they can be injured fluttering inside the bug jars.

Listen for different insect noises. How many can you hear? Can you find the insect making the noise?

Follow a flying insect. How many times does it land? What does it land on?

Look for an insect on a flower. What is it doing? Check for pollen on its legs.

Look under rocks for hidden insects. Did you find any creatures that are not insects? How can you tell? Remember to gently replace the cover as you found it.

Find and watch a grasshopper. Does it have wings? Can you hop as far as it hops?

Find a cricket. Count the tail appendages to determine whether it’s a boy or girl.

(2=male; 3=female – the middle one is its egg-depositing tube)

Look for ants. Are they carrying anything? Where are they going?  Can you find the anthill?

Spread a white cloth under some tall plants. Shake the plants and observe any critters that fall onto the sheet.

Materials: for each small group: Insect Safari Card, clipboards, pencils; collecting kit including clear jars with lids, magnifying lenses, surveyor’s tape, piece of white sheet, pillowcase or shower curtain; emergency sting kit, if necessary.

Objective: To record observations about an insect.

Have the children study and draw one of the insects caught in the Insect Safari. Before drawing, display the insect silhouettes as reference. Ask children to determine the overall shape of their insect, noting from which body part wings and legs originate. Then have them draw a simple outline of their insect. Next ask them to focus on details, such as where eyes are located, shape and length of antenna, wing shape and colors. Have them use colored pencils to fill in the details.

Older students can label and date their drawing and add notes about their insect’s behavior. Does this insect belong to one of the insect groups that were introduced earlier? What further questions do students have about insects from their observations?

Materials: clipboards, paper, colored pencils, magnifying lenses, insects in jars from the Introduction or Insect Safari.

Objective: To observe patterns of insect movement and demonstrate respect for living things when releasing study insects.

Place a sheet on the ground and ask children to predict how their insect will leave when released from the jar. Will it fly? Hop? Crawl? Have children group their insects based on their predicted pattern of movement. Chant the release poem together. Now have the adults open the jars in small groups based on these predictions. Have children watch and compare their predictions to what actually occurs. Try imitating insect movements together. When all the insects have been released, use observations to discuss how movement patterns relate to body structure.

Goodbye Poem
I looked at you,
You looked at me,
I’m glad we met,
And now you’re free.

Materials: white sheet or shower curtain liner with concentric circles drawn in the center with permanent marker, insects in jars from Introduction or Insect Safari, copy of Goodbye Poem on Insect Safari Card.

UPPER GRADES CHALLENGE: Insect Census (Grades 5-6)
Objective: To conduct an investigation using common collecting techniques to gather evidence about schoolyard insect diversity.

Pitfall traps: Gather a few small plastic cups or containers to use as traps. Dig holes at different locations in the schoolyard and set the containers in the holes so that the top of the container is even with the soil surface. Place a spoonful of jam, a piece of ripe banana, or other fruit as bait in the bottom of each container. Place three stones around the edge of the container and set a board on top of these. The raised board will make it more difficult for flying insects to escape, shade the container, and keep rain out, while still providing easy access for insects to enter. Leave your container out for several hours or overnight. You might want to set out markers or cone, so the traps are easy to find.

Funnel traps: Twist a half sheet of poster board into a funnel shape and secure shape with packaging tape. Insert the small end of this large paper funnel into large collecting jar and attach the funnel securely to the jar by wrapping packaging tape around the rim of the jar and the outside of the paper funnel. Shake tall plants and shrubs over the funnel traps to collect hidden insects.

Using the Insect Census Tally sheet, record the numbers and types of insect collected. Be sure to release the insects. For pitfall traps, remove traps and fill in the holes when done. How many different kinds of insects were found? Were some more common than others? How did the pitfall traps compare to the funnel traps in terms of kinds and numbers of insects?

Materials: for pitfall traps: trowels, plastic cups or containers, bait such as fruit, jam, very ripe bananas; for funnel traps: poster board, packaging tape, large collecting container; magnifying lenses, clipboards, pencils, Insect Census Tally sheet.

Objective: To share observations about different insect groups.

Have each child complete this sentence: “My favorite group of insects is _____________.”


Daily Insect: Ask the children to look for insects on their way to school or during recess, and then report these to the class during morning circle. Keep a list of all the different kinds they report that belong to the groups learned in this lesson.

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