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Hands-On Lessons

Learning About Monarch Butterflies


When you see a monarch butterfly flying by, it's hard not to stop and watch it. In this lesson, your students will be anatomists, researching, studying, and diagramming the anatomy of a butterfly.

Students will be able to:

  • Describe the parts of a butterfly and how they impact a butterfly's survival.
  • Identify and define the meaning of academic words related to the anatomy of a butterfly.
  • Use the information they have learned to create a diorama.

Nonfiction texts about the butterfly for various reading levels, Elmer's foam board, Project Popperz ® Permanent Markers, Elmer's Paper Letters and Numbers, colorful paper, Elmer's Disappearing Purple Glue Sticks, tags for labeling, and scissors.
Insect Venn Diagram PDF

Content Introduction: Monarch 101
As the butterfly moves from egg to caterpillar to chrysalis to butterfly, its body changes dramatically. The resulting anatomy of the butterfly helps it survive in the wild and do its job of pollinating flowers.

Common Core Standards
Conduct short research projects that build knowledge about a topic.
Determine the meaning of general academic and domain-specific words and phrases in a text relevant to the topic.

Anatomy: proboscis, thorax, antennae, wings, compound eyes, head, legs, chitin, chrysalis

Introduction (5 minutes)
Explain to students that today they are going to be researchers and anatomists. Define anatomy as the parts of an animal's body and an anatomist as someone who studies the parts of an animal's body. Tell students that today we are going to study a butterfly's anatomy.


Anatomy Lesson (10 minutes)
Draw a picture of a butterfly on the whiteboard. Label and introduce the parts of a butterfly (below) and discuss each question.

  • The proboscis is a long tube that the butterfly uses for drinking. 
  • The butterfly has compound eyes that are good for seeing movement and color.
o Why do you think butterflies need to see color and movement? 
  • Antennae help butterflies "smell."
o What other animals have antennae? Do they use them for the same purpose as the butterfly?
  • At the end of each of its six legs, a butterfly has taste organs to find food.
o Why are the butterfly's taste organs on its feet? How does that help it?
  • The butterfly's thorax is the main part of its body.
  • The butterfly's wings are made from thin chitin stretched over veins. A butterfly's wings have colors and decorations that come from scales that protect the wings. The top of a butterfly's wings are brightly colored and underside is for camouflage.

o Why would a butterfly want both brightly colored and camouflaged wings?

Monarch Research Groups (10 minutes)
Read a nonfiction book about monarch butterflies, such as Monarch Butterfly by Gail Gibbons (http://www.scholastic.com/teachers/book/monarch-butterfly-0 ). As you read, add words to a word list on the whiteboard that students will use on their dioramas.

Craft Component: Butterfly Diorama (15 minutes)
Tell students that now that they know about the anatomy of a monarch butterfly, they will be anatomists, creating a diorama to teach other people about the parts of a butterfly.

  • Divide students into teams of two to three. Provide each team with foam board, colorful paper, Elmer's Disappearing Purple Glue, scissors, Project Popperz ® Permanent Markers, and tags for labeling.
  • Invite students to draw a large outline of a monarch butterfly on the foam board, using what they've learned about its anatomy to fill in body parts. The sections of the butterfly's body can be created using colorful paper (for example: the thorax could be blue, the eyes could be black, and so on).
  • Students should use markers and tags to label the parts of the body. 
  • Have students write the parts of a butterfly on paper and use pushpins to label each part.
Whiteboard Component Activities
  • Post a picture of a butterfly and another insect (ant, grasshopper, spider, etc.) on the whiteboard. Display the Insect Venn Diagram PDF and compare and contrast what you notice about each insect's anatomy.

Extension Activities

  • After students complete their dioramas, set them up around your classroom and create a museum. Invite other classes to come, view the dioramas, and give students feedback on note cards or rating cards. During the "museum," encourage students to use the words they used as anatomists to show their work to visitors.
  • Using foam board, Elmer's glue, scissors, markers, and other materials, have students create a puzzle of a monarch butterfly that they can take home and share with their parents.

Literature Extension

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