For as long as I can remember, I have been fascinated by insects. I have curated an insect collection of my own for years and I love sketching them in my nature journal.
Insects are all around us and their abundance makes them the perfect introduction to the world of zoology. Studying insects is a wonderful experience for upper grades to begin using the taxonomic binomial naming system for the first time.
An Introduction to Insects or Basic Entomology
Insects belong to the phylum Arthropoda. As such, they have a hard exoskeleton which they molt several times as they grow, bilateral symmetry, and jointed appendages (legs and antennae). The arthropod phylum is the largest in the animal kingdom – more arthropods than any other animal.
The phylum can be further divided into four classes: Insects – 3 pairs of legs, Arachnids (spiders & mites) – 4 pairs of legs, Crustaceans (crabs & lobsters) – 5 pairs of legs, and Millipedes & Centipedes.
If you are looking for a fun, hands-on curriculum for upper elementary or middle school students, I have compiled a number of my favorite lesson plans in a unit study approach, Introductory Entomology. Through hands-on activities, real life simulations, and multi-media presentations this six-week unit incorporates more than 10 entomology lessons and suggested extension activities.
I have also gathered a number of great resources and lesson plan ideas from across the web to provide you with the ultimate guide to studying insects. You’ll most assuredly find inspiration and activities galore – many of which include free notebooking printables. The following list should get you started on your insect studies:
- Bug Collecting – A step-by-step guide to collecting bugs and insects
- Adventures with Insects & Critters – All about collecting and keeping insects and other small critters
- Conduct an Insect Survey – Collect data to calculate the diversity of insects; includes a free notebooking printable
- Aquatic Science: Spring Pond Study – Get the kids outside equipped with a small wash tub, an ice-cube tray, and this free download to investigate aquatic critters
- BugScope – Provides free interactive access to a scanning electron microscope so that students can explore the world of insects
- Integrated Pest Management – One of the lessons in my Introductory Entomology unit engages kids in a cooperative learning, simulated experience
- Keep a journal of your observations – See Cicada for a spectacular example
- The Xerces Society – A nonprofit that protects wildlife through the conservation of invertebrates and their habitat. Find a wealth of insect resources on their website.
When teaching about insects in middle school, I feel it is important to introduce them to the use of a dichotomous key and to provide ample opportunity to practice classification skills. I put together a PowerPoint presentation to introduce kids to the differences between insect orders. You can download the presentation here: Insect Classification.
In addition to the broad resources I have shared above, I have also compiled a number of hands-on activities specific to insect orders. You may wish to study insects one order at a time or perhaps you have a budding coleopterists (an entomologist who specializes in the study of beetles) in your family. The links provided here are grouped according to the most common insect orders:
- It’s Caterpillar Season– A wonderful resource for studying Lepidoptera
- Butterflies Flutter By – A great nature study unit by Shining Dawn Books
- Raising Butterflies – Hands-on activities & printables for older kids to track butterfly development and design a backyard butterfly garden
- Butterflies Unit Study Part 1 and Part 2
- Observing Monarch Metamorphosis at home
- Learn about the silk road and the production of silk in China
- Integrate art with this fabulous tutorial – Butterfly: Chalk Pastel Art Tutorial
- Visit an Apiculturalist and discover the science of beekeeping
- Similarly, Susan shares, Visit a Bee Farm
- Bee Anatomy – Observe insects in their natural habitat and keep a nature journal of your observations
- Create Nesting Habitat for Mason Bees – A fun, hands-on service learning activity for kids of all ages to learn about Mason bees and help provide habitat for pollinators
- Bees & Wasps – What’s the difference?
- Investigate the role insects play in pollination with a pollination experiment
- One families grasshopper study; includes a free notebooking page
Literature Connections & Lapbooks
There are numerous non-fiction books about insects. One of my favorite books is a book of poems by Paul Fleishman, Joyful Noise: Poems for Two Voices. Written to be read aloud by two voices – sometimes alternating, sometimes simultaneous – this collection of 14 poems celebrates the insect world, from the short life of the mayfly to the love song of the book louse.
While I highly recommend the print version for the gorgeous illustrations by Eric Beddows, I also recommend the audio version – particularly if poems written for two voices is unfamiliar to you. Upon listening to this book, my kids delighted in creating insect poems of their own.
In my quest to share with you the best of the best, I came across a few wonderful posts that are perfect for younger siblings:
There are numerous opportunities for people of all ages to explore insects and contribute to real, ongoing research.
Field Trips & Excursions
Many zoos and aquariums have special exhibits that feature insects. I’ve highlighted a few here but be sure to contact natural history museums and zoos in your local area. While smaller venues may not have a permanent exhibit, they may feature insect exhibits periodically in their rotation.
- California Academy of Sciences – Houses one of the largest entomology collections in North America.
- Natural History Museum of Los Angeles – With 30 terrariums and aquariums the Insect Zoo always has some new and fascinating creature with an intriguing story waiting to be told.
- Dr. Crawley’s Insectorium at the Creation Museum – One of the many new exhibits that keep the Creation Museum in Kentucky fresh and exciting.
- Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo / Butterfly & Insect Pavilion – The insect pavilion is home to ants, spiders, scorpions, walking sticks, mantids, centipedes, roaches, beetles and a host of other amazing creatures.
- Massey Services Insect Zoo – Located inside the Wayne M. Densch Discovery Center at the Central Florida Zoo & Botanical Garden in Sanford.
Students in upper grades may already have an idea that a career in biology or zoology is in their future. Some may be interested in collecting insects and not realize that their hobby can actually be a possible career. If you are interested in learning more about the possible career options in entomology, read my post Science Career Options: Entomology Careers.