Scientists Observe: Wiggly Worms Day 1

7 teachers like this lesson
Print Lesson


SWBAT make observations in order to understand the patterns of a life cycle.

Big Idea

Give 'em what they want-- students make observations... of real, live animals! Mealworms are an awesome wiggly way to explore natural phenomena of life cycles!

Instructional Notes

In this unit, my class has practiced making observations and recording to communicate.  We've talked about living versus non-living and how external parts help animals meet their needs for survival.  It's time, my friends, to bring in some wiggly mealworms!  

Mealworms are pretty easy to keep alive in your classroom.  You can pick them up at pet stores, then get some oatmeal to keep them in.  Mealworms are not actually worms, they are darkling beetle larva!  Over the coming days with your mealworms, students will construct an evidence-based account of the natural phenomena that young are like, but not exactly like their parents (1-LS-3-1).  Are you wondering if you could get something less gross?  Sure, watching caterpillars turn into butterflies would work well, if you're teaching this standard in the spring.  But really, mealworms aren't slimy or gross, and they are cheap at pet stores.  Really!  You can do it... it's for the kids.

Today is going to focus on observations and recording.  In the next lesson, I bring in texts and life cycle images.


  • 5-10 Mealworms (You can get them at a pet store!)
  • Petri dishes, or little tupperware containers (You don't want mealworms on desks)
  • Popsicle sticks, in case students need to move a mealworm
  • Mealworm Observations
  • Hand lenses (optional)
  • Science Journals (optional) I use marbled composition notebooks, but you can print out the Mealworm Observations worksheet instead.
  • Square Inch Tiles or another nonstandard measurement tool (paperclips are fine too)


5 minutes

To warm-up, I come back to our two Essential Question Anchor Charts: What does a scientist do? and How do animals meet their needs for survival?

These are Anchor Charts we've created as a class over the unit.  The Essential Question Anchor Chart: What does a scientist do?  is important because I want students to connect our activities to the Science and Engineering Practices, so that they begin to see that indeed, they are scientists!  We add to this chart throughout the unit, and it will remain posted in the classroom throughout the school year.  If you are looking for a good book to read aloud in order to start this anchor chart, try What Is a Scientist? by Barbara Lehn.  The second question, How do animals meet their needs for survival? is directly related to the NGSS Life Science standards and helps us arrive at the big ideas that animals have external parts and behaviors that help them survive.

We have talked about a lot of things that a scientist does, like make and record observations.  One of the reasons scientists do this is to look for patterns in nature. We've also looked at how animals meet their needs for survival and how sometimes their external parts help them.  Today we will make and record observations about the external parts of a live animal.  Then, over the coming days, we'll continue making observations as we look for a pattern in this animal's life cycle.

Next, I talk about how we handle live animals and respect nature.  

When we observe live animals, it's important to handle them very gently.  We want to take care of them, and we want to make sure not to hurt them.  Today, the mealworms will be in dishes.  I will give each group a popsicle stick, and you may use it to gently flip a mealworm over.  Do not squish or stab at the mealworms.  They are very fragile.

It's also fun to have the mealworms in a small box, tell students there are live animals inside, and have them try to guess what the animal could be!


20 minutes

I put 2 or 3 mealworms in petri dishes on each group of desks.  I also give out hand lenses so students can get up close and personal with the mealworms!  Today, their task is to observe and accurately record the mealworms.  I distribute a Mealworm Observations recording sheet to help guide them along and focus their observations.  To incorporate measurement skills and comparing items, I have out square inch tiles.  Students will circle one of the following: the mealworm is shorter than, the same length as, or longer than a square tile.

You will work with the friends at your table.  It is important to share and take turns.  I will give you plenty of time to observe, so it's okay if your turn to look really closely isn't first.  As you observe the mealworm, you will draw it accurately in the box.  Look closely at your mealworm.  What external parts does it have?  

I also want you to write details.  Read the sentence starters with me, "My mealworm looks..." and "My mealworm has..."  Ask a friend for help if you forget them.  I also want you to put a square inch tile next to one of your mealworms and check whether your mealworm is longer than, shorter than, or the same size as the tile.  Here on the easel, I will write your task:

1) observe

2) draw accurately

3) write

4) measure 

During the observations, I circulate and keep students focused on answering their recording sheet questions.  I also make sure that they are drawing accurately-- there are no smiley faces on mealworms!  I guide students to look at the checklist of communication strategies we've made in previous lessons too, so that they will be able to see whether they are recording successfully.  Our checklist includes: drawing what we see, labels, accurate color, and diagrams.

Here are some video clips of students working:

Students Observing #1 ~ an "aha" moment for me! This video was an "aha" for me! On his paper, you see he has a large mealworm drawing erased. Once he found the size was a square-tile, he drew a new diagram at *actual* size. I need to discuss how sometimes we draw a larger version to help us see details.

Students Observing #2~ Measuring Students share how and what they observed. You also see the measurement technique of holding the square tile right next to the mealworm. It was actually a bit hard to judge, because the mealworm stretched out longer than the tile, but was usually the same size.

Students Observing #3~ Antlers? This clip shows how working in a group helps with vocabulary development. One student says the mealworm has antlers, and another corrects her by saying, "antennas." The student corrects her vocabulary and also wrote it as antennas later on her diagram.


5 minutes

In closing, I have a few students share what they recorded in their journals.  I am especially looking today for accurate drawings.  It's really important for all students to listen and learn from one another.  I'm hoping students will compare these samples to their own work, and use it to improve their own work!

Then, I ask, "What did we do today that scientists do?"  By asking this question, we are coming back to the science practices and helping students see that they too are scientists!  Students turn-and-talk, then share answers like, "We observed, drew what we saw, and measured with tools."

When assessing student work today, I will ask myself, "Was the student able to accurately observe and draw the mealworm?"

Here are some samples of student work:

Student Work #1 See how this student erased his long drawing of a mealworm and drew a new one at actual size once he had measured.

Student Work #2 One of our communication strategies was to draw a diagram of external parts. Here is a good example of a diagram!

Student Work #3 One of our communication strategies was to draw a diagram of external parts. Here is a good example of a diagram!

Student Work #4, a beginning writer Here, we have a picture at actual size, but no labels or diagram. The sentences are on the worksheet to encourage students to write *more* details. However, this friend cannot read the sentence starters and therefore only completed one as a friend read it to him. My best guess for his writing, without speaking to him, is "ses os" or "six legs."

Student Work #5 This is the friend who was unsure in the video clip if the mealworm was the same as a tile or longer. When the mealworm moved, it got longer than the tile. At rest, it was the same length. I want to call out this problem in tomorrow's lesson and ask how other students grappled with this problem.

Student Work #6 Here is our antlers/antenna friend's work. You can see that once she was corrected, she did indeed write the word antenna on her diagram!