A Milkweed Community

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SWBAT state if a relationship between a plant and animal is interdependent or not.

Big Idea

A milkweed plant supports a variety plants and animals. It's like it own little community. How do they depend on each other? Let's find out!

Teacher Notes

Activity Description:

Interdependence and pollination will be explored while reading the book Milkweed Visitors.  After reading, terms in the book will be discussed.  Then they will work in groups of 2 to 3 to fill out a chart indicating whether the critters and the milkweed plant are dependent on each other.  As an evaluation, the children will either show thumbs up or thumbs down to indicate if there is an interdependent relationship involved. 

NGSS Connection:

In the NGSS, one of the goals is to understand the interdependent relationships in ecosystems.  The children need to know that plants depend on animals for pollination.  In later lessons, they also need to develop a simple model that mimics the function of an animal in pollination.  This lesson will be a foundational step in that process.  This lesson also helps the children understand the interactions that take place in a milkweed community so they can understand the diversity of life.  The class will also be working on answering questions from an informational text.


  • book titled Milkweed Visitors by Mary Holland-- This is a delightful book that tells about over a dozen different insects that depend on the milkweed.  The milkweed depends on these critters too for pollination and for protection.  It has gorgeous photos and good information with text appropriate for beginning of the year second grade students to understand.  The children will be working in groups of 2-3 to collect information, so it is best if you have multiple copies of the book.  If you do not have access to multiple copies, you can have your students work together as an entire class.
  • You can get this book directly from a fantastic website www.monarchwatch.org for $11.00.  There are so many great things on the website.  Any profits help support saving the monarch.  You can also get it on Amazon.com for the same price.
  • Milkweed Community Chart- 1 per group of 2 or 3
  • Milkweed Community Teacher Chart and Answer Key--to pull up on Smartboard
  • Milkweed Visitors Vocabulary Cards--1 classroom set; I mounted each vocabulary card on a half sheet of construction paper to make them sturdier;  Note:  This is a 3 page resource.  Make sure to click on the next arrow to see each page.
  •  My Clock Buddies-- 1 per child;  Note:  This is a 2 page resource.  See note above.





15 minutes

The children need to be exposed to as many different real life situations that show animals and plants depending on one another.  Most everyone knows how the monarch caterpillar depends on milkweed for its survival.  But there are so many other insects that are dependent on the milkweed besides monarchs.  And, in turn, the milkweed depends on these animals for pollination.  This lesson will have the children learn about the living community found on milkweed plants, all which are dependent on the milkweed.  

I try to pique their interest, "Did you know that a milkweed plant is like a little city?  It has so many things going on each and every moment.  We're going to take a look at the micro city.  We are going to learn how plants and animals depend on each other.  As we are reading, the author is going to explain to you some difficult words.

 I put the words herbivore, nectivore, predator and pollination on a small whiteboard. 

Be a detective and see if you can spot when she uses the words.  When you hear them, I want you to quietly put your hand up.  Then when we get done reading the book, I want to see if you can remember and define the words. 

I want the children to learn the terms herbivore, nectivore, predator and pollination since those terms will be repeated in the learning of this unit and then again in the biodiversity unit.  Knowing the terms will help with their understanding of the relationships among members of an ecosystem. The term pollination has already been introduced and practiced in several lessons.  Most of the children now understand what pollination is, but there are still a few students grappling with the term.  Understanding what pollination is and how it helps out all of us out is a building block for all of the interdependencies of life, which is essential in the understanding of the standards. 

Then I read the book Milkweed Visitors.  The children are delighted to hear each of the vocabulary words and shoot their hands up immediately.  This technique makes them an active listener and keeps them attune to listening for the information about the word.  Each of the words are described within the text, so it is a great lead-in for further discussion.  


15 minutes

When we get done reading the book, I ask the children for their explanation of the words herbivore, nectivore, predator and pollination.  We discuss their answers and write them on the board.

Then I have the children fill out the first three columns on the Milkweed Community Chart about what we have read.  Their chart only has enough space for 7 animals, so as not to overwhelm them with all of the animals in the book, but it still gives them opportunity to investigate enough critters.  Completing this charts helps them explore the interactions of animals and plants depending on one another. There is one column, interdependence, that we will not fill out until we talk about it later.  

They will be working in groups of 2-3.  Ideally, it is best to have a copy of the book for every group so they can refer back to the book when writing information on the chart.  (If you only have one copy, you can fill it out as a class or have the children fill out the chart with what they remember. Since they will be working as a group, they should be able to come up with lots of ideas collectively).

In the book we read we just learned how animals and plants depend on each other.  I would like you to investigate the relationship between these plants and animals on this Milkweed Community Chart.  In the columns you need to write the name of one of the insects that is a visitor to the milkweed plant, how it depends on the milkweed, how the milkweed depends on it.  

Let's do one for an example.  In the book it talked about how a ladybug sits right on the cups of the flowers.  So I would write "ladybug" in the first column in the very first space.  I would like you to do the same on your chart.  The next column asks us to write how it depends on the milkweed plant.  If I look on page 9 it shows the ladybug drinking nectar.  It also tells that it is a fierce predator that sits and watches for bugs to eat.  So in the next column, which is right next door, I would write "for nectar and for a place to hunt for food."  Please add this to your chart, too.

Then I move over to the next column.  The label on this column is "how the milkweed depends on it."  Since I know that the ladybug helps to pollinate the milkweed I would write "pollination."  Please copy what I have written in this column.

For right now, we are not going to use the last column.  We will discuss and talk about this column after you have done your recording.

For this activity, I have the children work with a Clock Buddy.  This helps them achieve the standard of working collaboratively in a group.  One thing they are actually working on is analyzing and interpreting data.  The children need to look at the information that we have gathered and figure out how the two living things are dependent on each other.

As the children are working, I walk around the room and listen in on the conversations.  I am looking to see if they are using some of the vocabulary from the story and if they can describe the connections between the species in our natural world based on the book that we just read.  If they can't remember the answer, I look to see if they are able to check the resource to find their answer.

 I purposefully did not tell them that there are some species that are not dependent on the other one, since I wanted to see if the children would make that discovery on their own.  Once they made that discovery, they felt very confident about their new knowledge (see video).  Another child was unsure of her knowledge and just needed a little prompting to help her get the answer about pollination (see video).  All I had to do was ask her about what she had learned previously, and she was able to come up with the word pollination.




10 minutes

For the next part I call the children to the floor space in front of the whiteboard.  We discuss information presented in the book.  I use the Milkweed Visitors Vocabulary Cards in my discussion.  I try to bring some real-world examples into the discussion so the children can relate to it and it helps them remember.  Connections are important for the brain.  It can't hold random information, it needs to connect to something else that's already there.  

Scientists sometimes classify animals by what they eat.  The words used to describe how animals eat usually ends in -vore.  -Vore means "one who eats."  

Some animals are called herbivores.  

I place the word card herbivore on the board.

Can you say that word--herbivore?  If we look at the word herbivore I notice that the first word chunk has the word herb in it.  Your parents might use herbs to season meat or veggies.  Herbs are dried leaves from plants that are used for a seasoning.  So when I use the word herbivore, I think of these leaves.  When I look at the second part of the word -vore I know that it means "one that eats."  What do you think herbivores eat?  Right! The word herbivore means one that eats ___________. (herbs, which in this case would be leaves.)

Other animals drink only nectar.  They fly from flower to flower to find it and suck it up with their tongues.  Can you remember what scientists call one who eats nectar?  Remember that the word should end in the word part -vore.  

I place the word card nectivore on the board.  

An animal which eats leaves is called a nectivore.  That's a pretty easy one to remember since the first part of the word is nectar, which it what it drinks.   

I place the word card predator on the board.

Other animals sit and wait for animals to come so they can eat them.  This type of animal is called a _________. I wait for an answer (predator).  What it eats is called the prey.  Why do predators come to the milkweed plant? (to hunt for food and also they might sit there and eat their dinner.)

I put the word card pollination on the board.

We have been learning about pollination. Think back to your own learning about the bees and how they pollinate.  Who can explain how the insects in this book help pollinate the milkweed plant?

"All life needs other life to survive.  All living things depend on their environment to supply them with what they need, including food, water, and shelter. Some visitors come to the milkweed plant for needs of their own.  What were the reasons that some of the insects came to the milkweed plant?"  

The children answer the butterfly comes to drink, the caterpillar eats the leaves, etc. Let's take that example of the monarch caterpillar."

I draw a quick sketch of a monarch caterpillar and then a milkweed. I model this for a few different reasons.  I want them to get an idea of what a sketch consists of, since they will be developing their ideas with sketches this year in science.  In addition,  I really want to emphasis the relationship between the plant and animal groups.

"How does it depend on the milkweed?  A boy comments, "It eats it."  "Great, you are a super scientist!  We can say that the insect depends on the milkweed."

I draw an arrow from the caterpillar to the milkweed.  I place the word card depends on the whiteboard.

I continue, "Milkweed also depends on insects. What is the main way that they milkweed plant was helped by the insects?" I draw another picture of a milkweed plant.  A girl answers, "Butterflies come and help pollinate it." I draw a picture of a butterfly.  "Great, my super scientist! Again, we can say that the milkweed d_________ (I just start the word for them to finish). They finish the word, "depends." I continue, "...on the insect."  I draw an arrow from the milkweed to the butterfly.

"Sometimes this relationship works out great for both the milkweed plant and the insect.  When the milkweed is helped by an insect and that same insect helps the plant, it is called interdependence."

I place the word card interdependence on the board.

Can anyone think of an insect that helped the milkweed and the milkweed helped it?

Then I pull up the Milkweed Community Teacher Chart.  (The answer key is only for your reference). We review the answers in the first two columns.  

I say, "Now we are going to look at the last column on your chart.  I would like everyone to point to the last column.  It asks if the relationship shows interdependence.  Let's review, what does interdependence mean?"

Right.  If two species are interdependent on each other, it means they depend on each other.  Let's take a look at the ladybug again.  Does the ladybug depend on the milkweed?  Does the milkweed depend on it?  Yes!  Since they depend on each other, we say that they are interdependent.  So I am going to put a "yes" in the last column.

Then we go through the a few of the relationships and determine if they are interdependent or not.  Then I tell the children to continue working with their partner to work through all of the insects on their sheet.  They are analyzing and interpreting data that we have collected.

If students had some difficulty analyzing the relationship, I asked them questions to talk them through the process (see video clip).   I was delighted to see some of the children making discoveries on their own, such as the non-mutual relationship between insects, such as caterpillars, and a milkweed plant (see video clip).





5 minutes

Today we learned about dependence and interdependence.  Living things depend on each other to survive.  To check your understanding, I want you to give me a thumbs up if the relationship shows interdependence and a thumb down if it does not.  

  1. A monarch caterpillar eats the leaves of the milkweed. (thumbs down)
  2. A butterfly feeds on the nectar of the plant and in turn helps pollinate the plant. (thumbs up)
  3. A milkweed bug eats the leaves of the milkweed. (thumbs down)
  4. A bee collects pollen for its honey and then helps pollinate the plant. (thumbs up)
  5. A wasp that helps pollinate the milkweed and finds its food on the milkweed. 

Then I give them two scenarios to see if they can apply what they have learned about interdependence to a new situation:

  1. A squirrel climbs up an oak tree.  It grabs some acorns to eat.  It also buries some acorns to eat later.  Some of the acorns he buries turn into oak trees. (thumbs up
  2. A group of grasshoppers eat an entire crop of corn. (thumbs down)
  3. A japanese beetle eats all of the leaves off of a rose bush.  The rose bush dies. (thumbs down)
  4. A clown fish finds shelter in an anemone and in turn fights off its enemies. (thumbs up)
  5. The crocodile lies with its mouth open and the plover bird feeds on bits of decaying meat stuck in the crocodile’s teeth. The crocodile doesn’t eat the plover bird but it allows the plover to eat and the crocodile gets clean teeth. (thumbs up)

As the students are showing their thumbs, I mentally keep track of their answers to see if they got the concept.  Most of my class was able to answer the questions correctly, so I feel we are able to move on to the following lesson where they take their new knowledge and create a page in their own Butterfly Bush Visitors book.