Life Cycle of a Butterfly - First Observations

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SWBAT to demonstrate with words and drawings what they know about caterpillars and butterflies.

Big Idea

All creatures go through the life cycle change, understanding the cycle and sequence of those changes is critical to the survival of the species.

Caring for your Live Speciman

5 minutes

This lesson is the first in a series of four that works with live butterfly larva ordered from the Carolina Biological Company.  



10 minutes

These lessons for the Life Cycle of the Butterfly are based upon Washington State Science standards. Washington State standards are closely tied to the Next Generation Science Standards.  Washington State is in a four year transition phase to move towards the NGSS.  Washington State is in year two of this phase and will be complete in 2016-2017.   

LS1B in the Washington State standards specifically addresses the learning of animal life cycles. Students must be able to describe the life cycle of a common animal from the beginning of the life cycle to the end.  

"Alright scientists, I want you to close your eyes, just for a moment.  In your mind, I want you to visualize a caterpillar. If you aren't sure what a caterpillar is, that is alright. We are going to be learning about them; and you will know a lot when we are finished.  Now, I want to ask you to take a couple minutes to think about what you know about caterpillars.  We are going to brainstorm together and fill out this chart with all the information we know about caterpillars. When we have finished, we are going to fill out a second one with all the information you know about butterflies." 

I have the charts prepared ahead of time to save valuable teaching time. I always enclose my charts with borders around the outside edges.  Brain research claims that adding a box or dark line around the new information your brain is taking in, helps to organize the new thoughts and concepts. I have done this for years with all my charts.

Circle maps are great to document brainstorming or generating ideas. Both maps are really an information gathering session.  I want to know before we begin this unit what knowledge my students will be bringing to the learning.  The charts will remain posted in the classroom throughout the duration of this unit.


10 minutes

I explain to the children that we will need to document our learning in our journals and will need to have a cover for this section of information within our insect unit of the journal.  I pass out the cover pages (slide 14 of the power point).  I give the girls the cover page with the little girl and boys receive the little boy.  

On my computer, I have my Life Cycle of the Butterfly Power Point ready to go.  Slide one is a title slide and I have it here to begin.  I explain to the children that we are going to be beginning a unit on insects. That we will be learning all about them and how important they are to our world.  

Slide two, shows an empty sketching box.  I pass out to the students a copy of slide 12. I have cut the page in half, because the pages have two separate activities for the children to complete. I purposely give them only one page at at time.  Children with prior experience will work ahead and I really want them to stay in the moment of the conversation happening in the classroom. They may pick up more information from their classmates during the dialogue.

Slide 12,  mimics slide two without the colorful background.  Whenever I make a power point to teach a lesson, I add the blacklines I will will use with students to the end of the slide show.  This is a handy way to keep all my materials together.  I am guaranteed to always have it in the correct place.  But I also want a larger version on the screen to offer graphics for the students who are very visual and need to see it before completing the task.  It also offers an opportunity for me to model on the screen what I would like the children to complete. 

I ask the children to take the sketching page and sketch a caterpillar. I remind them to include all that they know about caterpillars and to practice the skills we learned about when we diagrams and labels.  

I give the children about five minutes to complete this task.  Afterwards, I bring them a second sketching page (the bottom half of slide 12).  

"Boys and girls, you just finished sketching a caterpillar.  I am wondering if after our brainstorming session, you could also sketch for me all that you know about the life cycle of a butterfly.  You are going to do it on this second sketching page. I will give you about five minutes to complete this." 

Slides four and five, guide the next part of the learning.  

Slide four shows a beautiful picture of a caterpillar.  "Alright scientists, look at this picture. Wow! it is gorgeous.  This is a caterpillar.  Does it look anything like the sketch you just made?  You know not all caterpillars will look exactly like this one.  This is one type of a caterpillar.  But their bodies are all shaped the same way."

Slide five has guiding questions, to facilitate the class conversation.  I touch the questions on the screen one at a time.  Each time, I focus on a question, I ask the children to turn and talk to a shoulder buddy and discuss what they know about the question.  I wander around listening to the conversations.  This takes only about five minutes.  

I am listening to hear the language the children are using to share with their partners.  I want to know if the language is part of their speaking vocabulary already, or if this will be language I will need to intentionally and explicitly teach and focus on throughout the course of the unit.   


10 minutes

This section is out of sequence with the 5E model.  I do this intentionally.  I want the children to be able to create the section in their journal prior to moving into the explanation of what we are learning about.  If I do not do this in this order, we will not have the time to add the journal elements into the notebook. 

I explain to the children that it is very difficult for us to see the process of the caterpillar hatching from it's egg, but that I have a video clip for them to see it happening.  I show the video clip and let the images sink in.  The video is amazing and the children are in awe of what they see.  


Slide eight shows an egg with an arrow moving towards a caterpillar.  I ask them to think back to the sketch they made earlier that showed me what they knew about the life cycle of the butterfly. And I ask...."Is this what you sketched? Is this the entire life cycle? Think about those two questions in your mind.  Let me share some interesting information with you. Caterpillars go through four amazing changes in their life cycle.  This is just the first cycle." 

I intentionally use the words, life cycle, as often as I can possibly bring them into any conversation.  The understanding of a life cycle is really hard for children to sometimes grasp. Understanding that life continues in a cyclical pattern is more than just life and death of a creature.  This will be the first formal exposure during the second grade year, where my students will begin to see the life cycle pattern come up.  In following units, we will discuss many life cycles of other animals and plants.  

Slides nine and ten are all of the Washington State Science standards listed. These standards apply to the entire unit, not just for this lesson. I like to share these standards with the students so they understand why we are learning about the butterflies.  The language is not written in kid friendly language.  I do my best to try and explain the standards to the children.  

I also explain to them that it will take us a few weeks to make it through all the learning of these standards.  

I end on slide 1..."So my little entomologists, we are beginning our first phase of learning about the caterpillar and it's life cycle." 


5 minutes

I really want to know if the students have understood, beyond the excitement of the live specimens arriving, that we will be watching and learning about the life cycle of butterflies.  So I ask them to turn to their table teams and quickly take turns discussing what we will be learning about in this unit.  

I give them two minutes.  When the time has expired, I ring my bell and wait for the team leaders to stand and report out.  I will be listening for the children to share that we will be learning about the "life cycle of the butterfly." 

If I do not hear those words, I will prompt them with more questions.  

"Are we going to be learning only about the egg?  Or just the caterpillar?"  This will trigger their thinking and remind them that it will be the entire life cycle.