Social Insects - The Many Talents of Ants

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Students will read short passages about different ant species and create a diagram comparing and contrasting their different group behaviors.

Big Idea

Ants work in groups in many different ways.


5 minutes

Students enter my class with varied backgrounds and this is true with specific information about ants as much as it is with anything else.  This year, for example, some of them came from a 2nd grade room in which they'd studied insects.  Others knew information from videos.  Some knew nothing.   I gave them this challenge:

Animals work together in groups.  In teams for 2, list as many different jobs as possible that you think ants might have.  You will have 7 minutes.  Ready, set, go!

I have them do this on their whiteboards.

I put them in groups of 6 and have them share their ideas.  I focus on having them structure their comments in complete, clear sentences.  If they have opinions, I ask them to justify them, and to distinguish (when possible) between a fact (I saw ants on the sidewalk this morning) and an opinion (They are interesting because...).

Then I show them this short video clip of rafting fire ants.



35 minutes

This  lesson addresses language goals as well as the science standard of explaining how groups sometimes benefit animals.

Now that students have had an experiential introduction group behavior of ants in the lesson Amazing Ants - Group Behavior in Insects,  it's time to read a bit about some of their amazing social/group behaviors.  At the conclusion of this activity, each student will present a mini-report, mini-poster, or reenactment with narration of one of the group behaviors complete with a statement about how this group behavior benefits the species.

Each student or pair of students reads one of the three passages about Group Behavior in Ants.  I have them take notes on the side about key vocabulary, details relevant to group behavior, and if they read more than one passage, patterns.  They are also encouraged to think about patterns they see in the group behavior of ants versus other animals.  Some students might notice, for example, that sometimes an individual is sacrificed or suffers for the benefit of the group.  Many times the animal world can be very Spock, "The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the one or the few."



12 minutes

I place students in n inside-outside circle and have them share their responses to the following prompts with their partner.

  • What is a specific ant behavior you read about and how did it benefit the group?
  • What is an interesting detail you learned about an ant species that is not relevant to group behavior?
  • What is a question you have about the ant behavior you read about?  Explain.
  • How is ant social behavior different from how people behave in groups?  Move beyond comments such as, "People don't dig underground tunnels to live in."  
  • What is an ant group behavior that is similar to something people do?  How is it similar?

This is a study guide with the questions that can be used by students or as a teacher note-taking page.  Here is how I use it: