Teaching overview

Learning points

  • Monarch butterflies migrate from North America to Mexico every autumn, so that they can spend the winter in a warmer climate.
  • The monarch butterflies use the position of the Sun to navigate.
  • Monarch butterflies only live for a few weeks, so each individual only completes a small part of the whole migration.

Curriculum keywords

  • Habitats
  • Life cycles
  • Seasons
  • The Sun and Earth

Multimedia toolbox

Migrating animals visual

Show the visual before the film and ask the students where they think the animals are going, and discuss the reasons why animals migrate.

Monarch butterfly video loop

Show the visual before or after the film to spark a discussion about the stages (egg, caterpillar, chrysalis, adult butterfly) of a butterfly life cycle.

Butterfly life cycle visual

Show the visual before or after the film to spark a discussion about the stages (egg, caterpillar, chrysalis, adult butterfly) of a butterfly life cycle.

Migration
The movement of people or animals from one area to another.
The movement of people or animals from one area to another.

Migration

Show the visual after the film to reinforce key scientific language.

Spark a discussion

  • What do animals need to survive?
  • What is migration? Why do animals migrate?
  • Can you give any examples of animals that migrate?
  • Why do monarch butterflies migrate?
  • How long does a round trip take? How many generations does it take to complete this journey?
  • How do monarch butterflies know which direction to fly?
  • How do monarch butterflies know where they are going?
  • What are the four points of a compass?
  • In which direction does the Sun rise? In which direction does the Sun set?
  • What do you know about the butterfly life cycle?
  • How do butterflies reproduce? How is this similar and different to other animals?

Activities

Monarch butterfly fact sheet

RESEARCH the monarch butterfly and produce a fact sheet that includes information about its life cycle and annual migration.

Open detailed instructions

Other activity ideas

  • WRITE a piece of text comparing the monarch butterfly migration to another animal migration, describing how the migrations are similar and different, the reasons why each animal migrates, and the distances they travel.
  • MAKE a butterfly feeder out of a sponge dipped in sugar solution to encourage wildlife into the school grounds, and observe and record how many butterflies visit.
  • OBSERVE a butterfly life cycle by looking after live caterpillars in the classroom, watching as they grow, spin chrysalises, and then emerge as adult butterflies.
Print this sheet

Monarch butterfly fact sheet

Duration: 90 minutes

Resources:

  • Access to a computer
  • A3 poster board or construction paper
  • Coloured pens/pencils
  • A selection of craft materials (e.g. tissue/coloured paper, stickers, glitter, modelling clay, glue, scissors, paper plates, pipe cleaners and paint)

Key Learning:

This activity develops the students’ scientific communication skills and promotes research-based learning, by tasking them with using online resources to explore and gather information about the monarch butterfly.

Activity instructions:

  1. Tell the students that they are going to research the monarch butterfly and create a fact sheet. The fact sheet will cover a wide variety of information, including the butterfly’s life cycle and annual migration.
  2. Discuss with the class the different areas they could focus their research on. You can ask the following prompt questions:
    • What do monarch butterflies look like?
    • Where do they live?
    • What do they eat?
    • Why do they migrate? What is the migratory journey? How long does it take?
    • How do they reproduce? What are the different stages of their life cycle?
    • Could you find out any fun/weird/interesting facts?
  3. Recap the key scientific terminology with the class, and tell them that they should aim to include as many of these terms in their fact sheet as possible:
    • Migration: The movement of people or animals from one area to another.
    • Life cycle: The stages in the life of a living thing, from birth to death.
    • Instinct: An in-built behaviour in animals.
    • Larva: The young of an animal that undergoes metamorphosis to become an adult.
    • Chrysalis: The stage in a butterfly or moth life cycle between its larval and adult forms. Chrysalises have a hard casing to protect the insect during metamorphosis.
  4. Show the resources to the class and tell them that they can use any of these to make their fact sheet. For example, they could make a model life cycle using a paper plate and paint, or make a model butterfly using pipe cleaners and tissue paper, or print out a map and draw on the butterfly’s migration route.
  5. Ask the students to work in pairs to first carry out research and then create their fact sheet.
  6. Ask the pairs to present their work to the class and highlight the key features and information. The students can discuss which fact sheets are the most informative and use images and scientific terminology most effectively.

Background information

  • Migration is the movement of people or animals from one area to another. Animals migrate for a number of reasons, including to breed, to find food, or because the weather is too hot or cold at certain times of the year. Some animals migrate fairly short distances, while others travel thousands of kilometres. It is thought that different animals use a variety of methods to navigate over long distances, such as using the position of the Sun and stars, or detecting differences in the Earth’s magnetic field.
  • Each year, millions of monarch butterflies migrate over long distances, leaving North America for Mexico during late summer or autumn and then flying back again the following spring. The average lifespan of a monarch butterfly is four weeks, which means that the complete migration pattern (there and back) happens over multiple generations.
  • All living things go through stages of development. Together, these stages are called a life cycle. While the offspring of some organisms are smaller, less developed versions of the adult form, other organisms undergo a change called metamorphosis – for example, butterflies, frogs and ladybirds. Some life cycles are very short, lasting only a matter of days or weeks. Other life cycles, such as the oak tree’s, can run for decades or hundreds of years.

Glossary

Migration
The movement of people or animals from one area to another.
Life cycle
The stages in the life of a living thing, from birth to death.
Instinct
An in-built behaviour in animals.
Season
A period of the year (spring, summer, autumn or winter) that is marked by particular weather patterns and daylight hours.

Explore our resources

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