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Do You Know a Monarch When You See One?
Teacher Guide

Hundreds of observers track the monarch's migration every fall and spring. These observers expand the eyes and ears of scientists in ways not possible before the Internet. Their reported observations must be accurate in order for the data to be valid and useful. Careful observation and proper identification are the first important steps. Can your students distinguish a monarch from other look-alike butterflies? These lesson activities will help you cultivate your students’ observation and identification skills, and prepare them for their role of citizen scientists.

This Teacher Guide Includes:


Lesson Goals and Objectives:

Lesson Goals

  1. Help students positively identify a monarch butterfly by its distinctive field marks and unique characteristics.
  2. Help students distinguish between monarchs and look-alike butterflies
  3. Build students’ observation and identification skills in preparation for reporting their own observations.
Lesson Objectives
After reading Do You Know a Monarch When You See One? students will:
  • Draw a scientific illustration of a monarch butterfly.
  • Compare and contrast two butterfly species, the monarch and the viceroy, on a Venn diagram.
  • Discover key words and concepts related to butterfly identification: field marks, thorax, abdomen, forewing, hindwing, scales, wingspan, wing patterns, upperside and underside of wings, and wing margin.
Materials List and Helpful Handouts

For this lesson:

  1. Do You Know a Monarch When You See One? (Booklet or Slideshow)
  2. Drawing supplies: crayons, markers, and/or colored pencils
  3. Large chart paper
  4. Measurement tools: rulers or tape measures (optional)

For each student:
Select from these ready-to-use reproducibles:

Page-by-Page Planning Guide

Experience the text first as a reader and then as an instructor. As you read through the booklet/slideshow text, use this planning guide to capture your thoughts: observations, questions, discoveries, vocabulary, possible teaching applications, etc. Share your thinking process with students to model effective reading strategies.

Planning Guide

Step-by-Step Instructional Plan

Pre-Reading: Set the Stage for Learning

1. Invite students to examine the cover of the booklet/slideshow with the photographs of monarchs and look-alike butterflies. Have them examine the colors, sizes, shapes, patterns and distinguishing field marks of each butterfly. Identify similarities and differences. Ask questions to assess prior knowledge and prepare for reading:

  • Are all of these butterflies the same?
  • How are the butterflies alike in size, shape, and color?
  • How are they different?
  • What do you notice about the patterns on the wings of each butterfly?
  • How about their colors, shapes and sizes?
  • Only one of the butterflies is a monarch. Can you tell which one?

2. Read aloud the title of the booklet/slideshow and invite students to take a picture walk through the pages—quickly scanning the photos, diagrams, and maps. Encourage them to share questions and predictions before reading.

Reading the Booklet
  • Determine how you will have students experience the booklet text for a first reading: whole class, small group, partner, or individual. Encourage students to take notes or mark up the text--underlining key ideas and making notes in the margins.

After Reading: Revisit for Understanding

1. Note-taking Chart: Observe and Identify Provide each student or small group with an Observe and Identify: Note-taking Chart to help them organize facts about the Monarch, Viceroy, Queen, and Painted Lady butterflies. Encourage them to revisit each page of the booklet to collect facts from the text and photographs.



Note-taking Chart
Observe and Identify

2. Draw and Describe the Monarch Butterfly
Give each student a Draw and Describe the Monarch Butterfly handout. Invite them to make a scientific drawing of a monarch butterfly using art supplies. (Challenge older students to draw the butterfly to scale with the help of measurement tools and additional research.) Introduce and define the vocabulary words related to monarch anatomy. Encourage students to use the vocabulary words and photos to describe a monarch butterfly.


Draw and Describe the Monarch Butterfly

3. Compare and Contrast: Monarch and Red Admiral
Using a Venn diagram, have students compare and contrast two butterfly species, the monarch and the viceroy. Have students write the similarities in the intersecting part of the diagram and list the traits unique to each species in the outer portions of the diagram.

Compare and Contrast
Monarch and Red Admiral
4. Monarch Identification Cards
Invite students to design Monarch Identification Cards using the details they collected while reading the booklet and examining photos. Discuss the distribution map on the ID card handout. (A distribution map shows where a species occurs naturally.) Ask, where might you spot a monarch in North America? Explain that knowing where a species is likely to occur can help us to identify a species properly. Show students the monarch butterfly distribution map for North America and challenge them to create their own distribution map on the handout.

Monarch Identification Card

5. Use questions to help students summarize their learning:

  • What field marks will help you identify monarchs?
  • Which look-alike butterflies are often mistaken for monarchs?
  • Which characteristics will help you tell the difference between monarchs and their lookalikes?


6. Wrap Up
Affirm students’ achievements by rewarding a Citizen Scientist Certificate of Excellence to each student who successfully completed lesson activities and demonstrated the ability to accurately identify a monarch butterfly. While passing out certificates remind students that, as citizen scientists, they have an opportunity to contribute to real-world monarch research.
Ask them to predict how they will use their new knowledge and skills. Then preview the two opportunities:

  • Students will report their own observations
  • Students will read reports from other citizen scientists

Citizen Scientist Certificates of Excellence

Focus on Vocabulary

Words and Definitions Related to Monarch Identification
Build understanding of key concepts by exploring these vocabulary words in the context of monarch identification.

Abdomen (noun): third, most posterior segment of monarch’s 3-part body; located after the thorax

Antennae (noun): pair of slim, segmented sensory organs, sometimes called feelers, found above the mouthparts on the head of the monarch; singular form—antenna

Anterior (adjective): at the front end

Field Marks (noun): physical features or behaviors of an organism that can be seen clearly and can be used to distinguish the organism from other similar species

Forewings (noun): the anterior or front pair of wings

Head (noun): first segment of monarch’s 3-part body containing eyes, antennae, and mouthparts

Hindwings (noun): the posterior or rear pair of wings

Posterior (adjective): at the back end

Scales (noun): tiny, flattened modified hairs that cover the wings of butterflies and moths. The different colors and arrangements of these scales are what give butterfly and moth wings their different colors and patterns. In butterflies, scales are usually arranged like overlapping shingles on a roof.

Thorax (noun): the middle segment of the monarch’s 3-part body; located between the head and abdomen, the monarch’s legs and wings are connected to this muscular middle segment.

Wing margin (noun): outer border of the wings

Wingspan (noun): total distance between the tips of the forewings when the wings are held open

Wing veins (noun): thin, hollow, tubular structures in the wings of insects that provide structural support to the wings. The front edge of the forewings contains the strongest and most important vein in the wings.

Venation (noun): the pattern and arrangement of veins on the wings.

Suggested Activities: Building Vocabulary with Journey North
Vocabulary is essential to comprehension. Students need to apply strategies before, during, and after reading to understand texts. Journey North provides a wealth of informational texts to help students learn about words in meaningful contexts. For additional instructional activities, check out this link:

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