Do You Know a Monarch When You See One?
Teaching Suggestions

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Hundreds of observers track the monarch's migration every fall and spring. In order for the data to be valid and useful, reported sightings must be accurate.

How can an observer distinguish a monarch from other look-alike butterflies?


Lesson Goals and Objectives


  1. Help students accurately 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.
By the end of the lesson students will:
  • Draw a scientific illustration of a monarch butterfly.
  • Compare and contrast two butterfly species on a Venn diagram.
  • Define key words related to butterfly identification.
1. Examine the cover of the slideshow depicting monarchs and look-alike butterflies. Have students describe the colors, sizes, shapes, patterns and distinguishing field marks of each butterfly. Ask questions to assess prior knowledge:
  • How are the butterflies alike and different in size, shape, and color?
  • How would you describe the patterns on the wings of each butterfly?
  • Which field marks distinguish the monarch from other butterflies?

2. Read aloud the title 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.


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

1. Observe and Identify
Give students the Note-taking Chart to help them organize facts about the Monarch, Viceroy, Queen, and Painted Lady butterflies. Revisit each page of the slideshow to collect facts from the text and images.



2. Draw and Describe
Give students the Draw and Describe handout to create a scientific drawing of a monarch butterfly. Challenge them to draw the butterfly to scale with the help of measurement tools. Introduce glossary words related to monarch anatomy. Encourage students to use the vocabulary words and photos to describe a monarch.


3. Compare and Contrast
Using the Venn diagram, have students compare and contrast two butterfly species, the monarch and the viceroy. After comparing the images, read the non-fiction article, Monarch or Viceroy?

4. Design Identification Cards
Have students synthesize their learning by designing Identification Cards. Discuss the distribution map. Explain that knowing where a species is likely to occur can help with identification. Challenge students to map and describe monarch distribution in North America on their identification cards.

5. Wrap Up
Affirm student achievement with a Citizen Scientist Certificate of Excellence. Summarize how students contribute to real-world monarch research as citizen scientists.