You’ll find that insects are a great basis for teaching several language areas such as colours, numbers, food and body parts. Below I take insect by insect and give suggestions of activities you can develop around each one.
The Very Hungry Caterpillar book by Eric Carle (see also other insect-related books by Eric Carle).
- Great for teaching food and days of the week.
- Each child can draw a section of the caterpillar about the size of a mug or small saucer. Put them all together to display. Use this activity to work on colours and shapes with everyone drawing different colours or shapes on their section. You could tie in food as well by asking each child to draw their favourite food (or what they think is the caterpillar’s favourite food), in their section of caterpillar as though it were a series of stomachs!
A fun and visual finger-action nursery rhyme. You can make your own flashcards to represent the different stages of the rhyme, with the spider and spout, the rain, the sun and the spider and spout again. Distribute a set of four to each child or small group of children. They have to put the cards into the correct order as they listen to the rhyme.
Incy Wincy Spider
Incy Wincy spider climbed up the spout
Out came the rain and washed poor Incy out
Out came the sunshine and dried up all the rain
Incy Wincy spider climbed up the spout again
For very young learners use ladybirds for practising numbers by playing a bingo game with pictures of ladybirds with different numbers of spots on them.
Here is a traditional rhyme related to ladybirds that the children can use as inspiration for an illustration. They could use it to imagine what sort of house a ladybird lives in. You might want to tell the children that the young ladybirds in the song all find their mummy in the end so they don’t get upset by the rhyme!
Ladybird ladybird fly away home
Your house is on fire and your children are gone
All except one and her name is Anne
And she has crept under the frying pan
Draw a large beetle on the board with a head, body, legs, feelers and eyes. Number the body parts 1-6. Each child has a piece of paper, crayons and access to a dice. In small groups they take it in turns to roll the dice and draw the corresponding body part. They should say at the same time ‘I can draw the head.’ or ‘I can’t go.’ if they have already rolled that number. This is good for practising numbers, colours and body parts (idea adapted from Games for Children by Gordon Lewis and Günther Bedson).
Here are a few poems for inspiration. You can tell them to your children and/or make up a poem together. You can use this one I’ve written as a frame for a class poem by replacing the words underlined. It really doesn’t matter if it doesn’t rhyme.
I love insects, they love me
I love spiders and centipedes.
Worms are slimy, slugs are too,
Ladybirds are red, beetles are blue.
Every Insect by Dorothy Aldis
Every insect (ant, fly, bee)
Is divided into three:
One head, one chest, one stomach part.
Some have brains.
All have a heart.
Insects have no bones
But with feelers they can smell
Dinner half a mile away.
Can your nose do half as well?
Also you'd be in a fix
With all those legs to manage:
Snail taken from www.canteach.ca
He cannot fly.
He cannot hop.
He cannot run at all.
But you should see
The way he goes
Slowly up the wall.
He cannot skip
Or race about.
He has one way to go;
And as I watched him
I must say
He's good at going slow.
Little Miss Muffet (traditional)
Little Miss Muffet, sat on a tuffet,
Eating of curds and whey;
There came a great spider that sat down beside her,
And frightened Miss Muffet away.
Apart from the obvious subject of colours you could tie it in with numbers. Make your own colour by numbers butterfly picture where the children have to find the number and recognize the words ‘blue’, ‘red’ etc. This could be a matching activity with one half of the butterfly already completed. You will need a colour photocopier for this. Why not turn it into an information gap exercise whereby the children are in pairs and have to dictate / describe their half of the butterfly for their partner to complete. You will need two different butterflies half completed.
- You can lead on from the caterpillar theme and teach them about the life cycle of a caterpillar. Don’t forget though that you are an English teacher and not a biology teacher so never lose sight of the objectives of introducing new language. You will want to keep it simple so use flashcards to illustrate the different stages of the cycle and minimise complex language to ‘cocoon’.
Using ants as the main subject you could introduce adjectives, comparatives and superlatives depending on the age and level of your pupils. Ants are a good starting point for descriptions such as ‘Ants are small’ ‘Butterflies are bigger than ants.’ etc
You can use characters which are probably very familiar to the children such as Winnie the Pooh, to create a story about bees and the honey they produce. Making up your own story about the bees, the queen bee, the workers, Winnie getting stung on his nose, Tigger not liking honey and being chased by the bees would be the easiest thing to do. Then get the children to find the ending or illustrate their favourite part of the story.
If you have the possibility to take the children outside then they would love to go hunting for spiders or worms under stones. Just lay down a few rules beforehand about no touching, stamping or hurting the insects in any way. It’s a great way to make the topic come to life and even if all you have is one dead spider in a jar for your class to have a look at, they will be mesmerized and completely hooked on the subject.
This site has a collection of poems about insects:
This site has a simple song about flies and bees:
Here there are lots of ideas about insects: