Insects unit: A mobile about the complete metamorphosis of the Monarch Butterfly

Montalvo Arts Center / Teaching Artists in the Schools Residency / 2nd grade, 10 session project, Rosemary Elementary School, Campbell, CA, Fall 2016.

This mobile takes 3 x one hour session. It is a great way for the 2nd grade students to understand the cycle of the complete metamorphosis. The exercise is more interesting if you can have real monarch butterflies in the classroom! This time the students were very lucky to have 2 cages where some caterpillars and with the Monarch’s host plant: the milkweed. One cage was prepared by my friend Diane Guerin, insect connoisseur and gardener extraordinaire, and my youngest son Harper, who is also an insect connoisseur, prepared the other one. All the caterpillar made their chrysalis. Not all the butterflies hatched from their chrysalis, but we had three beautiful Monarch butterfly to observe. After observation they were released in Sunnyvale, where the caterpillars were coming from.

The students could observe the caterpillar, the chrysalis and the butterfly. They all made their mobile independently, using various materials and techniques. They were very proud of the result!
This exercise can be adapted to other types of life cycles.

2 sessions

Science words
egg, caterpillar, pupa, metamorphosis
Art words
mobile, process

– Make the different elements
– Attach the elements together
– class discussion




Material: paper mache (chrysalis and egg), wire, white (butterfly) and green (leaves) construction paper, pipe cleaners (yellow, white, black – for the caterpillar), glue, green paint (for the chrysalis), paper plate for each students to keep everything together, one Twisteez per student (thin flexible metal wire covered in plastic), paper tape for tags, one piece of paper towel for the paper mache, a black fine sharpie (to write the name on the plate and on the tag, to draw the lines on the leaves).

Preparation for session 1
Bring to class monarch caterpillars with enough milkweed (with water) in a terrarium for the students to observe.
Prepare the paper mache in the morning in a closed plastic container so that it does not dry. You have to prepare enough so that each student can make a chrysalis and an egg (approximately the equivalent of a small tangerine).
Prepare the construction paper: you will need two strips of greens for each student. I cut a letter size paper in 4 strings: 8.5×2.75”.
prepare half of one Twisteez (15”) per student and tape a tag on it with paper tape.

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The Activity

Tell the students that they are going to make a mobile about the metamorphosis, show them the example you made. Ask them to name one stage, and then go from there through 4 stages and start again. The mobile is made like a cycle. It never ends.

Ask the students to observe the cages with the caterpillar and hopefully a few chrysalis. Observe the caterpillar eating, observe the host – the milkweed – , the shape of the leaves. Observe the shape of the chrysalis. Insist that all these shapes are very specific.

monarch caterpillar

Distribute all the material (not the paper mache) in the photo and a pencil.

Ask the students to write their name on the plate and on the tag (on the wire).

To make the caterpillar
Show the students how to make the caterpillar. Start by hooking the three pipe cleaners on the pencil and take the pipe cleaner tightly around the pencil. To see well the stripes, you need to have your three pieces of pipe cleaners very flat next to each other.

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Once the caterpillar is done, pull it from the pencil.

To make the leaves
Remind the students that the shape of the milkweek is special – long. They draw one leaves on each piece of paper. They cut the leaves. They can redraw the lines with the sharpie, it looks more contrasted. They write their name on the other side of the leaves.

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Ask the students to put the caterpillar and the leaves in the plate.

The Chrysalis and the egg

Distribute a piece of paper towel and put a lump of paper mache (one small tangerine per student) on it.
Ask the students to take their twisteez and to roll the end of it on their pencil a few times to make what looks like a pig tail.

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Give a short demo on how to make the chrysalis. Take some of the paper mache lump and place it directly around the pig tail. Shape the chrysalis. The monarch butterfly chrysalis shape looks a little bit like a strawberry. Draw it on the board. Draw what it is not: a ball, a sausage, a pear. Ask the students to take some time to shape their chrysalis.


Once it is done, they can put it on the plate to dry. They make the egg the size of a small marble and put it on the plate.

There should be 5 elements on the plate:

  • the caterpillar,
  • two leaves
  • one egg
  • one chrysalis

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The last element, the butterfly, will be done during the next session.


Continuing to work on the elements for mobile, corresponding of the four stages of the complete metamorphosis of the Monarch butterfly.


One butterfly hatched! It was great to observe the Monarch Butterfly the same day as we were drawing it!

We started the session with gluing the caterpillar on one leaf and the egg on the other leaf with liquid glue.
Then the students painted their chrysalis green with tempera paint.

Main activity of the session : The student drew a Monarch butterfly with its very unique design, specific to the species.

For this part of the exercise, I show to the students a step-by-step construction of the structure of the Monarch Butterfly’s wings design. I did it under the projector. It is a difficult observation drawing, with a complex and fascinating structure. I told the students to breathe, to relax and to try their best. It is a great opportunity to do something new and challenging. Nature is complex and taking the time to observe it requires efforts. The students first drew the lines with a pencil, then with a black fine sharpie.

First we talked about symmetry. I gave them a strong construction paper with a line already traced in the middle to start their drawing.

What is symmetry? What is symmetry in the human body? (show)
What is the first thing we are going to draw? (the body, right in the middle of the page, on the line).

I asked “How many wings does the butterfly have? (four, two pairs)
Where are they attached? (on the thorax)

Then I drew one upper wing – then the opposite one – I insisted on symmetry for each element.

At the end of the session, the four elements for the mobile. The butterfly will be finished next week and the students will assemble their mobile.


– Cut 3 pieces of Twisteez per students, 11” each.
– Prepare a mobile structure for each student. Here’s the one I created. There may be a simpler solution but the idea is to have a circle to match the idea of the metamorphosis cycle (the cycle never ends).
– Prepare one skewer per student, the ones at Safeway are good. But cur the pointy part and sand it so that it is safe.
Just before class cut one piece of duct tape per student and tape the skewer on the side of each table. This is to help the students suspend their mobile when they attach their elements on it. It is much easier than to do it on the table, things do not get tangled.

Finishing the butterfly and assembling the mobile.


Before starting the session. On the table, for each student:

    • the paper plate with both leaves and the chrysalis,
    • the drawing of the Monarch butterfly, an orange marker,
    • 3 pieces of twistees (11”each), scissors.
    • Give one hole puncher for 2 students

Finish the Monarch butterfly drawing
Explain that after the black design on the wings, the students are going to fill the orange part of the design but leaving the white dots white. Show a simplified design of a monarch butterfly under the projector.


Explain how the students can use the “side” of the marker by using it slanted and make larger marks on the paper. If the orange goes on the black part it dos not matter because the orange is transparent and will not do anything to the black surface.

If some students need to finish the black, they do that first.


Then the students will have to cut around the butterfly. Show a useful tip: if you cut the paper from the outside to the butterfly several times rather than trying to go around at once it will be much easier, especially for the antenna.

When cutting tell the students to always be thoughtful about what they are doing: try to cut a nice line, not chopped.

Each time a student is ready for the next step, explain the step to the whole class, so that everyone has something to do. The other students will catch up at their rhythm.

When the butterfly is cut, what do we need to do? – attach each element to a piece of wire (there are three on the table).


But before to do that what do we need? – to punch holes with the hole puncher. How many? – one for the butterfly, one for each leaf.

Show how to use the hole puncher. Describe the hole puncher: it looks like a mouth with a tongue, it has one tooth. Take the puncher in your hand, the tooth at the top. You see the tongue? Put the paper you want to punch underneath the tongue. Press to see where the hole will be made and press more to cut the hole. Try with the paper you cut from around the butterfly.

Where should you make the holes? – Away from the edge. Why? – because otherwise it will tear very easily.

The students make the three holes.


Then show how to attach the wire. Pass the wire through the hole once, You have one long piece on one side, one short piece on the other side. Tie the short piece around the long piece until it is all tied.

Repeat for both leaves.

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Now the students have their four elements attached with a piece of wire: the chrysalis, the leaves and the butterfly.


Give to each student a circular structure to attach the four elements. Hang the circular structure onto the skewer on the side of the table. Tell the students to push their chair and to work on the floor.


The students attach the four elements on the structure by tying the wire neatly on the circle.

Remind the students that they have to have their metamorphosis cycle working. What are the steps of the metamorphosis? – egg, butterfly, caterpillar and pupa-chrysalis.
Attach on the mobile structure accordingly.

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Hang all the mobiles on a wire in the classroom with paper clips.

Et voila! The students should remember the complete metamorphosis of the monarch butterfly for quite some time!