Insects Unit: Insects Everywhere / Observation Drawing

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

This is an awesome observation drawing exercise that I recommend, even if it seems very difficult! Learning how to look – and look again – is a wonderful way for the young students to concentrate their attention. By really looking and observing they learn how to see things much better. Young students can totally do this. The direction here is: draw what you see and not what you imagine. Nature is totally awesome and we all need to pay more attention to the world around us. I brought live insects and the students were so excited!

1 session

Science words
Habitats, insects, magnifier

Art words
Observation drawing

Clean, clear containers with air holes or netting on top, magnifying glass, drawing paper, pencils (3B or 4B prefered).

One insect in a clear plastic box per student with a lid with tiny holes for oxygen. Light substrat to see the insect better.
Some insects, like Madagascar hissing cockroaches can be bought at the East Bay Vivarium in Berkeley. Some insects can be easily found under rocks and logs in the parks in the Bay Area.

1. Presentation of a short PowerPoint


Question: What is the insect on the photo?
– a grasshopper
Question: What’s make an insect an insect
3 body parts & 6 legs
Then show the diagram
Ask the students to come point to the different parts

insect anatomy insect anatomy2


Question: What is the insect in the top right photo?
– a cricket
Describe its habitat (on the left) – What’s an habitat?
What is the insect in the bottom left photo?
– a leaf bug
Why does it look like a leaf?
– to blend with the leaves in its habitat,
Describe its habitat on the right. What’s its name
– jungle
Could the cricket live in the jungle?
No – it is too wet and dark.
Could the leaf bug live in the grassland?
No, it is too sunny and too dry. And he could not blend in its habitat.


Another insect and its habitat
What’s the insect on the left?
– a butterfly
What type of habitat is the photo on the right?
– the rain forest
This butterfly lives in the rain forest and is not found in another type of forest.

We are going to observe insects that are not in their natural habitat. That’s what we do for observation, because it is easier.
Here are the insects we are going to observe:
– Madagascar Hissing Cockroaches, originally from Madagascar, they are imported and are bred in captivity at the East Bay Vivarium. Madagascar hissing cockroaches hiss by exhaling air through breathing holes, a unique trait among insects. Unlike most cockroaches, they are wingless, but are excellent climbers and can even scale smooth glass. Males are distinguished from females by their thicker, hairier antennae and the pronounced “horns.” Madagascar hissing cockroaches are also commonly referred to as hissing cockroaches. These insects are native to Madagascar and live in forests and other moist, tropical regions.


Where is Madagascar?
show the map:


Here are the insects we are going to observe:

– Black Field Cricket


– Jerusalem Cricket


– Tenebrionid beetle


Black Field Cricket, Jerusalem Cricket and Tenebrionid beetle can be found in parks around the bay area, they are common insects. The jerusalem cricket loves potatoes so guess who does not like him?
– the farmer
The jerusalem cricket is considered a pest.
The tenebrionid beetle is also called a “stink bug”

Show an example of a drawing


Tell the student; Observation drawing is difficult. There is no expectation for this exercises other than trying as many times as possible. Looking and trying to render what we see. If we try several times it is going to look closer to what we observe. But it takes time. So do not be frustrated if it is not “right” the first time, it can’t be.

Now each student is going to get an insect in a jar, a magnifier, a pencil, a paper.
Each student observes the insect without shaking the box. the lid stays on top.
Take your time to observe and draw. Try to draw not too small. you can have several drawings on the same paper. This is a study. The student can represent only details, like a leg.

michele guieu IMG_6580_small

At the end of the session we take a few minutes for a group presentation of a reconstituted habitat for a colony of Madagascar cockroaches. the soil is mostly decomposing wood, it is very moist. Where are the cockroaches?
– under the piece of bark. Why? – they are active at night, so they do not do much until it is dark outside.

There is another cage with a reconstituted habitat for beetles. They are California native, very active at this time of the day. They like sandy soil with decaying leaves, and rocks.