Insects Unit: What Makes an Insect an Insect? A Flexible Composition

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

This is a great exercise to learn about all the parts that make an insect an insect (head, 2 antennae, thorax, 6 legs, abdomen). The material is not glued and can be reused. The students document the different versions with a tablet and keep files that can be shared on a screen and critiqued, or printed. It also shows the students the diversity of the materials that can be used for art projects, and they are not necessarily expensive materials bought in the art store. Art can be made at home with what we have at our disposal.

Distinguishing Characteristics

– Six legs and three body parts: head, thorax, abdomen
– Most but not all insects have wings.

Science words
Abdomen, antennae, thorax

– Learn about the insect parts by making an insect with recycled material
– Take photos with an iPad
– class discussion

Art words
composition, process, documenting

Material for each student: recycled material, a large piece of construction paper cut in the same proportion as the ipad or tablet you are going to use (not too square, not too long), pencil, black sharpie, a paper plate where to put all the element, a piece of white paper to make a tag iPads or tablet (one for four student is fine) to document the different versions.


Get enough recycled material that can represent antennae, legs, head, thorax, abdomen. RAFT San Jose is an excellent place to find that type of material.
Put together one set of material for each student in paper lunch bags. In the bag there should be enough material to make more than one insect.
prepare a name tag for yourself on a small piece of white paper, that will be used when you do the demo for the exercise.

How it works
1. Tell the students to refresh their memory about insects’ body parts. Give them a diagram of an insect where they write: head, antenna, thorax, legs, abdomen. Tell then they are going to build insects and take photos of their composition, but all the parts have to be there for a reason. The student should be able to name all the parts on their composition.
Then give one white piece of paper per student, ask then to write their name nicely.

2. Give the students a short demo. Tell the students to sit in front of you on the rug. take with you a piece of black construction paper, your name tag, one bag of recycled material, a paper plate and an iPad. Empty the bag in the plate. Talk briefly about the materials the students are going to use, the fact that we have this giant warehouse in San Jose (RAFT) where lots of companies donate what they do not use anymore.

Start building an insect flat on the construction paper, name the parts. Tell the students that this is just an example, there are many possible combinations with the elements and that is just one of them.

michele guieu IMG_0106_small
Take a photo of your composition. Ask who never used the photo app on an iPad. Explain how the app works. click on the photo icon. Be sure that the option “photo” is highlighted – we are taking a photo, not a video, time-lapse or square photo (our document is a rectangle, we are going to take a rectangular photo).

Good framing is very important. We want to take a photo of the insect on the black paper, not of the carpet. The black paper has to take as much space in the iPad photo window.
Tell the student they must stay very still when they take the photo, otherwise it will be blurry.

Be sure that the name tag is in the photo.

Now that you have taken a photo, tell the students that the idea is to do more, to try more, different combinations. And to take a photo each time.

3. You are done with the demo, ask the students to go to their desk and get their black paper and name tag. Then they have to find a place on the carpet, to work on the floor.
Distribute the paper plate and the bags of material, one for each student.

The students can start. Help them to take photos, be sure they frame well and they are still when they push the button. Check what they are making – ask if you see a part that does not seem to be part of an insect structure: if you see legs attached to the abdomen, ask the class “Where are the legs attached on an insect body? Where are attached the wings if the insect has wings?

michele guieu IMG_0096_small

This composition has all the elements needed (head, thorax, abdomen, 6 legs and a pair of antennae)


In this composition the legs are attached to the abdomen – the student needs to correct it.

Tell the class that they can add any part they know can be part of an insect. Ask them to name some: stinger, mandibules.

At the end of the session ask the students to put everything back in the bags, make a pile with the plates, another with the black paper. Recycle the name tags.

Take some time right after the exercise to tell the students that today they documented their tries and solutions. In the end they do not have one finished product but many different photos. They could have worked more and discover more. They could continue at home with objects they have and take photos.

Take some time to put together the images taken with the ipads and to project them to the class. Check if all the compositions are all insects (are there parts missing?).
You can print some of the images.