Make Way for the Monarchs

If you try this activity with your student(s), we’d love to see what you do. Share your journey via the #Inspired2Learn hashtag on your preferred social platform.

Created by: Jenna Fournel
Discipline:  Studying monarch butterflies can be useful in almost any discipline and can be adapted to any grade level.
Age level: Elementary through High School
Time: Ideal for a yearlong study in small increments every month.
Materials:  Milkweed seeds, magnifying glasses, potentially a monarch habitat if you will be bringing caterpillars inside, a spot on your school campus where a butterfly garden can be created. (This can be done in containers if your school does not have greenspace!)

Few lifecycles are as enticing to observe in their entirety as that of monarchs. Interestingly, the end of their life cycle often corresponds with the beginning of the school year and the start of their life cycle (or at least that of the plants they need to survive) begins when school is ending. Perhaps there is something useful in that timing, for even as we finish out a school year it is good to remember that this is just one more small step on our own long journey. And if you start this at the beginning of a school year – watching the transformation from a caterpillar into a creature that can fly is a powerful metaphor for the kind of transformation one can do through learning.

A study of butterflies can be useful in any discipline. 

  • Language Arts: The descriptive, narrative, sequential, and poetic language that flows from watching every stage of their fragile lives lends itself well to writing. And there are many excellent nonfiction and fiction texts that can be used for reading. 
  • Mathematics: Whether charting growth, studying statistics from migratory research, measuring change in weight and size, or considering exponents when calculating the growth or demise of populations, numbers abound in the information surrounding butterflies. 
  • Social Studies: What role do butterflies play in different cultures? How does the growth of human populations affect the places where butterflies live? What does migration look like? What laws are or should be put into place to protect endangered species?  
  • Science: This is, of course, at the heart of a study of butterflies but can get particularly interesting and far reaching when you study habitat destruction and its antidote – local activism to reverse that destruction. 
  • Visual and Performing Arts: Watching the wonder of a butterfly’s life cycle, and that of the plants they depend upon, offers an endless source of inspiration for every art form from dance, to painting, and more.

Where to begin: 

Depending on your discipline there are many ways to begin a study of monarchs and we provide links to excellent resources below that can help you plan. But at Inspired Teaching we like to start with questions – ideally those that come from your students. Consider the following approaches to starting a monarch unit or year of study. 

To garner guiding questions for your students: 

  • Create a KWL chart with your students to find out what they know, want to know, and eventually learn about monarchs. 
  • Show them a brief video about the life cycle of the monarch. Ask them to brainstorm a list of questions they have after watching the video. Turn those questions into the inquiries you’ll explore in your unit. 
  • Have students read a recent article about monarchs and generate a list of questions the article raises for them that they would like to study and learn more about. 

Overarching questions that could frame a study of monarchs: 

  • How do humans interfere with, and how might they help, the migration of monarch butterflies across North America? 
  • What does metamorphosis mean? 
  • What can a monarch teach us about survival? 
  • How does the wellbeing of butterflies impact my own life?  
  • What factors lead to the growth or decline of the monarch population? 

Arc of a yearlong live study of monarchs:  

September: Find a patch of milkweed either on your school campus or nearby and gather branches that have monarch eggs or caterpillars on them. Put them in a jar and put the jar in an enclosure like this that can be studied in your classroom. Create opportunities for your students to observe, reflect upon, and write about the growth of the caterpillars. (Keep replenishing the milkweed!)

October: Observe as your caterpillars turn into chrysalises and hatch into butterflies. Release the butterflies with your students and study how they will migrate south for the winter. Consider participating in Monarch Watch so you can tag the butterflies you release for scientific study. 

November: Learn more about what happens with the butterflies over the winter and what is happening to their habitat all along their migration route. 

December: Plan a spot for a butterfly garden on your school campus or in a park nearby and study what plants you would need to put in such a garden to support monarch butterflies. 

January-February: Figure out where to order milkweed seeds and what type to order for your temperate zone. Sites like this can be helpful and there are many that offer seeds for free. 

March: Start seeds indoors or break ground and purchase live plants to begin creating your butterfly garden. 

April – June: Care for the garden and have students create informational literature to explain the purpose of the garden to others. Keep track of the insects that visit and the growth and change of the plants you have put into the ground. 

July – August: Continue to maintain the garden and watch for the first signs of monarchs who come to visit and – hopefully – lay eggs! 


General Information: 

Monarch Watch
Monarch Watch is a nonprofit education, conservation, and research program based at the University of Kansas that focuses on the monarch butterfly, its habitat, and its spectacular fall migration. 

National Geographic Photo Ark on Monarchs
A scientific and visual overview of the monarch butterfly.

National Wildlife Federation overview of the Monarch
A thorough description of the species.

Monarch Butterfly Xerces Society
This site features many articles about monarchs and ways that everyday citizens can help to save them.

Monarch Butterflies Face Three Major Threats
This article from EcoWatch outlines what is happening to the monarch population and what can be done to address the threats to its continuation.

Lesson Planning Resources: 

Monarch Joint Venture

This site is rich with lesson plans for every grade level.

US Forest Service Monarch Butterfly Teacher and Student Resources
Lesson plans and tools for grades K-12 including handouts, networking opportunities, and more.

World Wildlife Fund Teaching Tools about Monarchs
Printables, videos, presentations, and resource guides to prepare you for a deep dive into these insects.

Monarch Conservation Toolbox
A collection of dozens of monarch resources from around the continent.

Monarch Resource Guide
A PDF packet with several lessons and nonfiction text sources from the Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies.

Inspired Teaching Connection: 

An immersive activity like this includes ALL the Inspired Teaching core elements. Students are learning about something with Purpose (seeing how they can play a role in the lives of monarchs) that also involves Persistence and Action (actually making a milkweed habitat.) This is intense but Joyful work. Any product (a garden) as well as the process provide Wide-ranging Evidence of Student Learning. Children are quick learners and if they get to base their understanding of these creatures on personal observations, this positions them as Experts on the monarch. Studying closely these creatures with whom we shared the planet nurtures a sense of Mutual Respect for living things. Such a rich learning experience is also full of the 4 I’s, as Intellect, Inquiry, Imagination, and Integrity will all be hard at work. 

See our instructional model here.

Standards Addressed by this Activity

Common Core College and Career Readiness Anchor Standards for Language

Knowledge of Language:

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.L.3 Apply knowledge of language to understand how language functions in different contexts, to make effective choices for meaning or style, and to comprehend more fully when reading or listening.

Vocabulary Acquisition and Use:

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.L.6 Acquire and use accurately a range of general academic and domain-specific words and phrases sufficient for reading, writing, speaking, and listening at the college and career readiness level; demonstrate independence in gathering vocabulary knowledge when encountering an unknown term important to comprehension or expression.


Common Core College and Career Readiness Anchor Standards for Writing

Text Types and Purposes:

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.W.2 Write informative/explanatory texts to examine and convey complex ideas and information clearly and accurately through the effective selection, organization, and analysis of content.

Production and Distribution of Writing:

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.W.4 Produce clear and coherent writing in which the development, organization, and style are appropriate to task, purpose, and audience.

Research to Build and Present Knowledge:

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.W.7 Conduct short as well as more sustained research projects based on focused questions, demonstrating understanding of the subject under investigation.

Range of Writing:

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.W.10 Write routinely over extended time frames (time for research, reflection, and revision) and shorter time frames (a single sitting or a day or two) for a range of tasks, purposes, and audiences.

Common Core College and Career Readiness Anchor Standards for Speaking and Listening

Comprehension and Collaboration:

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.SL.1 Prepare for and participate effectively in a range of conversations and collaborations with diverse partners, building on others’ ideas and expressing their own clearly and persuasively.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.SL.2 Integrate and evaluate information presented in diverse media and formats, including visually, quantitatively, and orally.

Presentation of Knowledge and Ideas:

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.SL.4 Present information, findings, and supporting evidence such that listeners can follow the line of reasoning and the organization, development, and style are appropriate to task, purpose, and audience.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.SL.5 Make strategic use of digital media and visual displays of data to express information and enhance understanding of presentations.

Common Core College and Career Readiness Anchor Standards for Reading

Key Ideas and Details:

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.R.1 Read closely to determine what the text says explicitly and to make logical inferences from it; cite specific textual evidence when writing or speaking to support conclusions drawn from the text.

Craft and Structure:

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.R.4 Interpret words and phrases as they are used in a text, including determining technical, connotative, and figurative meanings, and analyze how specific word choices shape meaning or tone.

Integration of Knowledge and Ideas:

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.R.7 Integrate and evaluate content presented in diverse media and formats, including visually and quantitatively, as well as in words.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.R.9 Analyze how two or more texts address similar themes or topics in order to build knowledge or to compare the approaches the authors take.

Range of Reading and Level of Text Complexity:

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.R.10 Read and comprehend complex literary and informational texts independently and proficiently.

College, Career, and Civic Life (C3) Framework for Social Studies State Standards

Dimension 1: Developing Questions and Planning Inquiries

Dimension 1 features the development of questions and the planning of inquiries. With the entire scope of human experience as its backdrop, the content of social studies consists of a rich array of facts, concepts, and generalizations. The way to tie all of this content together is through the use of compelling and supporting questions. Questioning is key to student learning. The C3 Framework encourages the use of compelling and supporting questions, both teacher- and student-generated, as a central element of the teaching and learning process.

Dimension 3: Evaluating Sources and Using Evidence

  • Gathering and Evaluating Sources
  • Developing Claims and Using Evidence

Sources come in many forms, including historical and contemporary documents, data from direct observation, graphics, economic statistics, maps, legislative actions, objects, and court rulings. Access to these and other digital sources is now more readily available than ever. The availability of source materials, however, does not translate automatically into their wise use. Students must be mindful that not all sources are equal in value and use and that sources do not, by themselves, constitute evidence. Rather, evidence consists of the material students select to support claims and counter-claims in order to construct accounts, explanations, and arguments.

Dimension 4: Communicating Conclusions and Taking Informed Action

  • Communicating and Critiquing Conclusions
  • Taking Informed Action

Developing explanations and making and supporting arguments can take form in individual essays, group projects, and other classroom-based written assessments, both formal and informal. But students need not be limited to those avenues. Although there is no substitute for thoughtful and persuasive writing, the Framework advocates expanding the means by which students communicate their preliminary and final conclusions. As the Indicators for Dimension 4 (Communicating Conclusions and Taking Informed Action) demonstrate, those means include a range of venues and a variety of forms (e.g., discussions, debates, policy analyses, video productions, and portfolios). Moreover, the manner in which students work to create their solutions can differ. Students need opportunities to work individually, with partners, in small groups, and within whole class settings.

Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning Competencies

Self-Awareness: The abilities to understand one’s own emotions, thoughts, and values and how they influence behavior across contexts. This includes capacities to recognize one’s strengths and limitations with a well-grounded sense of confidence and purpose.

Self-management: The abilities to manage one’s emotions, thoughts, and behaviors effectively in different situations and to achieve goals and aspirations. This includes the capacities to delay gratification, manage stress, and feel motivation and agency to accomplish personal and collective goals.

Social awareness: The abilities to understand the perspectives of and empathize with others, including those from diverse backgrounds, cultures, and contexts. This includes the capacities to feel compassion for others, understand broader historical and social norms for behavior in different settings, and recognize family, school, and community resources and supports.

Responsible decision-making: The abilities to make caring and constructive choices about personal behavior and social interactions across diverse situations. This includes the capacities to consider ethical standards and safety concerns, and to evaluate the benefits and consequences of various actions for personal, social, and collective well-being.

Relationship skills: The abilities to establish and maintain healthy and supportive relationships and to effectively navigate settings with diverse individuals and groups. This includes the capacities to communicate clearly, listen actively, cooperate, work collaboratively to problem solve and negotiate conflict constructively, navigate settings with differing social and cultural demands and opportunities, provide leadership, and seek or offer help when needed.


Make sense of problems and persevere in solving them.

CCSS.MATH.PRACTICE.MP1 Mathematically proficient students start by explaining to themselves the meaning of a problem and looking for entry points to its solution. They analyze givens, constraints, relationships, and goals. They make conjectures about the form and meaning of the solution and plan a solution pathway rather than simply jumping into a solution attempt. They consider analogous problems, and try special cases and simpler forms of the original problem in order to gain insight into its solution. They monitor and evaluate their progress and change course if necessary. Older students might, depending on the context of the problem, transform algebraic expressions or change the viewing window on their graphing calculator to get the information they need. Mathematically proficient students can explain correspondences between equations, verbal descriptions, tables, and graphs or draw diagrams of important features and relationships, graph data, and search for regularity or trends. Younger students might rely on using concrete objects or pictures to help conceptualize and solve a problem. Mathematically proficient students check their answers to problems using a different method, and they continually ask themselves, “Does this make sense?” They can understand the approaches of others to solving complex problems and identify correspondences between different approaches.

Model with mathematics.

CCSS.MATH.PRACTICE.MP4 Mathematically proficient students can apply the mathematics they know to solve problems arising in everyday life, society, and the workplace. In early grades, this might be as simple as writing an addition equation to describe a situation. In middle grades, a student might apply proportional reasoning to plan a school event or analyze a problem in the community. By high school, a student might use geometry to solve a design problem or use a function to describe how one quantity of interest depends on another. Mathematically proficient students who can apply what they know are comfortable making assumptions and approximations to simplify a complicated situation, realizing that these may need revision later. They are able to identify important quantities in a practical situation and map their relationships using such tools as diagrams, two-way tables, graphs, flowcharts and formulas. They can analyze those relationships mathematically to draw conclusions. They routinely interpret their mathematical results in the context of the situation and reflect on whether the results make sense, possibly improving the model if it has not served its purpose.

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