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Museum Home Education Search Lesson Plans All Curricula Art & Science: A Curriculum for K-12 Teachers Lesson Plans Insect Anatomy
Insect Anatomy

Grades/Level: Lower Elementary (K–2), Upper Elementary (3–5), Middle School (6–8), High School (9–12)
Subjects: Visual Arts, Science
Time Required: 3–5–Part Lesson
1–3 class periods
Author: J. Paul Getty Museum Education Staff

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Lesson Overview

Students will observe a variety of insects and identify characteristics common to all insects, and characteristics unique to the various species.

Learning Objectives

Students will:
• use observation, research, and prior knowledge to describe characteristics shared by all insects.
• use knowledge about insect anatomy to differentiate between various species of insects represented in a 17th-century drawing.


Beginning Level Activity:
• Reproductions of Butterflies, Insects, and Currants by Jan Kessel (see links below)
• Four detail reproductions of insects in the painting (see link below)
• Background Information and Questions for Teaching about the painting (see link below)
• Internet access or life science texts for research
• Background information about insects in the painting. Some online resources include:

• Clear containers with lids with small pinholes poked in the top
• Paper, pencils, and colored pencils

Intermediate and Advanced Level Activities:
• Materials listed above, plus:
• Student Handout: Insect Fact Sheet (see link below)
• Winged-insect specimens
• Tweezers
• Scalpels
• Magnifying glasses
• Drawing paper
• Pencils and colored pencils

Lesson Steps

Beginning Level Activity

1. Display an image of the drawing of insects by Jan van Kessel or hand out reproductions. Tell students that before photography, scientists had to rely on drawings of natural specimens to study insects, and artists were often called upon to do this. Entomological still-life painting became an important genre in Europe. Tell students to use their prior knowledge to identify the different insects they see in the drawing. Chart the names of the different insects that can be seen in this drawing.

2. Ask students for a definition of an insect and chart the responses. Select from this list the three universal characteristics of an adult insect: a three-part body (head, thorax, and abdomen), six legs, and antennae on its head.

3. Return to the image of the drawing and ask which of the insects represented do not have these characteristics. Focus on the caterpillar and ask students what they know about caterpillars. Chart responses. Explain that caterpillars are larva for butterflies and moths. Have students identify which of the insects were once caterpillars (moth and butterfly). Explain that some insects have wings that cover their bodies (such as the fly and ladybug), but that they have the same three parts to their bodies as the other insects.

4. Have students collect insects from the schoolyard in clear containers and cover them with a lid. Hand out paper and art supplies. Have each student draw his or her insect, making sure to identify the three characteristics outlined above. Release the insects back to the area they were found.

Intermediate Level Activity

5. Break students into pairs and hand out details of the insects depicted in Jan van Kessel's drawing so that each pair of students has an insect to focus on.

6. Give students access to the Internet or science texts and ask them to research what kind of insect they are looking at. You can also prepare information sheets about all of the insects for students to use as research material.

7. Have students work together to research and fill in the Insect Fact Sheet student handout for their insect. Display the Insect Fact Sheets with the labeled images of the insect.

8. Each pair of students should label the various body parts on their insects. They should label the three characteristics that are universal to all insects and also identify those that are specific to their insect species.

Advanced Level Activity

9. Introduce the terms invertebrate and vertebrate to students. List types of animals that fall into each category.

10. Once you have identified insects as invertebrates, ask students to speculate about how insects move and keep their shape without internal bones. Discuss exoskeletons and their function. Explain that wings are part of the exoskeleton.

11. Hand out specimens of houseflies, butterflies, dragonflies, moths, wasps, or any insect that is represented in van Kessel's drawing.

12. Have students use tweezers and scalpels to remove the insects' wings where they join the body. Using a magnifying glass and colored pencils, students will draw a diagram of one wing, including as much detail as possible. Students should use line, shape, and color to visually describe the various textures of the wing. On same page as the drawing, have students write a paragraph describing the wing to someone who cannot see it.

13. Instruct students to work with a partner to compare and contrast their drawings of insect wings with the wings depicted in the van Kessel drawing. Students should speculate about how various characteristics of wings could allow different insects to move in distinct ways. Have student pairs share their speculations with the entire class.

Butterflies, Insects, and Currants / van Kessel
Butterflies, Insects, Currants, Jan van Kessel, 1650–1655


Divide students into pairs and give each pair two small, lightweight balls. One student will juggle balls while the other watches to observe how the change of speed and motion of the arms affect the juggling. Students will switch roles. Students will record their observations and conclusions in their journals.

Standards Addressed

Refer to the charts for national and California state standards for this curriculum, found in the links at the top right of this page.

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