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Program Great Migrations


1. Read aloud the picture book The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle.
Ask students if they remember the picture book The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle. Invite students to describe what the book is about. Then read the book aloud to the class.

2. Have students complete a diagram of the life cycle of a butterfly.
Distribute a copy of the worksheet Cycle Diagram to each student. Have students complete the worksheet independently by labeling the four stages in a butterfly's life cycle. Then have a whole-class discussion about butterflies and how they change during their lives. Ask: Does the Eric Carle book tell all about what really happens, or is it just a story?

3. Watch a video from Great Migrations.
Tell students that they will watch a time-lapse video of a butterfly actually going through its life stages. Make sure they understand they will be able to watch the whole process happening; it will appear to be happening much faster than it actually does. Encourage students to, as they watch, think about the picture book and what is the same and different about the video and the book. Show students the video “Monarch Life Cycle.” Allow students time to adjust the labels in their Cycle Diagram, as needed.

4. Compare and contrast the video and the picture book.
After students watch the video, discuss the similarities and differences between the video and the book. If needed, show the video a second time or click through the photo gallery Butterfly Life Cycle.

5. Have students create their own picture book about the life cycle of a butterfly.
Provide each student with several sheets of blank paper folded into fourths to create a picture book. Explain to students that they will create their own version of The Very Hungry Caterpillar. Their version will include factual information from the video. Display the picture book in the classroom where students can easily see it. Encourage students to include new science terms, more accurate pictures, descriptions of behavior, and other details from the video in their own versions.

Extending the Learning

Have a class discussion about the difference between storybooks and science books. Ask: How do storybooks change the ideas? Why would a writer do this? When would you want a book that was completely true?


Subjects & Disciplines

  • Informal Education
    • Zoo/Aquarium/Nature Center Education
  • Science
    • Biological and life sciences

Learning Objectives

Students will:

  • describe the story of
  • explain the life cycle of a butterfly
  • illustrate the life cycle of a butterfly

Teaching Approach

  • Learning-for-use

Teaching Methods

  • Discussions
  • Hands-on learning
  • Multimedia instruction
  • Reading

National Standards, Principles, and Practices

National Science Education Standards

(K-4) Standard C-2
Life cycles of organisms


What You’ll Need

Materials You Provide

  • Crayons
  • Markers
  • Pencils
  • Several sheets of blank paper per student
  • The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle

Background & Vocabulary

Background Information

Monarch butterflies begin life as eggs laid on the leaves of milkweed plants. They hatch as larvae and eat the milkweed leaves. The larvae grow into colorful caterpillars. When they are ready, the caterpillars create a chrysalis, or hard protective case, around themselves for the pupa stage. Later, the caterpillars emerge from this chrysalis as black, orange, and white adult butterflies.

Prior Knowledge

  • None

Recommended Prior Activities

  • None


Term Part of Speech Definition Encyclopedic Entry

animal migration


process where a community of animals leaves a habitat for part of the year or part of their lives, and moves to habitats that are more hospitable.



type of flying insect with large, colorful wings.



larva of a butterfly or moth.



a new or immature insect or other type of invertebrate.

life cycle


process of changes undertaken by an organism or group of organisms over the course of their existence. Birth, growth, and death usually characterize the life cycle of animals.


Media Credits

The audio, illustrations, photos, and videos are credited beneath the media asset, except for promotional images, which generally link to another page that contains the media credit. The Rights Holder for media is the person or group credited.


Jen Caito


Christina Riska, National Geographic Society
Kathleen Schwille, National Geographic Society

Educator Reviewer

Jeanne Wallace-Weaver, Educational Consultant

National Geographic Program

Great Migrations

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