Do You Know a Monarch When You See One?
Teacher Guide

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Hundreds of observers track the monarch's migration every fall and spring. These observers expand the eyes and ears of scientists. Their observations must be accurate in order for the data to be valid and useful. Careful observation and proper identification are critical. Can your students distinguish a monarch from other look-alike butterflies? Cultivate your students’ observation and identification skills, and prepare them for their role as citizen scientists.


Goals and Objectives:


  1. Identify a monarch by its field marks and unique characteristics
  2. Distinguish between monarchs and look-alike butterflies
  3. Build observation and identification skills
After reading students will:
  • Draw a scientific illustration of a monarch butterfly
  • Compare and contrast two species, the monarch and the viceroy
  • Discover key words and concepts related to identification:
    field marks, thorax, abdomen, forewing, hindwing, scales, wingspan, wing patterns, upperside and underside of wings, and wing margin.
Step-by-Step Instructional Plan
Pre-Reading: Set the Stage for Learning

Examine the Cover
Have students examine the colors, sizes, shapes, patterns and distinguishing field marks of each butterfly. Identify similarities and differences. Ask questions to assess prior knowledge:

  • Are all of these butterflies the same?
  • How are the butterflies alike in size, shape, and color?
  • How are they different?
  • What do you notice about the patterns on the wings of each butterfly?
  • How would you describe the colors, shapes and sizes?
  • Only one of the butterflies is a monarch. Can you tell which one?

Take a picture walk through the pages, scanning the photos, diagrams, and maps. Share questions and predictions before reading.

After Reading: Revisit for Understanding

1. Observe and Identify
Provide each student or small group with an Note-taking Chart
to help them organize facts about the Monarch, Viceroy, Queen, and Painted Lady butterflies. Encourage them to revisit the text and images to complete the chart.



Observe and Identify

2. Draw and Describe
Give each student a Draw and Describe handout. Invite them to make a scientific drawing of a monarch butterfly using art supplies. Challenge older students to draw the butterfly to scale with the help of measurement tools and additional research. Introduce and define the vocabulary words related to monarch anatomy. Encourage students to use the vocabulary words and photos to describe a monarch butterfly.


Draw and Describe the Monarch Butterfly

3a. Compare and Contrast (Red Admiral)
Using a Venn Diagram, have students compare and contrast two butterfly species, the monarch and the viceroy. Have students write the similarities in the intersecting part of the diagram and list the traits unique to each species in the outer portions of the diagram.

Compare and Contrast
Monarch and Red Admiral
3b. Compare and Contrast (Viceroy)
Before reading the article have students use the Venn Diagram to compare and contrast, then again after reading the article.

Article | Journal

4. Identification Cards
Design Monarch ID Cards using the details collected while reading text and examining photos. Discuss the distribution map on the ID card handout. A distribution map shows where a species occurs naturally. Ask, where might you spot a monarch in North America? Explain that knowing where a species is likely to occur can help us to identify a species properly. Show students the monarch distribution map for North America and challenge them to create their own distribution map on the handout.

Monarch Identification Card

5. Guiding Questions to Summarize Learning

  • What field marks will help you identify monarchs?
  • Which look-alike butterflies are often mistaken for monarchs?
  • Which characteristics will help you tell the difference between monarchs and their lookalikes?


6. Celebrate Discoveries
Affirm students’ achievements by rewarding a Citizen Scientist Certificate of Excellence to each student who successfully completed lesson activities and demonstrated the ability to accurately identify a monarch butterfly. While passing out certificates remind students that, as citizen scientists, they have an opportunity to contribute to real-world monarch research.
Preview the two opportunities:

  • Reporting their own observations
  • Reading reports from other citizen scientists

Certificates of Excellence

Building Vocabulary with Journey North

Vocabulary is essential to comprehension. Students need to apply strategies before, during, and after reading to understand texts. Explore these key words in the context of monarch identification:

(noun): third, most posterior segment of monarch’s 3-part body; located after the thorax

Antennae (noun): pair of slim, segmented sensory organs, sometimes called feelers, found above the mouthparts on the head of the monarch; singular form—antenna

Anterior (adjective): at the front end

Field Marks (noun): physical features or behaviors of an organism that can be seen clearly and can be used to distinguish the organism from other similar species

Forewings (noun): the anterior or front pair of wings

Head (noun): first segment of monarch’s 3-part body containing eyes, antennae, and mouthparts

Hindwings (noun): the posterior or rear pair of wings

Posterior (adjective): at the back end

Scales (noun): tiny, flattened modified hairs that cover the wings of butterflies and moths. The different colors and arrangements of these scales are what give butterfly and moth wings their different colors and patterns. In butterflies, scales are usually arranged like overlapping shingles on a roof.

Thorax (noun): the middle segment of the monarch’s 3-part body; located between the head and abdomen, the monarch’s legs and wings are connected to this muscular middle segment.

Wing margin (noun): outer border of the wings

Wingspan (noun): total distance between the tips of the forewings when the wings are held open

Wing veins (noun): thin, hollow, tubular structures in the wings of insects that provide structural support to the wings. The front edge of the forewings contains the strongest and most important vein in the wings.

Venation (noun): the pattern and arrangement of veins on the wings.