A Mini Insect Field Trip:

Collecting, labelling, pinning, and note-taking.

Author: Joseph Spagna: Lesson plan week 4

Objective: Students will practice the four skills they have learned so far: collecting, labelling, pinning, and making field observations on insects and plants in the RHS Outdoor Science Classroom.

Teacher Materials:

  • Nets (sweeping and aerial): 4-5 each

  • Beating sheets: 2

  • Killing jars with student-safe fumigant (ethylene glycol, no cyanide): 3

  • Alcohol vials with ethanol (70-100%)

  • Labelling paper

  • Pins: 3 dozen

  • Styrofoam blocks to pin on

  • 1 small Schmitt box

Student materials:

  • pencil

  • field notebook

Advanced preparation:

Basically, the teacher needs to concentrate on having the whole complement of materials. It is also very important to have one or two pairs of "extra hands" (3-4 adults is ideal) to help students fumigate their specimens, track equipment, and keep students doing the different stages (collecting, labelling, pinning, notetaking) on their various tasks.


Part 1: 10 minutes
Explain to students what our objectives are for today, and outline the procedure-- we will be doing ALL the things we've learned in the past 3 weeks in one hour.

While you are explaining, pass out nets & beating sheets to students.

Part 2: 35 minutes
Students will collect 1 insect large enough to pin, or one spider, using any of the techniques they know-- aerial, sweeping, or beating.

  • Once a student's specimen is in hand, they will take it to an adult with a killing-jar (or alcohol vial, for spiders) for fumigation. The adult will have label-paper to hand to the student to make a label for their specimen while their specimen stops wiggling.

  • Once the student's specimen is dead, they can get a pin and styrofoam block, and place their label and their insect on the pin. Alternately, they can place their spider in alcohol with the label they have made (important-- pencil only or the label will run!).

  • When the specimen is prepared and labelled, the student can take it and use it to complete their field notes entry, drawing a picture or making written observations of color, where it was found, what plant it was on, or any other interesting data.

Part 3: 10-minutes Wrap-up
Make sure all stragglers have gotten at least 1 specimen, that speedy-collectors have made complete notes on theirs, and that equipment is being turned in.

Collect all the styrofoam blocks with pinned specimens, and if possible, arrange specimens by taxonomic Order in the student-size Shmitt box to make a small class-display of their field-collection. Have students observe this whole-class collection to get an idea of the overall arthropod biodiversity of the field area.


Students finish at different speeds-- allow the speedy ones to either A) collect another specimen or B) help someone who is struggling. Some students will like to sit and begin their general field notes at first before collecting, this is ok-- it is one way to organize around limited collecting equipment-- have some collect while others get a jump on their notes, then have them switch. Make sure all kill-jars are well-charged with fumigant or you will spend half the period waiting for your bugs to die brutally. Not fun.