Insect Anatomy - Structure and Function

In this unit, students focus on animals, analyzing how animals’ body parts help them survive and grow. This page is a high-level extract of the first lesson of the unit in which students build insect models to investigate the science phenomena of an insect’s body parts’ structure and function. Students observe how ants use their body parts to get what they need to survive.

Science Background for Teachers:

The science background provides teachers with more in-depth knowledge on the topic explored in this unit. This background helps teachers facilitate the Socratic dialogue that students engage in as they discover the “why” and the “how” of the science phenomena being investigated, in this case, insect anatomy. 

A team of researchers who studied ants in the Sahara were intrigued by their navigation because the ability to find food and carry it back to the nest is essential for the ants’ survival, since food provides ants with the energy and nutrients they need to survive.

This is because ants are animals, which are living things that need to eat other living things for energy. Unlike plants, animals cannot make their own food from sunlight, so they have to eat other organisms for energy and nutrients so they can grow and develop. Animals also breathe in oxygen and like all living things, undergo growth and reproduction.

 All animals have body parts that help them get what they need to survive. For example, eyes are body parts that help many animals see their surroundings. The ability to see helps animals survive in several ways. For example, many animals use sight to find food and hide from predators. In the case of the desert ants, the ability to see had an additional function: it gave the ants an additional way to find their way to food and then back home. “It’s really important that they’re getting navigation right,” Matthias Wittlinger, a lead researcher, said in a podcast for the journal Science. “If one system fails, you still have a backup system."

Supports Grade 1

Science Lesson : Exploring Insect Anatomy - Structure and Function

In this lesson, students expand on their knowledge of living things, focusing on how animals have some similarities with plants but also many differences. Students create insect models to investigate how the external structures that make up different insects help them survive, grow, and meet their needs.

Science Big Ideas

  • Animals are living things because they need food for energy so they can grow. 
  • Like plants, all animals have different body parts that help them survive and grow. 
  • Insects are a kind of animal with an exoskeleton, six legs, and three body segments (head, thorax, and abdomen). Insects have some body parts in common that help them survive.  
  • There are more insects on Earth than all other land animals put together, and different kinds of insects have some different body parts that set them apart from one another.



Sample Unit CTA-2-3

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Science Essential Questions

  • How do animals get food differently from how plants get food?
  • How else are all living things similar? 
  • How are all insects similar? 
  • Why is the exoskeleton important? Why are antennae important? Why is the thorax of the insect important?  
  • How are the legs and wings similar?
  • How do the external parts/structures that make up different insects help them survive, grow, and meet their needs?

Common Science Misconceptions

Misconception: Birds, fish, and insects are not animals.
Fact: There are many different kinds of animals, including birds, fish, and insects. An animal is any living thing that eats other living things for food.
Misconception: The different parts of an animal are random and serve no purpose.
Fact: An animal has different parts (structures) that it uses to help it access what it needs to survive, grow, and develop.

Science Vocabulary

Abdomen:  the back segment of an insect where the stomach is; some insects also have stingers here

Animal:  a living thing that needs to eat other living things for energy, breathes oxygen, and undergoes growth and reproduction

Antennae: body parts of insects that are used to smell, touch, and taste things

Colony :  a group of insects living together in one space; ants, bees, and wasps live in colonies

Communicate: to share information with

Head: the front segment of an insect where the antennae, mouthparts, and eyes are found

Insect: an animal with an exoskeleton, six legs, and three body segments (head, thorax, and abdomen)

Thorax: the middle segment of an insect where the legs and wings are found

Lexile@ Certified Non-Fiction Science Reading (Excerpt)

Parts of an Animal

Not all animals have legs. But all animals have different parts that help them get what they need to survive.

All insects have antennae on their heads. Antennae are sometimes called “feelers.” This is because the antennae help the insect smell, touch, and taste things around it. People don’t have antennae. We use our hands to touch things. We use our nose to smell things.

An insect’s antennae are on its head. Its eyes are also on its head. Just like people, insects use their eyes to see what is around them. The head is also where the insect’s mouthparts are. Insects use their mouths to eat food and drink water. People also have mouths. We put food and water in our mouths when we eat.

All insects have three segments. The head is the front segment of an insect. The middle segment is the thorax. The thorax holds the insect’s six legs. It is also where its wings are. Finally, the back segment is the abdomen. This is where an insect’s stomach is. Food goes to the stomach.


Hands-on Science Activity

For the hands-on activity in this lesson, students create insect models to help them answer the question of how an insect uses its body parts to survive, grow, and meet its needs. Students use their models to construct a verbal explanation about how each body part they modeled has a specific function that helps the insect survive, including seeing, moving, holding items, eating, and protecting themselves. Students present their insect model to the class, using what they know about animal survival to describe the function of each body part.

Science Assessments

KnowAtom incorporates formative and summative assessments designed to make students thinking visible for deeper student-centered learning.

  • Vocabulary Check
  • Lab Checkpoints
  • Concept Check Assessment 
  • Concept Map Assessment 
  • And More...


Science Standards

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Download the Alignment to NGSS

Standards citation: NGSS Lead States. 2013. Next Generation Science Standards: For States, By States. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. Neither WestEd nor the lead states and partners that developed the Next Generation Science Standards were involved in the production of this product, and do not endorse it.