What is an Insect?

  This lesson developed by Reach Out!

  Recommended Age Groups: Preschool through Elementary

Guiding Questions:

What is an insect?
What are the physical characteristics of insects?







  1. Large glass jar
  2. Square piece of cheesecloth (or make holes in the lid of the jar so air can get in)
  3. Rubber band to hold the cheesecloth on the mouth of the jar
  4. Grasshopper
  5. Freshly picked grass and twigs (sprinkle a little water on them)
  6. Magnifying glass
  7. Handout

Safety Precautions

No special precautions, but glass jars can break if dropped.

Procedures and Activity


Ask the following questions and share ideas:

  1. What is an insect?
  2. What are the physical characteristics of insects?

Today, we are going to carefully study and observe a grasshopper. We will look at its body to identify the main physical characteristics or traits of an insect.


Have each person or pair

  1. Put fresh grass clippings and twigs in the bottom of jars. Sprinkle a little water on them.
  2. Put grasshoppers in jars.
  3. Cover the top of the jar either with a lid you put holes in or with a piece of cheesecloth. Secure the cheesecloth with a rubber band around the top of the jar.
  4. Use a magnifying glass to very carefully study and identify the physical body parts of the grasshopper.
  5. Write the names of the body parts on the handout.


Ask again these guiding questions:

  1. What is an insect?
  2. What are the physical characteristics of insects?

We should see on the handout and hear during discussion that insects have the following body parts and characteristics:

  1. An exoskeleton
  2. Three main body parts: head, thorax, and abdomen
  3. Pair of antennae on top of their heads
  4. Three pairs of legs. (Grasshoppers have a pair of special, long legs to jump with!)
  5. Two pairs of wings. Some insects, however, do not have fully developed wings for flying. For example, some ants do not have wings to fly.

Note: If you have a female grasshopper, you will see a long, pointed segment at the end of her abdomen. She uses this body part to deposit her eggs in soft ground. If you have a male grasshopper, the end segment will be rounded.

Extension Ideas

Careers Related to Lesson Topic

Prerequisite Vocabulary

The posterior (farthest to the rear) section of an insect’s body.
Little feelers on the top of an insect’s head. Insect antennae are a bit like radio antennae: they receive messages of sound and motion for the insect. These messages often help an insect know where it is crawling or flying. (Feelers are the easiest way to tell moths from butterflies: moth antennae are very feathery-looking.)
The hard and shell-like covering on the outside of insects’ bodies. “Exo” means “outside.” Just as our inside bones help to support and protect the soft parts of our bodies, so does the insect’s outside skeleton support and protect its soft inner body parts.
Animals that do not have a backbone. (Because insects have exoskeletons, they don’t need backbones.)
The middle section of an insect’s body, between the head and abdomen.

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