ARTSEDGE Lessons for Elementary School

The Dance of the Butterfly

Can you express the life cycle of the monarch butterfly through dance?


Key Staff

Classroom Teacher

Key Skills

Making Art: Composing and Planning, Producing, Executing and Performing


In this lesson, students will create an original dance that communicates the stages of the life cycle of the monarch butterfly. They will read Eric Carle’s book, The Very Hungry Caterpillar, examine photos showing monarch butterfly life cycles and choreograph and perform a dance expressing what they have learned.

Learning Objectives

Students will:

  • Read Eric Carle’s book The Very Hungry Caterpillar
  • Draw pictures based on images from The Very Hungry Caterpillar
  • Examine photographs of the stages of the monarch butterfly life cycle
  • Create a graphic organizer that demonstrates the monarch’s life cycle stages
  • Create and choreograph a dance focusing on the life cycle of the monarch butterfly
  • Perform a dance focusing on the life cycle of the monarch butterfly

Teaching Approach

Arts Integration

Teaching Methods

  • Brainstorming
  • Cooperative Learning
  • Multimedia Instruction

Assessment Type

Informal Assessment


What You'll Need

Required Technology
  • 1 Computer per Classroom
  • Projector
Technology Notes

Flash player will be needed for some resources.

Lesson Setup

Teacher Background

An understanding of age-appropriate basic skills and vocabulary, as well as of the elements of dance.

Found in all dance, even short phrases of movement, the elements provide a foundation for understanding and developing movement skills. For early elementary, the elements can be described as an art form in which a dancer moves through space and time with energy. For more detail, the Elements of Dance Organizer from the Perpich Center for Arts Education provides a strong overview.

Teacher should have a basic understanding of the life cycle of the Monarch butterfly.

Teacher should be comfortable with creative movement for learning.

Note: be prepared to move desks to create free room for movement.

Physical Space



  • Large Group Instruction
  • Small Group Instruction
  • Individualized Instruction

Accessibility Notes

Students with physical disabilities may need modified movements.


Resources in Reach

Here are the resources you'll need for each activity, in order of instruction.

Build Knowledge


1. Project the image of the monarch butterfly shown in the first slide in the ENGAGE section of the media player above.

2. Discuss the butterfly. Ask the students questions:

  1. Have you ever seen a butterfly?
  2. Have you ever seen a monarch butterfly, like this one?
  3. How would you describe this monarch butterfly?

Using the Life Cycle Diagram, explain that some animals, like cats, are born small and get bigger, but keep just about the same shape. Others, like butterflies, grow through metamorphosis, a process of changing from one form to another.

3. Read Eric Carle’s book The Very Hungry Caterpillar aloud to the class, showing the illustrations. This book can usually be found in your public or school library.

4. Review the life cycle of the butterfly as described in the book: egg, caterpillar, chrysalis, and butterfly.  Optionally, display the image of the four stages of the monarch butterfly life cycle.  Discuss with the class that the book uses the word “cocoon,” when monarch butterflies actually have a chrysalis and not a cocoon. Read Eric Carle’s explanation to the class; it’ll help them remember the correct use of the terms.

5. If you like, share the images of each stage of the life Cycle (available in the Butterfly Life Stages slideshow above.) Remind students to use their skills of observation, just as scientists do.

6. Invite students to share comments, questions, and observations about what they see as you visit each screen. For example, you may explain vocabulary terms, such as the word “chrysalis,” which is the enclosing case or covering of a pupa; ask the students to describe some physical features; or ask questions about the colors they see. Encourage the class to make observations and ask questions, an important part of scientific learning.

Build Knowledge

1. Share information about the life of the monarch butterfly. Monarch butterflies are very unusual. They migrate, like birds. There are no other butterflies that do this. Butterflies don’t live as long as birds, so the butterflies that fly south for the winter are not the same butterflies that return to their homes as far north as Canada.

2. Watch the short video (in the BUILD tab above) about the life and travels of the Monarch Butterfly. As they watch the video, they should use their observation skills as they look for the stages of the life cycle, as well as how adult butterflies behave.

3. Tell students that like scientists, artists use their skills of observation and analysis. Many artists observe their natural surroundings and use what they see to give them ideas and inspiration for their pictures, dances and music. Artists also use their imaginations to take what they see and make it different from what it might seem to be.

4. Tell students they are going to create, or choreograph, a dance that gets its ideas, or tells the story of, the life cycle of the Monarch butterfly. To do this, they will need to think about the movements a Monarch butterfly makes throughout its life cycle. They will also need to know the basic building blocks, or elements of dance.

5. Introduce the basic elements of dance. Dance is a form of communication. It is an art form in which a dancer moves their body through space and time with energy. This can be broken down with simple demonstration by the teacher or a student volunteer, who can move as you explain Who? (the dancer) does what? (moves) where? (through space) when? (and time) how? (with energy.)

6. Connect the movements of a Monarch butterfly to those of a dancer. Do butterflies “dance”? Tell students that there are specific things to look for in a dance.


  • make patterns and shapes with the parts of their bodies.
  • perform specific actions or movements (either non-locomotor, like stretching, bending, shaking, or traveling (locomotor) movements, like sliding, skipping, crawling.)
  • change how they occupy and where they are in space, though changes in direction, size, levels, and their relationships to their environment or others.
  • act in time, whether metered (in beats or pulses, along with musical tempos, etc), in clock-time or in free-time, and in relationship to others (before, after, in unison, etc)
  • use varying qualities and types of energy-- sharp, smooth, sudden, flowing, tight, light, etc.

Here is a “cheat sheet” for discussing the qualities of the elements:

  • Size: large/small narrow/wide
  • Level: high / medium / low
  • Direction: forward/backward, sideways, diagonal, right/left
  • Pathway: curved, straight, zig-zag random
  • Relationships: in front/beside/behind over/under alone/connected near/far
  • Time: fast, slow, random, in-time; before/after/together
  • Energy: quick, slow,

There are also many words that can be used to kick off butterfly movement-related brainstorming: gliding, pulsing, flowing, sailing, wiggling, still, squirming, etc.

7. Watch (or simply lead a discussion around) the individual videos of each of the stages of the Monarch’s metamorphosis: coming out of the egg; the walking caterpillar; emerging from the chrysalis; eating and gently flapping; flying from flower to flower. Encourage students to observe and use describing words for the movements they see, as well as use their imaginations to “fill in the blanks” of what they might not have seen. Remind them they will be using the movements of the butterfly as the basis of their own dance expressing the life cycle of the butterfly.


1. Refocus by telling students they will work together in small groups to create, or choreograph, a dance focusing on the life cycle of the Monarch butterfly. Students will use the information they’ve learned to develop their dances.

2. Have students brainstorm ideas about how to create a butterfly dance. Remind  them that dance is a form of communication, and that they will express the life cycle stages of the monarch butterfly in their dances.

Using the questions below, brainstorm ideas about how each stage of the life cycle might be expressed:

  1. Is the Monarch moving or still? (eggs are still, caterpillars move, the chrysalis is still until it’s time for the butterfly to emerge, the butterfly moves)
  2. Will your dance be fast or slow?
  3. Will it change levels-- be close to the ground, at “regular” height, or have jumps to take it to the air?
  4. Will you sit? If you sit, will you be low to the ground, or stretch your body to the sky?
  5. How will you move? Will you spin? Will you wiggle?
  6. What will your arms do? How will you move your head?
  7. Will the dancers in your group all do the same things, or different things?
  8. Will each member of the group dance all the lifecycle stages?
  9. When will different things happen?

3.  Give each group a copy of the How to Create Your Dance handout to use to record their dance.  Optionally, display the Elements of Dance slide as they work to help keep them on track.  Encourage students to experiment with different kinds of movements that could show the four stages of the butterfly’s life cycle. (Remember to explicitly tell students your expectations for behavior, whether they can move from their desks as they brainstorm, etc.) Tell students that each segment should be about 20-60 seconds long. Once students have tried out a variety of options, they should write their favorites on their handouts. Walk around the groups as they are trying out different steps and movements, assisting as needed.

4. Share and review the ways each group’s dance will be assessed. Review each of the Dance Rubric’s elements so that students understand how they will be assessed, individually and as a group.

5. Give students time to plan and rehearse their dances.


1. Allow time for each group to present its dance to the class. Invite the class to provide positive comments and suggestions.

2. Stage a performance of the students’ dances. Invite others in the school and community to view the students’ performances.

3. Discuss the process of working together as a class. This lesson requires lots of collaboration. Discuss with students the things that worked and the things that need work in their collaborative process.Compile a class list of suggestions for how to work effectively together on a collaborative project. Post this list as a shared classroom resource.


Throughout the nation, standards of learning are being revised, published and adopted. During this time of transition, ARTSEDGE will continually add connections to the Common Core, Next Generation Science standards and other standards to our existing lessons, in addition to the previous versions of the National Standards across the subject areas.

The Arts Standards used in ARTSEDGE Lessons are the 1994 voluntary national arts standards. The Arts learning standards were revised in 2014; please visit the National Core Arts Standards (http://nationalartsstandards.org) for more. The Kennedy Center is working on developing new lessons to connect to these standards, while maintaining the existing lesson library aligned to the Common Core, other state standards, and the 1994 National Standards for Arts Education.

ArtsEdge Lessons connect to the National Standards for Arts Education, the Common Core Standards, and a range of other subject area standards.

Common Core/State Standards

Select state and grade(s) below, then click "Find" to display Common Core and state standards.

National Standards For Arts Education

Grade K-4 Dance Standard 3: Understanding dance as a way to create and communicate meaning


Grade K-4 Dance Standard 4: Applying and demonstrating critical and creative thinking skills in dance

National Standards in Other Subjects

Science Standard 6: Understands relationships among organisms and their physical environment



Maureen Carroll
Original Writer

Rebecca Haden

Email Print Share


- +
Email a link to this page
Share This Page



Use this collection of resources and articles to devise an approach for supporting individual needs in the classroom: from English Language Learners or students with disabilities, to conflict resolution and giving feedback.



© 1996-2019 John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts  

ArtsEdge is an education program of

The Kennedy Center 

with the support of

The US Department of Education 

ARTSEDGE, part of the Rubenstein Arts Access Program, is generously funded by David Rubenstein.

Additional support is provided by the U.S. Department of Education.

Kennedy Center education and related artistic programming is made possible through the generosity of the National Committee
for the Performing Arts and the President’s Advisory Committee on the Arts.

The contents of this Web site were developed under a grant from the U.S. Department of Education. However, those contents do not
necessarily represent the policy of the U.S. Department of Education, and you should not assume endorsement by the Federal government.
Unless otherwise stated, ArtsEdge materials may be copied, modified and otherwise utilized for non-commercial educational purposes
provided that ArtsEdge and any authors listed in the materials are credited and provided that you permit others to use them in the same manner.

Change Background:

Connect with us!    EMAIL US | YouTube | Facebook | iTunes | MORE!

© 1996-2019 John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts  
    Privacy Policy
| Terms and Conditions


You are now leaving the ArtsEdge website. Thank you for visiting!

If you are not automatically transferred, please click the link below:

ArtsEdge and The Kennedy Center are in no way responsible for the content of the destination site, its ongoing availability, links to other site or the legality or accuracy of information on the site or its resources.