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Ant Farm Lesson Plan for Elementary School

Instructor: Suzanne Rose

Suzanne has taught all levels PK-graduate school and has a PhD in Instructional Systems Design. She currently teachers literacy courses to preservice and inservice teachers.

Through activities in this lesson plan, teachers can guide students through building their own ant farm and carrying out scientific observations of the ants' habitat and behaviors.

Learning Objectives

As a result of this lesson, students will be able to:

  • describe behavioral habits of ants
  • build an ant farm
  • identify parts of an ant's body


60 minutes

Curriculum Standards

  • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.3.4

With guidance and support from adults, produce writing in which the development and organization are appropriate to task and purpose. (Grade-specific expectations for writing types are defined in standards 1-3 above.)

  • NGSS Science Standards 2-LS4-1

Make observations of plants and animals to compare the diversity of life in different habitats.

Materials Needed

  • The Magic School Bus Gets Ants in Its Pants by Joanna Cole
  • Diagram showing parts of an ant's body
  • Materials for making ant farms (see activity)
  • Chart paper for a 'Facts About Ants' chart


  • Ant farm
  • Antennae
  • Mandible
  • Thorax
  • Abdomen
  • Entomologist


  • Activate students' prior knowledge about ants by asking students if they have ever seen ants. What do they know about them?
  • Start a chart titled 'Facts About Ants.' Add to it as the students learn more about ants.
  • Read the book The Magic School Bus Gets Ants in Its Pants by Joanna Cole aloud to the class.
  • Ask the students if they learned anything new about ants from this story, and add information to the 'Facts About Ants' chart.
  • Show a diagram of an ant's body. Tell the students that an ant's body has three main sections: the head, thorax and abdomen. Label these parts on the diagram.
  • Point out the antennae, mandible, eyes, and legs on the diagram and label those as well.
  • Tell the students that the ant has special eyes that have many lenses so that it can see very well. The ant's antennae are used for hearing, smelling, tasting, and touching. The mandible is its jaw and is used for eating.
  • Introduce the activity by telling students that they are going to be entomologists, who are scientists who study insects. They are going to build ant farms so that they can study the behaviors of ants.


  • Put students into groups of 4-5. Each group will be making its own ant farm.


  • Each group needs the following materials:
    • 1 large glass or clear plastic bottle with a lid. A half-gallon jar is perfect. Look for a jar without writing or embossing so that it's easy to see through the glass. (You can use almost any bottle or aquarium, as long as you can find a slightly smaller one of the same shape that will fit inside of it.)
    • 1 glass or plastic bottle with a lid. This bottle should fit completely inside the other bottle, leaving about 3/4 inch to 1 inch all the way around between the bottles. This space in between the bottles is where the ants will live and build their tunnels, so you don't want it to be too large, or you may not be able to see the ants. (This bottle just takes up space inside the other bottle, so it doesn't matter what color it is or if it has embossing; you won't see it when the ant farm is finished.) Leave the lid on this jar when you put it inside the larger bottle.
    • Dirt to fill in the area between the two glass jars. Find the area in your yard or schoolyard where you will be getting the ants. It is best to use the dirt that the ants are already living in or near. You will need enough dirt to fill in the empty space between the two bottles. (If you don't want to dig up the dirt, you can use purchased potting soil, but do not get soil that has fertilizer already added to it.)
    • Sand to mix with the dirt. Mix the dirt you have dug up with sand so it makes a mixture that is about 1 part sand to 2 cups dirt.
    • Small hand trowel or shovel to put the dirt into the jar.
    • Spoon to use to put ants into the jar. You can also use a small paper cone to slide the ants into the jar.
    • Ants. You can use large black ants that you catch yourself in the yard or you can purchase ants specifically for an ant farm. Be sure you do not collect fire ants or red ants. If you purchase ants, you can buy a queen ant so the colony will continue on and you will be able to see reproduction. If you use ants that you catch in the yard, you will be able to see them tunnel and build in the ant farm, but they will not be able to reproduce without a queen, so the ant colony will die off in about 3-4 weeks (the usual life cycle of an ant).

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