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National Agriculture in the Classroom

Agricultural Literacy Curriculum Matrix

Lesson Plan

What's Bugging You?

Grade Level

3 - 5


Students examine how pests affect other living organisms and the environment and identify how pests are managed in agricultural settings. Grades 3-5

Estimated Time

Seven to ten 45-minute sessions

Materials Needed

Activity 1: What a Pest!

Activity 2: Quit Pestering Us!

For the class:

  • Flyers/brochures from your county Agricultural Commissioner's Office that describe potential pests of which your community should be aware.
  • Insect and spider reference books
  • Pest trap examples such as mouse traps, fly traps, cockroach traps, opossum traps, and traps obtained from the county Agricultural Commissioner's Office.

For each of six groups:

For each student:

  • Apple
  • Insect bait, such as fruit, flowers, or meat.
  • Making an Insect Observation Chamber instructions
  • Masking Tape
  • School-sized milk carton
  • Scissors
  • Screen (7" x 7")
  • String (20")
  • Supplies needed for student designed insect traps (optional)

Activity 3: Pest Poetry

For the teacher:

  • Overhead projector
  • Overhead transparency of the poem Spider Mites
  • Overhead transparency of the Poem for Two Voices student activity sheet
  • Joyful Noise book by Paul Fleischman (optional)
  • Thesaurus (optional)

For each partnership:

  • Poem for Two Voices student activity sheet (2 copies)

For each student:

  • Copy of Spider Mites poem

Activity 4: A New Pest is Discovered!

For each team:

  • Materials to make pests- pipe cleaners, felt, beads, toilet paper rolls, glue, markers, toothpicks, yarn, aluminum foil, construction paper, etc.
  • Index cards
  • Shoe boxes (optional)

For each student:


aphid: a small green insect that sucks the liquid out of plants with its proboscis (mouth)

biological control: the use of natural enemies and biotechnology (including predators, parasites, pathogens, competitors) to contain or control pests

bug: an insect of a large order distinguished by having mouthparts that are modified for piercing and sucking

control: to restrain or regulate

disease: a particular abnormal condition that negatively affects the structure or function of all or part of an organism

ecosystem: a biological community of living organisms interacting with the nonliving parts of their environment

entomology: the branch of zoology that studies insects

eradicate: to rid of completely

fungicide: a chemical used to destroy fungi such as molds and mildew

fungus: any species in a large group of spore-producing organisms that may be one- or multi-celled and feed on organic matter; examples include yeast, molds, and mushrooms

herbicide: a substance that is toxic to plants and is used to kill unwanted vegetation

host: an organism which provides nourishment or shelter for a parasite

integrated pest management (IPM): ecological and scientific approach to long-term pest suppression that utilizes multiple disciplines and a combination of controls, such as beneficial insects, cultural practices, mechanical devices, and chemical inputs

pest: an organism living and growing where it is not wanted and is causing damage to plants, humans, structures, and other creatures

Background Agricultural Connections

Agriculture is an important industry in the United States. As more rural areas become urbanized and more challenges exist to maintain and improve the quality of the planet and feed the people of the world, it is extremely important to educate students about agriculture. Pest management is a current issue in society today. Advances in pest management strategies have encouraged an Integrated Pest Management approach (IPM). This method of pest management continues to benefit the agricultural industry and the environment. However, it is crucial that research and communication continue so the earth's viability and sustainability are reviewed, evaluated, and maintained.

The Oxford American Dictionary defines a pest as "a troublesome or annoying thing" or "an organism that is destructive to another organism.." The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) defines an agricultural pest as "an unwanted organism; a living thing that competes with people for food and fiber, attacks people or livestock directly, or annoys or otherwise affects aesthetic human values." Your students should develop a definition that is meaningful to them.

Living organisms may be pests at certain times or in certain places, but harmless or beneficial in other situations. Discuss this fact as students complete their role-plays. Also discuss that our society can determine which living organisms are pests. An example of this is that insects or fungi that cause visual, but not nutritional, defects in fruits and vegetables are often controlled because the public currently prefers eye-appealing fruit.

Pest management is an important component of agricultural production and healthy living situations in the home. In this activity, your students will learn about certain home and agricultural pests and how they are controlled.

With few exceptions, living organisms require air, food, water, and shelter for survival. In this activity, the students will be asked to create a pest and a habitat for their pest. Prior to creative group work, you may choose to discuss the habitats of several agricultural pests listed in the background information and student readings.

Remind the students of Integrated Pest Management (IPM). This strategy encourages the farmer to look at each situation individually and to use what is best environmentally and economically. 


  1. Perform a focus activity with your students to determine what they already know about pests and what they want to learn about pests. Some possible activities include:
    • A five-minute writing assignment answering the question, "What is a pest?"
    • A class brainstorm answering the questions, "What do we already know about pests?" and "What do we want to learn about pests?"
    • Reading the story or watching the video of The Tale of Peter Rabbit or The Tale of Benjamin Bunny by Beatrix Potter and then discussing the pests in the story- Peter Rabbit? Mr. MacGregor?
Explore and Explain

Activity 1: What a Pest!

  1. Place students into groups of four to six.
  2. Have each group brainstorm and select a possible pest role-play or assign a role-play from one of the Pest Scenarios.
  3. Have each group create a role-play of their scenario. Encourage little or no talking by the actors. The group should show the following in their role-play:
    • The pest that is causing the problem.
    • The damage or problem the pest causes.
    • How others try to get rid of the pest.
    • How the organism can be beneficial or harmless.
  4. Have the students practice their role-play for 3-5 minutes and then present their role-play to the class. They are not to tell the audience the name of the pest. At the end of each presentation, have the audience make guesses as to the name of the pest.
  5. After all of the presentations, develop a definition for the word "pest." Discuss other definitions as mentioned in the background information.
  6. Write the class definition for the word "pest" on sentence strips or tag board and post it on the wall in a prominent place where all students can refer to it.
    • Variations:
      • Describe a pest, without stating its name, and have the students guess what the pest is.
      • Complete a chart similar to the one below.

Activity 2: Quit Pestering Us!

  1. Determine the number of students in your class. Place one apple for each of your students in a box or basket. Make sure the apples have a variety of appearances-bruised, discolored, unusually shaped, shiny, large, small, etc.
  2. Have each student choose an apple.
  3. Have the students explain why they chose the apples they did. Was it because of size? Appearance? Potential taste?
  4. Discuss how people influence what type of food the agricultural community produces. Emphasize that public opinion does impact agricultural production. What is important? Nutritional value? Food that is safe to eat? Appearance? Price?
  5. Have a class discussion concerning the need for people to control pests. Be sure to discuss the need for farmers to control pests as well as the need for homeowners to control pests. Some key discussion points may include:
    • Why people find it necessary to control pests.
    • What would happen if certain pests were not controlled by humans.
    • How weather affects pest incidence or crop susceptibility (heat, frost, flooding, etc.).
    • How changes, such as urbanization, in an ecosystem impact the need to control pests.
    • What would happen if one pest were completely eliminated? Is it important to keep a minimal number of every pest?
  6. Divide the students into six groups. Distribute a different Pest Management Reading Sheet to each group. Have students follow the procedure below or create a lesson of your own.
    1. Individually, quietly read the assigned information sheet.
    2. Orally, re-read the information sheet as a group.
    3. In groups, determine at least five interesting facts you learned about the pest.
    4. Write down and/or illustrate the facts on butcher paper.
    5. Finally, have the students present what they learned to the class.
  7. Show students different traps that are used in agriculture to analyze what pests are in the orchards, fields, and homes. Do not forget to include a mouse trap in your collection. Discuss the functions of the traps. They are used to identify pests, determine pest populations, and/or reduce the number of a particular pest. (Many sample traps are available from your county's Agricultural Commissioner's Office.)
  8. Have the students design and construct an insect observation chamber they will hang or place in their yard and examine for insects. One possible insect observation chamber is described in Making an Insect Observation Chamber. Some possible discussions prior to this lesson may include:
    • Insect diet.
    • Insect anatomy, including mouth parts and their functions.
    • Pheromones and their function in mate attraction.
    • Purposes for insect traps.
    • Trap designs that prevent insects from leaving.
  9. Have the students examine the trap during morning and evening hours, if possible. Are all of the captured insects considered pests? Are there other things besides "bugs" that are considered pests?
  10. Have your students report back on the types of insects and spiders they caught. You should have insect identification books available. The Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Insects and Spiders is one suggested reference.
  11. Discuss how the insects can be beneficial or bothersome. Call the discussion "Trap News!"

Activity 3: Pest Poetry

  1. Make an overhead transparency of the poem Spider Mites and another of the Poem for Two Voices activity sheet. Distribute copies of the poem to each student.
  2. Divide the students into two groups. Group A will read column A of the Spider Mites poem and Group B will read column B of the poem. Discuss how the poems are written and read. Read Spider Mites as a class.
    • Note: Line 1 should be read, then line 2, and so on. If words appear in both columns of the same line, they should be read simultaneously.
  3. On the overhead projector, create a collaborative poem for two voices that is about a pest. It is important to elicit characteristics of the organism, such as colors, sounds, and actions. Divide the class into groups and read the poem together. Note: Repetition of a phrase makes the poem sound more exciting.
  4. Pair the students and have them write their own pest poem for two voices. A possible procedure is described below:
    • Decide on the pest about which the poem will be written.
    • Brainstorm a list of characteristics about the pest-special colors, sounds, habitats, movements, etc.
    • Determine one or two words or phrases that will be repeated in the poem.
    • Write the poem on the Poem for Two Voices student activity sheet, keeping in mind that words written on the same line should be identical words, which will be read at the same time.
    • Read the poem as a team.
    • Make necessary changes.
    • Rewrite the revised poem neatly on a clean activity sheet.
  5. Have the students rehearse and perform their poems for classmates or duplicate the poems and have the entire class read each poem. 

Activity 4: A New Pest is Discovered!

  1. Place students into groups of two, three, or four.
  2. Discuss with the students that all living things require air, food, water, and shelter to survival. Explain to the students that they are going to invent, design, and build a pest.
  3. Show the students the supplies that are available.
  4. Have the students do the following:
    • Decide what the pest will do.
    • Build an imaginary pest out of the supplies that are available, keeping in mind that the pest requires air, water, food, and shelter.
    • Name the pest.
    • Determine the quantities of the pest needed to cause significant damage.
    • Decide how the pest is controlled.
  5. Have the students prepare cue cards for an oral presentation.
  6. Have the students present their pests to the class for discussion.
  7. As a culminating activity, have the students write about what they have learned about pest management. Use the attached, What I Learned About Pests and Pest Management worksheet.

After conducting these activities, review and summarize the following key concepts:

  • Pests are organisms living and growing where they are not wanted and can cause damage to plants , humans, structures, and other creatures.
  • Pest management is an important component of agriculture.
  • Integrated pest management (IPM) is an ecological and scientific approach to long-term pest suppression that utilizes multiple disciplines and a combination of controls, such as beneficial insects, cultural practices, mechanical devices, and chemical inputs.


This lesson, originally developed in 1996, was funded by the California Strawberry Commission and the California Farm Bureau Federation. To meet the needs of California educators, What's Bugging You? has been revised to support the Curriculum Content Standards for California Public Schools and updated to include discussion of current agricultural pests. Funding from the California Department of Food and Agriculture and the California Farm Bureau Federation was used to make this revision possible.

Illustrators: Karin Bakotich, Patricia Houk, Alexander Vizitiu, Nathan Cook
Layout & Design: Nina Danner


Pamela Emery and Ethan Heifetz


California Foundation for Agriculture in the Classroom

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