Lesson Plan

Butterflies, Hummingbirds, and Bees Oh My! Pollinators on the Tallgrass Prairie

Underwing of Monarch butterfly on red flower
Grade Level:
Middle School: Sixth Grade through Eighth Grade
Lesson Duration:
90 Minutes
Common Core Standards:
4.W.1, 6-8.WHST.1, 9-10.WHST.1, 11-12.WHST.1
State Standards:
Uses Common Core and NGSS Standards
Additional Standards:
Next Generation Science Standards: 4-LS1-1; MS-LS1-4; HS-LS1-2
Thinking Skills:
Applying: Apply an abstract idea in a concrete situation to solve a problem or relate it to a prior experience. Analyzing: Break down a concept or idea into parts and show the relationships among the parts. Creating: Bring together parts (elements, compounds) of knowledge to form a whole and build relationships for NEW situations. Evaluating: Make informed judgements about the value of ideas or materials. Use standards and criteria to support opinions and views.

Essential Question

How important are pollinators to us?


Students will learn about pollinators found in the tallgrass prairie and their importance. Students will understand the interaction between prairie plants and their pollinators.


What is "Pollination" and What is a "Pollinator?"

• Pollination is a vital stage in the life cycle of all flowering plants. It occurs when pollen grains are moved between two flowers of the same species by wind, water or animals. Successful pollination, which may require visits from multiple pollinators to a single flower, results in the production of healthy fruit and fertile seeds, allowing plants to reproduce. Without pollinator visits to fruit and vegetable plants in our gardens and fields, we would have no produce!

• Pollinators are animals that move the pollen grains from flower to flower. Over 200,000 species of animals act as pollinators, and of those, about 1,000 are hummingbirds, bats (though not on the tallgrass prairie), and small mammals (Source: USDA Forest Service). The rest are insects, such as beetles, bees, ants, wasps, butterflies, and moths.

Why Are Pollinators Important to Us?

Pollinators are essential to human survival. To produce seeds and reproduce, Almost 90% of the world’s flowering plant species rely on animal pollinators. Pollinators provide services to over 180,000 different plant species, and more than 1,200 crops. Foods and beverages produced with the help of pollinators include: apples, blueberries, melons, peaches, potatoes, pumpkins, and almonds (Source: Arkansas Natural Heritage Commission).

In economic terms, pollinators add $217 billion to the global economy (Source: Pollinator Partnership). In the U.S., pollination by honeybees and other insects produces $40 billion worth of products annually. (Source: USDA Forest Service).

Without the actions of pollinators, agricultural economies, our food supply, and surrounding landscapes would collapse. Pollinator health affects everyone.

Plants and their pollinators play a major and unique role in the ecology of ecosystems, including the tallgrass prairie. 

A detailed “Pollinator Syndrome” table with many examples and information on plant/pollinator interactions from the North American Pollinator Protection Campaign can be found at this link posted in the lesson plan materials.  

Health and safety information for hike in a tallgrass prairie nature area.


Gather prairie flowers of different colors, sizes, and shapes (any flowers or pictures of flowers will also work).

Have copies of Pollinators Meet Your Plants packet for each group. These preferably should be laminated and folded in half.

If going on field trip, follow school protocol for trips and make arrangements with preserve staff, landowners etc., at the location you will be going to.

Important: Note: This field trip activity must be done while flowers are blooming. This will vary with location but plants go dormant during winter on the Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve. The best time to observe flowers is early fall or late spring in Kansas and may vary from year to year. Call the preserve to ask if there are flowers blooming before you finalize a date. Please educate yourself and your students on the venomous, poisonous and allergy inducing plants and animals that may be encountered on your trip and be prepared for contact (rattlesnakes, poison ivy, ticks, mosquitos, bees etc.) with them. Be prepared for any allergic reaction and bring a first aid kit. Please identify students with severe bee sting allergies and make sure there is an Epipen close by.

Also note: Please call ahead and schedule a day and time for your field trip at 620-273-8494 ext. 270. Tours of the prairie and tours of the historical and cultural landmarks (ranch house, barn, and outbuildings) located at the preserve may be able to be scheduled with prior arrangement.

This link takes you to an excellent website of Kansas wildflowers and grasses by Mike Haddock: http://www.kswildflower.org/

Lesson Hook/Preview

Show students the different flowers (or pictures) you have gathered. Ask them which one is their favorite.

Have students write a paragraph in their notebook (or electronic device) stating their opinion, supporting their point of view with reasons. Tell them to be prepared to share their writing with the class. Go around the room and have several students share which flower is their favorite and why.

Explain to students that just like they prefer some flowers over others, so do pollinators. For example, because a butterfly has a long, slender mouth part (proboscis), they prefer flowers that are long and tube-like. Some flies, on the other hand, have short, round mouth parts much like a sponge. For these pollinators, a wide-open flower is preferred. Or, for other pollinators, like moths, a flower that is open at night is preferred because that is when moths are active. The concept of pollinators preferring some plants over others is known as Pollinator Syndromes. Just like we have symptoms or characteristics which are specific to a syndrome or illness, pollinators have characteristics that are specific to their preferred plants.

Brainstorm with students the different kinds of pollinators that are found in the tallgrass prairie ecosystem - bees, butterflies, moths, beetles, ants, birds, (note: bats are not pollinators in tallgrass prairie ecosystems, they are in other parts of the world, including pollinating saguaro cactus in desert regions of the southwest United States). Answers should be grade level appropriate and can be written in their notebook or electronic device.

An excellent PowerPoint slide show on pollinators and their importance: “Power of Pollinators” by Lindsay Rogers, Nebraska Game & Parks Commission and Nebraska Project WILD is downloaded from the lesson plans, and can also be used as a preview or hook.


Part I - In Class (Prefield trip)

This activity can be done individually, in pairs or in small groups.

Step One: Give each student/group one “Pollinators Meet Your Plants” packet of cards.

Step Two: Explain to them that they are to use the characteristics of their pollinators and plants to find their match - each plant has a specific pollinator. (Note: for several plants, the matching pollinator is not the only pollinator to help pollinate this plant).  Have students write their pairs in a notebook or electronic device.

Step Three: Once students have found their matches, have them write/type explanations for the pairings they chose.

Step Four: When all students are done with their explanations have them report to the class their pairings/explanations and reasoning behind their answers.

Part II – Field trip

Note: The Southwind Nature Trail at the Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve offers easy accessibility, a variety of habitats and is near the preserve visitor center but there are others to choose from.

Step 1:  Instruct students to spend 10 minutes observing a flower or group of flowers. Have them note types, numbers, and characteristics of pollinators that visit their flowers. Tell students to stay on the trail and to not disturb the pollinators they see. Have students regroup for discussion and instruction for part 2.

 Step 2: Instruct students to find 5 - 10 plant/pollinator pairs while hiking one of the trails. They should document the flower and animal (insect) types. The details of which will vary with grade level. For example, elementary students may describe insects such as bees, beetles, etc. while high school students may be required to document common names and or scientific names of the animals (insects) and plant interactions encountered. They can also note what the pollinators hang on to while feeding and if a flower was visited by more than one type of pollinator. Students can also note the kinds of flowers that were bee-pollinated and conclude if those flowers had special characteristics (scent, certain color, size, etc.). You can also have students infer as to why a certain pollinator prefers a particular plant. Students may need to make observations and do further research when getting back to the classroom.

Step 3: When students are finished with the Field Trip Activity Sheet, instruct them to reflect on their time and experiences on the field trip. Have them answer the questions on the Reflection worksheet. This can be done at the park, on the bus ride home, or upon returning to the classroom 


Pollination – pollen grains are moved between two flowers of the same species by wind, water or animals and results in the production of healthy fruit and fertile seeds, allowing plants to reproduce.

Pollinator – animals that move pollen grains from flower to flower, includes insects, hummingbirds, bats and small mammals.

Pollinator syndrome – concept of pollinators preferring some plants over others. Pollinators have characteristics that are specific to their preferred plants.

Tallgrass prairie - The tallgrass prairie is an ecosystem native to North America consisting of  tall grasses, including indiangrass (Sorghastrum nutans), big bluestem (Andropogon gerardi), little bluestem (Schizachyrium scoparium), and switchgrass (Panicum virgatum). Tallgrass prairies also include a large percentage of forbs.

Assessment Materials

Pollinators Meet Your Plants - Activity Sheets

Students will demonstrate that they have achieved the lesson objective by their verbal and written responses to the prompts for explanation of their pairings and by their understanding of the plant/animal relationships they encountered on the field trip.

Students should also have written notes and inference of the flower/pollinator interactions while on the trail.

Students should reflect on the trip and write and draw observations made on the Reflection worksheet.

Have students describe the plant/animal relationships they encountered on their field trip.

Have students describe the general relationship between pollinator and flower. 

Supports for Struggling Learners

Partner struggling learners with those who seem to understand the content of the assignment. 

Enrichment Activities

Have students describe other plant/animal relationships they encountered on their field trip.

Have students describe the general relationship between pollinator and flower and describe the process of pollination in detail. 

Additional Resources

An interactive webpage from the United States Department of Agriculture Forest Service on pollination and pollinators: https://www.fs.fed.us/wildflowers/pollinators/index.shtml

Contact Information

Email us about this lesson plan

Last updated: March 31, 2023