Category Archives: Insects

The Bee: Small Brain, Big Smarts!

“Never underestimate the power of the bee brain. In the latest triumph for one of humanity’s favorite insects, bumblebees learned how to push a ball to the center of a platform for a sugary treat.” J. Gorman,The New York Times

ESL Voices Lesson Plan for this post with Answer Key

photo- snapzu

Excerpt: Bumblebees Demonstrate the Power of Insect Brains By James Gorman,The New York Times

“That may not make them a threat on the chess board, but soccer or even Skee-Ball might be within their intellectual grasp — if it were scaled down in size, of course.

The new research finding is one more reason that scientists who study insects, of all sorts, would like to point out that just because a brain is small, doesn’t mean it is simple. Clint Perry, one of the bumblebee trainers at Queen Mary University of London, and a confirmed small brain partisan, said, ‘I’ve actually been asked if bees have brains.’

image The New York Times

Once, insects were thought to be little automatons, hard-wired to take certain limited actions. Now evidence is growing that the abilities, even of fruit flies, approach something that isn’t the same as human thinking, but isn’t pure hard-wired instinct either. They remember, they choose between alternative actions. They have a kind of internal map of where they are, an abstract representation in the brain of the external world.

photo-Flipboard

David Anderson at Caltech, who studies emotionlike states in fruit flies, declines to call their brains simple, preferring a description along the lines of more compact nervous systems.‘They are capable of doing remarkable things,’  he said. And bees are something else altogether with nearly a million brain cells, compared with about 250,000 in the fruit fly…In this experiment, which the researchers reported Thursday in the journal Science, Olli J. Loukola and Dr. Perry trained bees to do something even more removed from their natural behavior.

image- Flipboard

The task of pushing a little ball to the center of a platform was completely arbitrary. Bees don’t do anything like this in nature, where they seek out flowers for nectar and pollen. So it was a brand new behavior demanding some kind of general ability to learn.”

ESL Voices Lesson Plan for this post

NOTE: Lessons can also be used with native English speakers.

Level: Intermediate – Advanced


Language Skills: Reading, writing, and speaking. Vocabulary and grammar activities are included.


Time: Approximately 2 hours.


Materials: Student handout (from this lesson) and access to news article.


Objective: Students will read and discuss the article
with a focus on improving reading comprehension and learning new vocabulary. At the end of the lesson students will express their personal views on the topic through group work and writing.

I. Pre-Reading Activities

Stimulating background knowledge: Brainstorming

Directions: Place students in groups, ask students to think about what they already know about  Bumble Bees.  Next, have students look at the picture(s) in the text and generate ideas or words that may be connected to the article. Debrief as a class and list these ideas on the board. Students can use The UIE brainstorming chart (sample) for assistance.

II. While Reading Activities

Word Inference

Directions: Students are to infer the meanings of the words in bold taken from the article. They may use a dictionary, thesaurus, and Word Chart for assistance.

  1. People often underestimate the power of insects.
  2. Soccer or even Skee-Ball  are within their intellectual grasp.
  3. Dr. Perry is  a confirmed small brain partisan.
  4. Scientists have yet to define the limits of insects’ mental abilities.
  5. Now evidence is growing that the abilities, even of fruit flies.
  6. Some scientists call it cognition.
  7. Insects remember, they choose between alternative actions.
  8. Pushing a little ball to the center of a platform arbitrary.
  9. Ten out of of 10 bees solved the problem on the first try.
  10. That kind of imitation is social learning

Reading Comprehension

Fill-ins

Directions: Place students in groups and after they have read the entire article, have them complete the following sentences  taken from the article. They can use the words and terms from the list provided, or provide their own terms. They are to find the meanings of any new vocabulary.

Once, ___were thought to be little___ hard-wired to take certain___ actions. Now evidence is___that the abilities, even of ___approach something that isn’t the same as ___thinking, but isn’t pure hard-wired either.

WORD LIST:   human, fruit flies, growing, insects,  limited, automatons,  instinct,

 Grammar Focus

Word -Recognition

Directions: Students choose the correct word to complete the sentences taken from the article. They are to choose from the options presented.

The way/whey the bees learning/learned was important, too. They were pre-trained to expect/exit a treat/tweet in the center of a platform. But having to push a bell/ball to the center to get the treat was something they hadn’t seen.

III. Post Reading Activities

WH-How Questions

Directions: Have students use the  WH-question format to discuss or to write the main points from the article.

Who or What is the article about?

Where does the action/event take place?

When does the action/event take place?

Why did the action/event occur?

How did the action/event occur?

Questions for Comprehension /Writing

Directions: Place students in groups Have each group list 3  questions they would like to ask any person mentioned in the article. Groups share questions as a class.

3-2-1-Writing

Directions: Allow students 5 minutes to write down three new ideas they’ve learned about the topic from the reading,  two things they did not understand in the reading, and one thing they would like to know that the article did not mention. Review the responses as a class.

ANSWER KEY

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