The Ant and the Grasshopper

In Aesop’s fable of The Ant and the Grasshopper, the ant works hard all summer while the grasshopper plays. Not only does the grasshopper play, but he actually taunts the hardworking ant. Come winter, the ant has plenty to eat and the grasshopper dies. The moral is clear: work hard and plan for the future.

Modern retellings usually have the ants help the grasshopper out, an uncharacteristic behavior for insects but one that makes the story more comfortable for modern readers. Walt Disney’s 1934 cartoon version is an excellent example of this version of the story. Click on the link to find it on a DVD which also includes five other classic stories.

Science

  • Do grasshoppers really die in the winter? Yes, in fact, they do. Grasshopper eggs lie dormant all winter and a new group of grasshoppers hatches out in the summer. Aesop was suggesting that human beings are better off being like an ant than like a grasshopper, not that the grasshoppers should mend their ways. Have students research the solutions various insects or other animals have for winter and make a chart showing those that hibernate, migrate, and adapt.
  • Do ants store food for the winter? No, apart from Honey Ants, they don’t. Most animals that store food for the winter do so by keeping it in the form of fat rather than storing it as humans do. Honey Ants store food for the entire hive in specially adapted worker ants, who then supply the honeydew to the other ants as needed. Read more about Honey Ants and compare this unusual adaptation with other approaches.
  • Grasshopper information sheet and a matching ant information sheet. Print them out for students’ insect study notebooks, or project them and have students use the information to write a paragraph comparing the two insects.

English

  • Make a list of adjectives describing the ants and a list describing the grasshopper. Identify the words with positive connotations (hardworking, fun-loving) and those with negative connotations (lazy, selfish).
  • Mark Twain had a lot to say about ants. Read the excerpt from A Tramp Abroad and discuss Twain’s use of hyperbole — or just enjoy it.

Art

  • Steve Morrison explains how he creates illustrations for his version of the story. Have students create a sequence or flowchart showing the steps the artist takes.
  • Kaleidoscope Theater has a PDF teacher’s guide with lots of good discussion questions.
  • Have students create pictures of ants and grasshoppers. Put the two illustrations back to back and laminate them. Use them in the character activity described below.

Character Education

  • Aesop kills off the grasshopper, but the Silly Symphony version gives him another chance — and a job, playing his fiddle. Discuss whether the grasshopper should be left to his sad fate or whether the ants’ kindness was appropriate.
  • This story clearly shows the value of hard work. Use it to help students get accustomed to the idea that there’s a time for work and a time for play. Have each student make a two-sided sign with an ant on one side and a grasshopper on the other. Turn the ant side up during work times and the grasshopper up when work is finished and it’s time for a break. Once students have increased their awareness of working during work times, you can still use one of the artworks as a class signal — time to get to work!
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