Hands-on Lessons and Activities about Plants

Plants are a common topic in elementary classrooms for good reason – they are an effective, inexpensive way for students to observe living organisms and life cycles firsthand. Primary students often focus on familiar plants, basic plant structures and their functions, and our use of plants as a food source. In the upper-elementary grades, students investigate germination, plant life cycles, and flowering and seed production in more detail. These students are also ready to consider the diversity of plants around the world and the adaptations that allow plants to survive in very different environments.

Whether you’re planting flowers for a Mother’s Day gift or meeting your science curriculum’s standards, plants can help students develop their ability to observe, describe, and classify. A study of plants is also a wonderful opportunity for inquiry-based teaching and learning.


Exploring Plants (Grades K-2)
Students observe plant growth by watching time-lapse videos and by growing their own plants. They identify the conditions needed for seed germination and explore the role of fruit in seed dispersal.

This lesson meets the Life Science and Science in Personal and Social Perspectives Content Standards of the National Science Education Standards.

To integrate literacy into this lesson, try the following:

Draw a Story: Stepping From Pictures to Writing (Grades K-2)
In this activity, students draw a series of pictures that tell a simple, sequential story. They read their story to others, transcribe their oral story into writing, and create an accordion book with drawings on the front side and writing on the back. Students could use this format to demonstrate understanding of plant germination, growth, flowering, and seed production. This lesson meets the following NCTE/IRA Standards: 4, 5, 6, 12.

What Parts Are There to a Plant? (Grades K-2)
In this lesson, students identify and sort plant parts through hands-on activities and group discussions and then work with magnifying lenses and tape measures to document their observations. The lesson uses vegetables, but teachers can customize the activity by using different plants or asking students to bring in plants to use. This lesson meets the Science as Inquiry and Life Science Content Standards of the National Science Education Standards.

To integrate literacy into this lesson, try the following:

Introducing the Venn Diagram in the Kindergarten Classroom (Grades K-2)
This lesson uses hula hoops, real objects, and online interactives to introduce the Venn diagram as students sort, compare and contrast, and organize information. Teachers could use this lesson to introduce Venn diagrams, then create a Venn diagram as a class as students compare roots, stems, and leaves from various plants. This lesson meets the following NCTE/IRA Standards: 3, 5, 7, 8, 11, 12.

Growth, Development, and Reproduction (Grades K-5)
This unit is designed to be used with Fast Plants, a type of plant that has been bred to have a very short life cycle. Fast Plants will produce harvestable seeds approximately 40 days after planting. The unit allows students to investigate germination, growth, pollination, and seed production. This unit meets the Science as Inquiry and Life Science Content Standards of the National Science Education Standards.

To integrate literacy into this lesson, try the following:

How Does My Garden Grow? Writing in Science Field Journals (Grades K-2, modify for 3-5)
Students record observations in a field journal. While this lesson was written around a gardening project, teachers can easily modify the lesson to fit any science investigation. This lesson meets the following NCTE/IRA Standards: 1, 3, 5, 6, 7, 8, 11, 12.

Supermarket Botany (Grades 2-5)
In this interactive activity, students categorize common foods according to the part of the plant from which they come. Students should have background knowledge of plant structures (roots, stems, seeds, leaves, flowers, and fruit) and their functions. This activity meets the Life Science Content Standard of the National Science Education Standards.

To integrate literacy into this lesson, try the following:

Rooting out Meaning: Morpheme Match-Ups in the Primary Grades (Grades 3-5)
Why not study root words while learning about plant parts? In this lesson, students use morphemes to deconstruct and construct words. Teachers could modify this lesson to include other prefixes, suffixes, and root words. This lesson meets the following NCTE/IRA Standards: 3, 8.

Living Life as a Plant (Grades 3-5)
In this media-rich lesson, students explore how plants are well adapted to their surroundings. This lesson focuses on desert plants, but teachers could extend the lesson by discussing adaptations in other environments (rain forest, tundra). This lesson meets the Life Science and Science in Personal and Social Perspectives Content Standards of the National Science Education Standards.

To integrate literacy into this lesson, try the following:

Teaching Science Through Picture Books: A Rainforest Lesson (Grades 3-5)
A study of the tropical rainforest is introduced through the picture book Welcome to the Green House by Jane Yolen. This science lesson, which incorporates reading, writing, and technology, is a template that can be used with other books by Jane Yolen to teach about the desert, the polar ice cap, and the Everglades. Teachers can modify this lesson to focus on plant adaptations in each environment. This lesson meets the following NCTE/IRA Standards: 1, 3, 4, 5, 7, 8, 11, 12.

Plants and Animals, Partners in Pollination (Grades 4-5)
In this three-lesson series, students explore the relationship between flowering plants and pollinating animals. This lesson meets the Life Science Content Standard of the National Science Education Standards.

To integrate literacy into this lesson, try the following:

Comics in the Classroom as an Introduction to Genre Study (Grades 3-5)
In this lesson, students explore a variety of comic strips, discuss components and conventions, and create their own. Teachers could modify this lesson to have students create a comic strip showing the process of pollination and seed formation or the relationship between flowering plants and pollinating animals. This lesson meets the following NCTE/IRA Standards: 1, 2, 3, 4, 8, 11, 12.

How Do Seeds Travel? (Grades K-5)
Students observe and test seeds that travel by wind, water, and animals. Though this activity was originally written for students in grades 6-10, elementary teachers can easily modify it for use in their classrooms. This activity meets the Life Science Content Standard of the National Science Education Standards.

To integrate literacy into this lesson, try the following:

Draw a Story: Stepping From Pictures to Writing (Grades K-2)
In this activity, students draw a series of pictures that tell a simple, sequential story. They “read” their story to others, transcribe their oral story into writing, and create an accordion book with drawings on the front side and writing on the back. Students could use this format to demonstrate understanding of seed dispersal. This lesson meets the following NCTE/IRA Standards: 4, 5, 6, 12.

Comics in the Classroom as an Introduction to Genre Study (Grades 3-5)
In this lesson, students explore a variety of comic strips, discuss components and conventions, and create their own. Teachers could modify this lesson to have students create a comic strip showing the process of seed dispersal. This lesson meets the following NCTE/IRA Standards: 1, 2, 3, 4, 8, 11, 12.


This article was written by Jessica Fries-Gaither. For more information, see the Contributors page. Email Jessica at beyondpenguins@msteacher.org.

Copyright March 2009 – The Ohio State University. This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant No. 0733024. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation. This work is licensed under anĀ Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported Creative Commons license.

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