To observe, measure, and sort tree leaves, and to examine leaves individually, in groups, and in relationship to the entire tree.
This lesson begins with students observing leaves in hands-on ways. As they observe attributes, they will group the leaves according to these attributes and consider any patterns they see emerge. In addition, they will communicate what they have learned about leaves in quantitative terms. The activities in this lesson will challenge students to consider how standard units of measurement help clarify for others what they are trying to convey.
In the second part of this lesson, students will become more familiar with the seasonal changing of leaves. They will realize that these and other changes repeat themselves, and that these patterns of change are called cycles and are part of our environment.
Please note that the website used in this lesson has an "Audio Enhanced Version" as well as a "Graphics Only Version." For students who are not yet reading, the audio enhancement will allow them to go through the site with more independence.
To help students become excited about leaves, take a group "Leaf Walk." This can be a field trip or simply something you do at recess time. If taking a group walk is difficult to arrange, perhaps students can bring leaves in from home.
For the "Leaf Walk," each student can bring a bag for collecting leaves. Encourage students to collect many leaves and different kinds of leaves.
During the walk, ask students questions such as:
- Where do you see leaves?
- Do you see leaves anywhere else?
- What do you notice about the leaves?
- What do you notice about the trees?
- Do all the trees have the same kind of leaves?
- Besides leaves, what other parts of a tree can you see?
You could also ask students to notice these kinds of things about the leaves around their homes. If it is not a good time of year for viewing leaves on trees, you could have students look through books or online photographs of leaves.
Part I: Observing, Sorting, and Measuring Leaves
Place the leaves (or pictures of leaves) that the students collected between clear contact paper. Cut around each leaf, being careful to leave about a ½ inch edge of contact paper around the leaf. Give students time to examine the leaves and share with each other their observations. You can help document their observations by recording them on a chart.
You can facilitate their observations and help them focus their learning about leaves by asking them questions about what they see. For example, ask questions such as:
- Do all the leaves look the same?
- How are the leaves different?
- Are there any features that all the leaves have in common?
- How many 'points' do the leaves have?
Now that students have had some hands-on opportunities to examine leaves, it is a good time to introduce them to the site, Trees are Terrific… Travels with Pierre.
Note: The website contains a lot of information on trees. However, this lesson will focus just on leaves, which are discussed in pages 1-14 of the online book.
Your students can learn more about leaves and trees with Pierre using either the graphics only or audio enhanced version of this site. Have students navigate through pages 1-9 of the online book, stopping along the way to look at the leaves they collected. For example, when Pierre talks about narrow, wide, smooth, and jagged, have students look at their leaves with those characteristics in mind. With this kind of examination, students will learn about veins and blades, or the difference between a simple and a compound leaf.
The crayon leaf rubbing activity outlined on this site is another fun way for students to see some of the details of leaves.
You can also facilitate student thinking about the various ways in which they can group the leaves. You could use masking tape to make a grid on a tabletop, and put the contact paper leaves in a basket on the table. Encourage students to sort and classify according to the attributes they see. You can help them see that like leaves belong to the same kind of tree. This is just one way of grouping. Using the grid can also lead to some simple graphing.
A more complex way of grouping is to have students not only consider size, but also measurement. To help students begin thinking about measurement, you might ask them questions like, "How many paperclips long do you think this leaf is?" or "How many cubes long do you think this leaf is-more than 5 or less than 5?" Once students begin estimating, they will likely be eager to find the answer.
Before students can understand what a unit of measurement means, they need experience with the process of measurement. Exposure to many different kinds of measuring tools in a free-exploration situation allows students to experience the act of measuring. You can put the leaves on a table and make rulers, paper clips, string, tape measures, and yardsticks available. It is not important at this stage that they measure accurately, but it is critical that they have this open-ended experience with tools of measurement. They are measuring, and thinking about their leaf in measurement terms.
From this base, you can help them see that their measurements describe their leaves. You can also talk with them about the fact that if everyone in the class uses the same tool for measuring, then it will be easier to compare their measured leaves. Students can measure their leaves with familiar units first. Since it is not developmentally appropriate for many children of this age to use rulers that incorporate conventional units of measurement, students should have opportunities to measure with alternative units.
Unifex cubes are common for making measuring more tangible for students. You can also use things like paper clips linked together or string for measuring length. For younger students, these units of measurement are most appropriate. As students become ready, you can introduce conventional units of measurement in simple terms. For example, each unifex cube is 1 inch. If the leaf is 4 cubes long, it is 4 inches long.
Once everyone has had an opportunity to experiment with various measurement tools, it is helpful to narrow the measurement down to one type of unit. For example, if your students are using paper clips, then everyone should measure with paper clips. This gives students a chance to compare their leaves in measured terms. It also helps them learn why it is useful to have a standard unit of measurement. Perhaps you can sort/classify or graph with their measurement results.
Part II: How Leaves Change
Students now have a solid base for thinking about leaves in relationship to the whole tree. You might begin a discussion about this by asking students if they think their leaves will always look the same. You could also ask them what they think their leaves would look like if they had collected them at a different time of year.
Once students start talking about the idea of seasons, they can go back to Trees are Terrific…Travels with Pierre and read through the pages about leaves changing during the seasons (starting on page 10, "Trees look different at different times..."). As they read through these pages, have them click on the tree to see the leaves change.
Through class discussion and questioning, help students realize that each season, every year, the leaves do the same thing. You might ask students to consider what other things in their environment change. Ask questions that help relate leaves changing to a change with which they are familiar.
Ask questions such as:
- What does the leaves changing remind you of?
- Where have you seen this change?
- What do you think causes this change?
- What kinds of things can you change?
Talk about how some changes repeat themselves. These patterns of change are cycles and part of our environment.
One option for having students reflect upon their learning is to utilize journals. You might ask students to choose one leaf that they would like to put in their journal. They could use their journal pages to respond to promptings like the following, in words and/or pictures:
- When I look at my leaf, this is what I see.
- This is what I want to remember about my leaf.
- This is what I can tell you about my leaf.
- There are a lot of ways to sort leaves, for example….
- This is how leaves change over time.
In responding to these ideas, students will be practicing their observation, documentation, and communication skills. They will also be thinking about and integrating the types of things they have learned about leaves through this lesson.
Another way for students to reflect upon their leaf experiences is to simply talk with one another at a group meeting time about what they learned and enjoyed about leaves. If you photographed students working with the leaves along the way, you could display these photographs in the classroom. This kind of visual narrative excites children, and they are likely to be filled with stories to tell each other about what they did with leaves.
Any remaining questions students have about leaves and trees are excellent guides for how to extend this lesson.
Returning to Trees are Terrific… Travels with Pierre provides rich learning opportunities for other things about trees.
To reinforce the concept of simple and compound leaves, you can play "Leaf Bingo." To make this game, choose one simple leaf and one compound leaf to photocopy. Make several copies of these two leaves. On pieces of cardboard, draw simple grids to make bingo boards. (You can make a bingo board for each student or one for two, if you want students working in pairs.) Glue the photocopied leaves onto the boards, in the grid spaces. Be sure that the leaves are arranged in the spaces in a way that allows students to get "Bingo!" Now that the boards are done, you will need to make two leaf flashcards for calling out which leaf the students will mark. One flashcard will be a simple leaf and the other a compound leaf. You are all set play! One person can stand in the front of the group to hold up the simple or compound leaf card, while the other students mark their cards. (For marking, students can use chips or any other small item you have around the classroom.)
Placing leaves in unusual places around the classroom invites students to think and talk about the leaves in new ways. Put some leaves in the writing area to encourage them to write about leaves. Having leaves in the reading area with books about leaves connects literature with nature. If you put leaves near blocks, students may build trees or become lumberjacks.
It is meaningful to talk with students about what they can do to help take care of trees. We all share this earth, and young people feel good about contributing to caring for our environment. Students can look for books and songs about recycling and respecting the earth. Encourage students to be active in caring for the environment. Adopt a tree! You and your students can learn more about planting and adopting trees by visiting the National Arbor Day Foundation website.