To observe and document similarities and differences between parts of plants.
While ideas of ecology, biology, horticulture, etc., are far too abstract for K-2 students, young children are curious about their living environment and are ready to be introduced to the idea that they live on this earth along with plants and animals. Although students at this level are most often in awe of the natural world, not all are equally familiar with the living environment. A classroom that fosters students' curiosity about the natural world by exposing them to living things provides students with rich opportunities to learn about the world in which we live. "All students, especially those who live in circumstances that limit their interaction with nature, must have the opportunity to observe a variety of plants and animals in the classroom, on the school grounds, in the neighborhood, at home, in parks and streams and gardens, and at the zoo. But observing is not enough. The students should have reasons for their observations—reasons that prompt them to do something with the information they collect." (Benchmarks for Science Literacy, p. 102.)
This lesson supports students interacting with nature and provides them with a framework for their observations by offering them opportunities to explore, question, and document similarities and differences among plant parts.
In this lesson, students will 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 on a student sheet. Students will first have opportunities to examine the plants in open-ended ways, and then begin to formulate questions about what they are touching, smelling, and seeing. "The point is to encourage them to ask questions for which they can find answers by looking carefully (using hand lenses when needed) at plants…and then checking their observations and answers with one another." (Benchmarks for Science Literacy, p.102.)
You can expect that the younger students of this level will focus on one attribute of the plant parts they are examining, while the older students will more likely observe a few attributes. "Most children enter kindergarten interested in living things and already able to distinguish among the common ones. Children know, for example, that fish resemble other fish, frogs resemble other frogs, and that fish and frogs are different. In the beginning, children can focus on any attribute—size, color, limbs, fins, or wings—but then should gradually be guided to realize that for purposes of understanding relatedness among organisms, some characteristics are more significant than others." (Benchmarks for Science Literacy, p. 101.)
By encouraging students to notice that a plant is comprised of parts, you will facilitate their thinking about plants in a more detailed way. This more detailed thinking will further develop their science skills of observing and classifying, and, at the same time, build a foundation for future learning about plants and relationships among living things in our environment.
It is a good idea to display pictures of plants around the classroom and to have plant books available for students at the outset of this lesson.
To build excitement among your students, you can organize a plant scavenger hunt! The idea of the scavenger hunt is for students to find and match similar plant parts (roots, stems, and leaves). For the younger students, you may want them to find matching plant parts from the same vegetable plant, while older students may be more appropriately challenged to collect matching parts from the various plants you are using.
Select some common vegetables that are also fairly sturdy (since students will handle them as part of the game). Also, when choosing your vegetables, think about vegetables that have easily identifiable roots, stems, and/or leaves. Fresh carrots, lettuce, broccoli, asparagus, and collard greens are vegetables that work well for this game.
Hide the various plant parts around the classroom and give students clues for finding them. Depending on the level of your group, you may choose to use picture cards, words, or both to illustrate the parts they will try to find. Put three corresponding containers that are labeled roots, stems, and leaves in a designated area for students to put the parts they find.
Once everyone has collected their parts, meet as a large group to discuss the similarities and differences students see among the parts. Bring the three containers to the group, as well as whole vegetables, to help facilitate the discussion. Students may compare the different parts of the same plant, similar parts from different plants, or a combination of both. Depending on your particular group of students, you can choose to have them study and sort by single attributes or multiple attributes. Younger students may benefit from comparing different parts of the same plant, while older students will be more challenged to look at a variety of plants. Again, you can decide whether or not you want students to look at one part (the stem, for example) from a variety of plants or simply look at a variety of plants and observe all the different parts.
At this point in the activity, leaving the discussion open to their observations is important. Later in the lesson, you will challenge students to think more critically about their observations. Some questions that may be helpful for group discussion are:
- What do you notice about the roots? Stems? Leaves?
- Is there anything the same about all the roots? Stems? Leaves? (Some students may not yet know the term similar.)
- Is there anything different about the roots? Stems? Leaves?
- Where do you see these parts on the whole vegetable?
- What questions do you have about these plant parts?
Chart students' responses on newsprint, and then add it to the classroom display of plant pictures. As students move through the activities in this lesson, you can refer back to their original observations and questions as appropriate.
Use masking tape to make a grid on the top of a table. Be sure to make the grid spaces large enough for students to put a collection of parts. Let students use the vegetable parts collected during the scavenger hunt to sort and classify with this table-top grid. This activity should remain open-ended, but you can challenge them to consider what attributes they are using to sort; encourage them to find other attributes to use as their sorting criteria; and even add a little math to this exercise.
Once students have had an open-ended opportunity to examine the vegetable plant parts, encourage students to begin thinking more critically about these parts. You might ask:
- What do you notice about all these plant parts?
- How do the different parts look, feel, and smell?
- Have you seen any of these plant parts before? Where?
- Which parts did you put in the same square on the table grid? Why?
- What kinds of things helped you decide what to put in which square?
To challenge students to extend their thinking about plant parts and to encourage students to formulate some of their own questions, offer students magnifying lenses. Let them explore the various plant parts with these for a short while, and then give each student the Vegetable Plant Parts student sheet to document their observations. Students should draw pictures of these things: a root; a stem; a leaf; and a whole plant.
Once students have completed their student sheets, reconvene for a group discussion. You might ask:
- What do these plant parts remind you of?
- How are the plant parts connected?
- How did the plants look when you used the magnifying lenses?
- Why do you think plants have different parts?
- How are plants helpful to people?
- What more do you want to know about these plants or plant parts?
While it is too abstract for students at this level to understand the role plants play in our living environment, this group discussion will help you introduce students to the idea that plants do play a part in our world. To keep it very basic and simple, you can talk with students about how the plants they have been examining are vegetables that we can eat. In this way, students can begin to develop an appreciation for how vegetable plants provide people with nourishment.
Now students should use their Plant Parts student esheet to go to Plant Parts Salad, from Cool Science for Curious Kids, for an online activity that will reinforce matching corresponding plant parts. (Note, this Web activity also includes the flower and fruit part of a plant. You may want to talk with students about these two additional parts by bringing in examples. Tomatoes are an example of the fruit part, because it has seeds. Broccoli is a good example of a flower.) From here, you can ask students if they would like to make their own Plant-Parts Salad. Ask students to bring a vegetable into class, and the group can make their own salad. Consider assigning students particular vegetables in order to allow for using only vegetables that are easy to tear with glove-covered hands, since students may be too young to safely handle a knife. Alternatively, at the end of the day, you could cut the vegetables students brought in, and create the salad together the following day.
Through this lesson, students have had several experiences with plant parts. Because there were not several different kinds of plants (all were vegetables), it was easier for students to identify similarities and differences between plant parts. One way to assess how well students understand the concept of like and difference among plants and plant parts is to add a variable. Introduce one other type of plant. Ask students:
- Do you see a root on this plant?
- How is it the same or different from some of the other roots we have seen? (Repeat these two questions for stem and leaf.)
After discussing these questions, give students the More Plant Parts student sheet. It may be important to review their student sheets and use their responses to facilitate another group discussion about what they have discovered about plants and plant parts. You can also display these student sheets around the classroom (anonymously) so that students can learn from other students' observations as well.
Offer students seed and gardening catalogues to cut and paste to make plant collages. Then encourage students to tell a story about their plants.
Activity number two from the Jay Jay the Jet Plane site will provide students with a longer term project of seeing a seed grow into a full plant.
Reviewing these websites will also give you additional ideas for plant activities: