Trees & Leaves Lesson
Play a photosynthesis relay race, create an edible leaf structure, act out the parts of a tree, examine and classify tree leaves and use them to identify trees, and more in this fun, hands-on lesson on leaves and trees! This is part 3 of a 4 part hands-on unit on Plants. This lesson is geared toward 2nd-3rd grade level children and their siblings. I created this to do with a weekly homeschool co-op which meets each week for 2 1/2 hours. Use this fun lesson with your class, family, after school program, camp, or co-op!
Introduction to Leaves
1. Pray. Read and discuss Psalm 1:1-3.
2. Read Leaves! Leaves! Leaves! by Nancy Elizabeth Wallace.
3. Briefly review leaf structure and the layers of a leaf.
4. (Optional) Follow the directions found at suite101.com (which originally came from Ranger Rick's Naturescope book Trees Are Terrific) to begin making an edible leaf structure. Mention the functions of the epidermis and stomata. We compared the stomata to our noses and mouth as it takes in and releases gas. Sliced bananas will be the stomata, which are mainly found under the leaf, and green jell-o will be the lower epidermis. Cool the banana and green jell-o mix in a freezer for 30 minutes and continue on with the lesson.
YOU WILL NEED: 1 8x11" glass pan, a knife and cutting board, a small mixing bowl, a mixing spoon, 1 sliced banana, and 1 package of green jell-o
Book to Read for Activity 2
This is a cute book on leaves during the four seasons. It is short and has cute illustrations that appeal to young children. It does still include some factual information. Using a dialogue between a mama bear and her son (who loves telling leaf jokes), basic principles about leaves (parts of a leaf including the stomata, processes, leaf identification and shape, etc.) are explained.
More of Our Favorite Children's Books on Leaves
We also really enjoyed Why Do Leaves Change Color? (Let's-Read-and-Find-Out Science, Stage 2) by Betsy Maestro (which would be my second choice for a read aloud book for a class or group), I Am A Leaf (Level 1) (Hello Reader, Science) by Jean Marzollo, Catching Sunlight: A Book About Leaves (Growing Things) by Susan Blackaby, Leaf Man by Lois Ehlert (a cute picture book prefect for preschoolers or kindergarten aged children), and Investigating Why Leaves Change Their Color (Science Detectives) by Ellen Rene (which has photographs rather than illustrations but does a wonderful job of explaining why leaves change colors).
5. Briefly talk about transpiration. Cover a leaf on a tree or other plant with a clear plastic bag and tightly close the bag using a clothespin, rubber band, or tape. If the tree or plant is indoors, move it to a sunny spot. Continue on with the lesson.
YOU WILL NEED: a tree or other plant, a clear plastic bag such as a sandwich bag, & a clothespin, rubber band, or tape
Chlorophyll & Chromatography
6. (Optional) Ask what color leaves are. Briefly review how chlorophyll makes leave appear green most of the year but that other pigments, cartenoids and anthocyanins, are also present, though they are usually masked by the green chlorophyll. Follow the directions found at gen.uga.edu to use chromatography to see the color pigments found in various leaves. (www.hometrainingtools.com provides a similar experiment.). Set aside the experiment and continue with the lesson. (Note: We attempted both of these methods and came out with rather unimpressive results. It may have simply been the leaf types we chose to use.)
YOU WILL NEED PER CHILD OR PER GROUP: 2 leaves that are green and not leathery or tough (maple leaves are good options), 2 disposable cups, 2 strips of chromatography paper or strips of coffee filters, a pencil, a popsicle/craft stick, tape, & isopropyl (rubbing) alcohol
7. Ask what the purpose of chlorophyll is.
8. Read a book on photosynthesis such as Understanding Photosynthesis with Max Axiom by Liam O'Donnell.
Book to Read for Activity 8
This was our favorite book on plant systems, and photosynthesis in particular. It does a wonderful job of explaining the process in terms that even younger children can enjoy, and the information is told by a cool scientist who can shrink in order to investigate leaves more thoroughly. It is written in a comic book format, so the pictures will be too small to use as a read aloud for a larger group. If you are reading to a class that is larger (16+ children), "The Magic School Bus Gets Planted: A Book About Photosynthesis" by Lenore Notkin might be a better option.
More of Our Favorite Picture Books on Photosynthesis
We also really enjoyed The Magic School Bus Gets Planted: A Book About Photosynthesis by Lenore Notkin (our second favorite book), Living Sunlight: How Plants Bring The Earth To Life by Molly Bang, and Plants Make Their Own Food (My Science Library) by Julie K. Lundgren (which has photographs rather than illustrations).
Edible Leaf Structure: Veins & Spongy Layer
9. Continue to make the edible leaf structure. Discuss the importance of the veins and the spongy layer. Strawberry slivers or peach slivers will represent the vein, small cantaloupe or honeydew melon chunks will represent the loosely packed, irregularly shaped cells and the yellow or peach jell-o will represent the spongy layer. Place in the freezer for 30 minutes and continue with the lesson. (Note: The fruit slivers that represent the veins will float around in the jell-o mixture, so there is not a need to place them carefully in straight lines on the jell-o.)
YOU WILL NEED PER CHILD: a small bowl, a mixing spoon, 5 strawberries cut into slivers or 1/2 a peach cut into slivers, 8 small cantaloupe or honeydew melon chunks, & a box of peach or yellow jell-o
10. Have children bring 5-10 different tree leaves from home, or if you're not limited by time, take a walk outside and have the children each collect 5-10 leaves from different trees. Have the children sort them into 2-3 groups and then ask them why they grouped them like they did.
YOU WILL NEED: 5-10 leaves per child (brought by the children or collected from outside)
11. Mention how trees can be identified by their leaves. Have children divide their leaves by various traits:
-Leaf edges: smooth, toothed, sinuate, pinnated lobed, or palmated lobed
-Leaf shapes: linear, ovate, oblong, rounded, spatulate, obcordate, deltoid, or reniform
-Leaf veins: parallel, palmated, or pinnate
We used the illustrations from this book to show what the different leaf traits look like, which was tremendously helpful in assisting the children when they were sorting the leaves.
This was our favorite picture book that goes over what aspects to look for when identifying trees. My children are especially fond of how it is written in a rhyming Cat in the Hat Dr. Seuss style.
Tree Identification & Gymosperms
12. Select one leaf from the group and identify it using the leaf traits and a tree guide. If you are not limited by time, give each child or pair of children a tree guide and have them try to identify a leaf from their pile. (Younger children required assistance with this. I would turn to the page or pages with that type of tree and tell them to locate it on the page or group of pages.)
YOU WILL NEED PER CHILD: at least 1 tree guide
13. Give each child a leaf that you have collected from nearby trees and tell them to find the tree from which the leaf came. If you have a limited number of trees around you, it is okay if children have the same type of leaf. Younger children can work together as partners.
YOU WILL NEED PER CHILD: 1 leaf from a nearby tree
14. If no one brought pine needles, pull some out and pass one to each child. Ask the children if it is a leaf. Why or why not? Have the children compare a leaf with a pine needle. Briefly discuss the difference between gymnosperms and angiosperms (needles vs. leaves, coverless seeds vs. fruit, & no flowers vs. flowers).
YOU WILL NEED PER CHILD: 1 pine needle
Edible Leaf Structure: Palisade Layer
15. Continue to make an edible leaf structure. Discuss the importance of the palisade layer. Grape halves will represent the chloroplasts and the peach or yellow jell-o will represent the palisade layer. Freeze for 30 minutes and continue on with the lesson.
YOU WILL NEED: 10 grapes, a knife, cutting board, a small mixing bowl, a mixing spoon, & a box of peach or yellow jell-o
Photosynthesis Relay Race
16. Play the Photosynthesis Relay Race found at www.ellenjmchenry.com to review the formula for photosynthesis. Teams will race each other to complete the process of photosynthesis. They will place cards with water and carbon dioxide into the "in" envelope on a leaf and shine a flashlight on it and then will remove cards for oxygen, glucose, and water from the "out" envelope on the leaf.
YOU WILL NEED: 2 pieces of green construction paper each cut into the shape of a leaf, 4 small envelopes, glue, marker, free pattern pieces found at www.ellenjmchenry.com, & a flashlight for each team
17. Check the leaf that was covered with a bag. Ask where the water in the bag came from.
Edible Leaf Structure: Upper Epidermis
18. Continue to make the edible leaf structure by adding the remaining 1 cup of green jell-o liquid to the top. The upper epidermis will be represented by the remaining green jell-o. Review the purpose of the epidermis. Freeze for 30 minutes and continue on with the lesson.
Trees: Fruits and Nuts
19. Have the children list some of the products we use from trees. Some of our favorite products are ones that we can eat such as fruit, nuts, and chocolate (cocoa powder)! Make Tree Nut & Fruit Balls by following some of the recipe found at www.joyofbaking.com: In a food processor, blend together 1 cup of toasted tree nuts (such as pecans and/or walnuts), 2 cups of any combination of dried fruit (pitted dates, dried cherries, dried figs, pitted prunes, dried cranberries, and/or chopped dried apricots), and 2 tablespoons orange juice concentrate. Have the children roll the mixture into walnut-sized balls and roll the balls in cocoa powder or crushed pecans or walnuts. Place the balls in the refrigerator until you are ready to serve them.
YOU WILL NEED: food processor, measuring cups, 1 Tablespoon measuring spoons, 1 cup of toasted nuts (such as pecans and/or walnuts), 2 cups of any combination of dried fruit (pitted dates, dried cherries, dried figs, pitted prunes, dried cranberries, and/or chopped dried apricots), 2 tablespoons orange juice concentrate, 1/4 cup cocoa powder, 1/2 cup crushed and toasted pecans or walnuts, and 3 plates
Our Favorite Picture Books on Roots
Also look for "Plant Plumbing: A Book About Roots and Stems" by Susan Blackaby and "Tops and Bottoms" by Janet Stevens.
20. Read Are Trees Alive? by Debbie S. Miller if you have younger children (preschool or kindergarten age) or Tell Me, Tree by Gail Gibbons if you have older children.
21. Direct children to act out each of the parts of a tree and their functions by following the directions found at lnr.cambridge.gov.uk. (This activity originally came from Ranger Rick's Naturescope book Trees Are Terrific.) Children will work together to form the heartwood, taproot, lateral roots, sapwoods, cambium, phloem, & outer bark. (A similar activity can be found at gen.uga.edu). If you have a smaller group of children, have the children act out the root structure first and then act out the trunk structure separately. Have children act out the following parts and describe what that part does as you assign the part:
-Heartwood: Like the backbone of a person, it's the Inner core of the tree, giving it its strength, & holding the trunk upright so its leaves can get plenty of sunlight. For the first few years, it is alive xylem, but its tubes eventually get blocked with resin and pith, and it dies. -->The heartwood child should stand up straight, show his/her muscles to show s/he is strong, and then cross his/her arms together. Repeat, "I support!"
-Taproot: Long, large root or roots that get water & nutrients from the ground & anchor the tree in place. Taproots can reach as far down under the ground as the trunk of the tree stands above the ground.(Some trees like redwoods do not have taproots.) -->The taproot child should sit on the feet of the heartwood child to show that it anchors the tree. Pretend to suck up water by making a slurping sound.
-Lateral Roots: Lots and lots of smaller roots with even tinier rootlets which look like threads or hair. A tree can have millions of rootlets, many of which lie closer to the top of the soil and can immediately soak up water from the rain. All the roots work together to get water & nutrients from the ground & anchor the tree in place. They grow in the direction of water sources.
Large taproots and lateral roots branch into smaller and smaller roots. --> The lateral root child or children should lie down with their feet toward the taproot. If the person has long hair, have her spread it out on the ground like rootlets. Pretend to suck up water by making a slurping sound.
-Heartwood: (Should already be standing)
-Sapwood/Xylem: Like a bunch of straws or pipes, the sapwood draws up water & minerals from the roots to all the branches and leaves and other parts of the tree, and it stores the nutrients. --> The sapwood child or children should hold hands to form a circle around the heartwood. Tell them to lift up their arms from the ground where the roots are and say, "Water and nutrients coming up!"
-Cambium: Can only be seen using a microscope because it's only 1-2 cells thick. It's where new layers are added to the sapwood and is the part of the tree that is growing outward to make the tree thicker. -->The cambium child or children should hold hands to form a circle around the sapwood and repeat, "We make new cells to grow outward."
-Phloem: Transports food (sap) created by the leaves to the rest of the tree The phloem acts as a food supply line from the leaves to the rest of the tree. If a tree's phloem was cut all the way around, the tree would mostly likely die because it wouldn't be able to get food. -->The phloem child or children should form a circle around the cambium, holding their fingers upward as if they were leaves. They should then lower their arms to signify them taking the nutrients from the leaves and spreading it to the rest of the tree. They can repeat, "We bring the food from the leaves to the rest of the tree."
-Outer bark: Like skin on a person, the outer bark protects the tree from bugs, diseases, and fungi. It also keeps the tree from drying out. You also Humans can damage you if they pull you away from the tree. As you get older you crack and stretch. -->The outer bark child or children should hold hands to form a circle around the phloem and repeat, "We protect!"
22. After the children have acted out their roles, review each of the parts and their functions.
Book to Read for Activity 20 (if you are reading to preschool or kindergarten aged children)
This was perfect for my younger preschool-aged children! It compares each part of a tree to each part of your body. Each page has only a few sentences on them along with beautiful illustrations of various trees and people from around the world.
Book to Read for Activity 20 (if you are reading to mostly ages 6+)
This provides a bit more detailed of information about each of the parts of a tree and their functions in addition to some information on trees and tree identification in general.
More of Our Favorite Picture Books on Trees
We also enjoyed reading The Secret Life of Trees, Level 2: Beginning to Read Alone (DK Readers) by Chiara Chevallier, The World's Largest Plants: A Book About Trees (Growing Things) by Susan Blackaby (which covers the basics about a tree including parts, conifers vs. broad-leaf, food making, stem, etc. - and it has just the right amount of text on each page to keep the attention of my preschooler while providing enough educational information for my 2nd grader.), The Flower Hunter: William Bartram, America's First Naturalist by Deborah Kogan Ray (about a naturalist who lived in colonial America and identified and preserved over 200 varieties of plants. This book includes how he identified a number of trees.), A Tree Is a Plant (Let's-Read-and-Find-Out Science) by Clyde Robert Bulla (which follows an apple tree as it grows from a seed to a full size tree and then through the various seasons. It has nice illustrations.), The Gift of the Tree by Alvin Tresselt, and Be a Friend to Trees (Let's-Read-and-Find-Out, Stage 2) by Patricia Lauber.
Reading Tree Rings
23. Use a tree cookie (a slice of a tree trunk that shows the rings) to briefly discuss how tree rings can tell the age and history of a tree. If you are not able to get a tree cookie, you can search on-line for a free worksheet showing distinctive tree rings. Have children count the rings on their tree cookie or on the worksheet to determine the age of the tree. Point out the significance of particular markings or rings.
YOU WILL NEED: a tree cookie or a worksheet showing tree rings
Edible Leaf Structure: Waxy Layer
24. Finish the edible leaf structure. Discuss the importance of the waxy layer. Cool Whip will represent the waxy layer. Slice up the Edible Leaf Structure and review the parts of a leaf and what each part does.
YOU WILL NEED: Cool Whip and mixing spoon
Snack & Review
25. Serve the Edible Leaf Structure and the Tree Nut & Fruit Balls as snacks.
YOU WILL NEED PER CHILD: plate, spoon or fork, napkin, & cup for water
26. Review what we learned about leaves and trees.
Joke: What did the tree say to the ax?
Looking for Free Tree Lapbooks?
Maple Syrup Unit & Lapbook : http://www.homeschoolshare.com/maple_syrup.php
Lapbook based on Meeting Trees by Scott Russell Sanders : http://www.homeschoolshare.com/meeting_trees.php
Lapbook based on The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein : http://www.homeschoolshare.com/giving_tree.php
Lapbook based on The Lorax by Dr. Seuss : http://www.homeschoolshare.com/lorax.php
Lapbook based on Miss Twiggley's Tree by Dorothea Warren Fox : http://www.homeschoolshare.com/miss-twiggleys-tree.php
Lapbook based on The Tale of Three Trees by Angela Elwell Hunt : http://www.homeschoolshare.com/tale_of_the_three_trees.php
Homework: Tree Identifications and Tree Poem
If desired, have children draw and identify at least 5 trees. We included leaf and bark rubbings of each tree. It is helpful to use one side of the sheet to do a leaf rubbing and the other side of the sheet to do the bark rubbing. We noticed that some crayon brands and colors worked better than others, so try to switch out any crayons that do not seem to be producing clear images.
Also have the children memorize the poem "Trees" by Joyce Kilmer.
Drawing a Twig
We loved the below video that leads you step-by-step in drawing a twig. It is easy to follow. Even my 5 year old drew the twig quite well. What I love about the video is that the artist talks about the different growths on the twig, and made us all notice parts of a tree that we would not have otherwise noticed. After drawing our twigs, we immediately went outside to locate the parts we had drawn on a real tree. We were all excited to be able to identify something we had never noticed before!
Draw a twig - we did this activity and it really helped the children notice and learn the parts of a tree branch - You will have to click to watch it on YouTube
Great YouTube Clips on Trees & Photosynthesis
Driving through a tree
How does a Christmas tree grow
Biggest tree on the Earth
Methuselah, a very old tree
How trees and plants grow
Looking for the other lessons?
Go on a seed hunt, act out germination, create seed mosaics, make and eat a plant parts salad, dissect a flower, decorate sunflower cookies, compete in a photosynthesis relay race, got on a plant scavenger hunt, and more during this fun four part unit study on Botany and Plants!
- Plant Parts & Seeds Lesson - This is part 1 of a 4 part unit study on Botany and Plants. Go on a seed hunt, act out germination, create seed mosaics, make and eat a plant parts salad, and more in this fun lesson on plants!
- Flowers Lesson - Go on a flower hunt, dissect a flower, create edible flowers, paint flowers, and more in this fun lesson on flowers! This is part 2 of a 4 part unit study on Botany and Plants.
- Bee & Honey Lesson - This is part 3 of a 4 part unit study on Botany and Plants. (This lesson is optional if you need to squeeze this unit into 3 parts rather than 4.) Dance like a bee, make edible bees using honey balls, use cheese puff balls and and juice boxes to dramatize pollination, create pipe cleaner bees and have them fly to the tune of Flight of the Bumblebee, and more!
- Trees & Leaves Lesson - This is part 4 of a 4 part unit study on Botany and Plants. Play a photosynthesis relay race, create an edible leaf structure, act out the parts of a tree, examine and classify tree leaves and use them to identify trees, and more in this fun, hands-on lesson on leaves and trees!
- Botany Scavenger Hunt & Field Trip Ideas - This is the culminating activity we did after a 4 week hands-on unit study on botany/plants. Children went on a fun-filled scavenger hunt for a variety of plants, and afterward had a plant-themed picnic lunch. Also included are the field trips we went on while studying this unit on botany and plants.
- Fun, FREE Hands-on Unit Studies - Over the years I have posted over 30 science and social-studies based unit studies, compromised of more than 140 lessons. For each lesson I have included activities (with photos), our favorite books and YouTube video clips, lapbook links, and other resources. I posted links to all of my unit studies and lessons at the above link.
Would you like to teach this way every day?
I use Konos Curriculum as a springboard from which to plan my lessons. It's a wonderful Christian curriculum and was created by moms with active children! You can even watch free on-line videos as Jessica, one of the co-authors of Konos, walks you through a unit. (Look for the Explanation Videos tab.)
If you're new to homeschooling or in need of some fresh guidance, I highly recommend Konos' HomeSchoolMentor.com program! Watch videos on-line of what to do each day and how to teach it in this great hands-on format!
Which tree is your favorite?
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