Students will identify plant characteristics from different environments and be able to communicate that information in different ways.
Main Curriculum Tie:
Science - 4th Grade
Standard 5 Objective 3
Use a simple scheme to classify Utah plants and animals.
- Several sets of plants
found in Utah OR
- Student collected sets of
- Sets Plant Round Cards
- Field guides or
materials to assist
For each student:
- Is it Red? Is it Yellow? Is it Blue?, by Tana Hoban; ISBN 0688070345
- Is it Rough? Is it Smooth? Is it Shiny?, by Tana Hoban;
- Is it Larger? Is it Smaller?, by Tana Hoban; ISBN 068815282
- Crinkleroots Guide to Knowing Trees, by Jim Agnosty;
- Plants of the Rocky Mountains, by Linda J. Kershaw;
- Rocky Mountain Tree Finder, by Tom Watts; ISBN 0912550058
- Rocky Mountain Plants and Animals Coloring Book, by Dot Barlowe;
- Easy Field Guide To Common Desert Cactus, by Richard and Sharon
Nelson; ISBN 0-935810-15-3
- Trees: A Golden Guide, by Herbert S. Zim and Alexander C. Martin;
Background For Teachers:
This activity should be used after introducing the concept of structure
and function of a dichotomous key. Students will have practiced on
common and simple items such as candy, shoes, etc. They should then
begin to generalize that information by identifying plant characteristics
from different environments, and be able to communicate that
information in different ways.
The word “dichotomy” means “division into two.” A
dichotomous key reduces the task of identifying something into a series of
that are based on physical features. Each set of questions offers opposing
answers from which to choose. As students make choices and eliminate
others, they will eventually discover the name of the mystery item.
Throughout this lesson, students will make observations and record
them in a science journal. They will also spend time in cooperative
learning groups in a variety of ways to ask questions and discuss the
information they learn.
The plants used in your investigations should include (but not be
limited to) the ones on the Science wordlist for Standard 5:
|| Utah juniper
||*Bristle cone pine
|| Blue spruce
||Gamble’s oak (oak brush)
|*common but not in 4th grade core curriculum list
Intended Learning Outcomes:
1. Use Science Process and Thinking Skills
2. Manifest Scientific Attitudes and Interests
Invitation to Learn
Before starting the lesson, put on something unique you don’t usually
wear such as a funny hat, odd glasses, or something outrageous on your
head like a pan. Start talking to the students about something not
specifically on the topic, acting like nothing is different. When students
react to you with giggles or comments, innocently ask, “What?” “Is
something the matter?” When they identify what is different, they might
say, “You’ve got that pan on your head!” “Oh, so this
thing is different?
What is another name for thing (attribute, characteristic)? If they can’t
think of any, have them look it up in the thesaurus/dictionary. “You’re
right! When something is different, we notice it and need to identify it so
we can communicate our discovery with others. This pan makes me
different, just like characteristics make many “things” different...Like
- Ask students what characteristics
they might use to identify
Utah plants. List these on the board and accept all answers
(e.g., size, color, texture, etc.).
- How could these characteristics be
used to identify plants? List
the ideas in another column on the board. Example of
Look at the shape of the leaves—round, oval, long, etc.
Look at the number of leaves on a stem.
Look at the stem (Is it woody?).
Look at the color.
Does it have needles?
- If possible, take students outside and collect
an assortment of
leaves. If this is not a possibility, use collections that you have
acquired. These leaves can be preserved by laminating them for
use from year to year.
- Divide the students into groups to study the assortment
- Students record their observations. Encourage them to answer
questions such as:
What are the differences between the leaves?
What do the leaves have in common?
Do any leaves have edges that look like teeth on a saw blade?
Do any leaves have hair-like structures?
What do the leaves feel like?
Can you trace the veins on the leaves? What do they feel like?
If there are needle-like leaves, are the needles in clusters?
What color are the leaves?
Compare the leaves—size, shape, structure.
- Have students group
leaves into three piles that show which
environment they might live in—wetlands, forests, or deserts.
this information in their science journals.
- Share these lists with the
class. (Remember, many of these plants
can live in all of the environments. If a student can give a logical
answer for his/her choices, it should be accepted.)
- Can we use this information
to create a dichotomous key to
identify any of the plants in your piles? Review again how this
occurs if students are not familiar with the system. (Use the Leaf
Dichotomous Key as a guideline. Remember, let students do the
creating. Their key may look different from the example.
Encourage the use of “has” and “has not.”)
share the keys within their groups. Teacher should
identify and correct any misconceptions.
- Make a Plant Classification Journal and store in your science
- Use the Plant Round Cards to practice using the information you
observed and recorded. Fill in the blanks with some of the Utah
plants you investigated. Take turns reading your cards. The
student whose card matches the previous question becomes the
next to read. Continue until play can go no further.
- Plant Classification
- Relay Race
- Line up in teams and place a pile of leaves at a predetermined
distance in front of each team. Tell the students that you’re
going to call out the name of a Utah plant and then say, “Go!”
the signal, the first student in each team should run to the
pile of leaves, find the leaf that comes from that plant, and
hold it up. Each team gets one point for each leaf correctly
identified. The team with the most points wins.
- After each round, players
put the leaves back in the piles and
go to the end of their team’s line.
(If working with students who might have difficulty with this activity,
adapt it to use pictures instead of names of plants, or
play as a matching game.)
- Make a tally sheet with the three
environments listed. For a few
days, or over the weekend, have students keep track of how many
plants they see in their daily activities, on television, in the
newspaper, or driving in the car. Which column has the most?
Why do they think this happens?
- Either on the walk home from school,
or in their own yard, have
students try to find at least three of the different types of plants
discussed. This is only observing, not collecting, especially if
belongs to someone else!
- Observe and note student responses to the leaves they
Review the characteristics of leaves and plants if necessary. For
special needs students, provide simplified ways of writing down
data (such as circling the kind of leaves they see from
- Provide additional information for students who are
ready to learn
more about a more diverse selection of Utah plants.
- Play relay game for a
quick assessment of class understanding of
Utah plant identification. (See Curriculum Extensions.)
- Students design an
individual field guide to the Utah plants that
they have studied during this activity. Their guides should include
the characteristics they learned about, such as leaf shape, bark
color and texture, and the branching pattern of leaves. They
should also include environments where this plant might be
found. They should include a drawing of their plants, or perhaps
leaf prints and bark rubbings. (See Field Guide Project
- Collect science journals and review recorded information to
assess/correct student understanding.
Nesbit, C., Hargrove, T., Harrelson, L., (Winter, 2004). Implementing Science
the Primary Grades. Science Activities, 40(4), 2.
This article details the process
teachers can use to teach how to use
science notebooks. It highlights the benefits associated with using
notebooks, and provides connections to National Science Standards.
from science notebooks provide the teacher with a true record of each student’s
thinking and level of understanding over the course of the investigation. This
information can prove to be extremely insightful
as teachers begin to understand how each student thinks, where their
strengths and weaknesses lie, and why they make the mistakes they
make. This information should be used to improve classroom practice,
correct misconceptions, and guide the students toward developing a
deeper understanding of content. The science notebook can be used as a
tool to measure students’ understanding of a variety of areas including,
but not limited to, science, mathematics, and writing.”
Shlomo, S. (1999). The Handbook of Cooperative Learning
Praeger Publishers, 226.
This text defines and discusses cooperative learning and outlines a
variety of ways to use this strategy in different curriculum areas.
“While students conduct their inquiry individually, in pairs, and
small groups, they gather a great deal of information from a variety of
sources. Interpretation of their combined findings is a process of
negotiation between each student’s personal knowledge and the new
knowledge acquired, and between each student and the ideas and
information contributed by other members of the group. This promotes
ability to organize, confirm, and consolidate their findings and thus to
make sense of them.”
Adams, D., & Hamm, M. (1998). Literacy in Science, Technology, and the
An Interdisciplinary Inquiry. Westport, Conneticut: Bergin & Garvey.
This text deals with science and mathematics inquiry processes as
tools that enable students to gather and discover data for themselves
through the process of scientific inquiry.
“Most science educators today agree that science can best be viewed
as a continuous process of trying to discover order in nature and looking
for consistent patterns of the universe through systematic study. It guides
the inquirer to a variety of sources, revealing previously undetected
patterns. These undiscovered openings can become sources of new
questions that can deepen and enhance inquiry. Science is a way of
thinking and asking questions.”
Created Date :
Dec 20 2005 10:20 AM