Teaching Science With Trees
- Grades: PreK–K, 1–2
Last week I visited a new preschool teacher who was teaching a science lesson about evergreen trees. She was full of youthful enthusiasm for her subject, and her students were fully engaged. This teacher had a clearly stated objective, an effective mini-lesson, and a simple, well-planned activity. After her class left for lunch, we talked about books and activities she is including in her preschoolers’ study of trees.
Leaves are everywhere, so fall is a great time of year to study trees. Read on for science books and activities for your primary classroom. And write in with your ideas for simple science lessons!
Evergreen Trees Lesson
What stays the same in the forest from season to season, and what changes?
The preschool teacher and her class answered this question. She brought in pine boughs and pine cones for her mini-lesson about evergreen trees. As she passed them around the circle of students, they identified “needles” and “cones.” She had made sentence strips for “ever” and “green,” and she discussed their meaning separately and together.
Then she divided her class into four groups, one for each season. Each of their four tables was labeled with a season. Everyone received background paper, construction paper trees and grass, and baggies filled with craft items (i.e., felt leaves, foam snowmen, flowers, and insects, and bird stickers).
Three teachers worked together to manage the lively groups as they worked. When everyone had completed their evergreen pictures, one student from each season volunteered to share in front of the class. Students arranged themselves and their seasonal pictures in logical order. The class reviewed as a chorus how their evergreen tree stayed the same while the environment changed.
Below are other suggestions from this teacher.
Collect leaves, seeds, flowers, and branches on a nature walk and bring them back to your classroom to identify. Put leaves in Ziploc baggies at a science observation station, along with a hand lens, ruler, and microscope for hands-on science. Older students could go on a leaf-identifying scavenger hunt.
Leaf rubbings show the shapes of veins and stems. She suggested peeling paper off crayons in advance and modeling the process several times before students have their turns.
There are several ways to press leaves, but the easiest is to put them between the pages of a heavy book. Put sheets of wax paper on either side of the leaf to protect the book’s pages. Press the leaves for several days, up to one week.
Pictures With Pressed Leaves
Before beginning the pictures, brainstorm with your students the uses animals might have for leaves. Think creatively. A leaf might be:
- A raft to carry an ant across a puddle
- A napkin for a polite raccoon
- A blanket for a baby squirrel
Draw pictures, add color with crayons or markers, and lastly, glue a pressed leaf into place.
Check out Scholastic Printables for take-home books, songs, and coloring pages about trees.
Red Leaf, Yellow Leaf by Lois Ehlert
This well-known, colorful picture book is illustrated with cut-paper collages and photos of seeds. Red Leaf, Yellow Leaf is an ideal read-aloud book. There’s so much to talk about beyond, and about the text, that you and your students will want to read it multiple times.
Peterson First Guide to Trees by George A. Petrides
This book has 243 species grouped into six categories based on the shape and arrangement of leaves. There are 300 detailed, hand-drawn illustrations.
Tell Me, Tree by Gail Gibbons
Included in Tell Me, Tree are descriptions and diagrams of the parts of a tree and tree species. Photosynthesis is discussed. There are directions for making a tree identification book, a possible class project.
The Life Cycle of a Tree by Bobbie Kalman and Kathryn Smithyman
This is one in a series of books about life cycles. Bobbie Kalman, a science writer for younger students, has a simple style that’s accessible to primary grade students, while still challenging them with rich vocabulary.
Trees, Leaves, and Bark (Take-Along Guide Series) by Diane L. Burns
Trees, Leaves, and Bark features commonly found trees, arranged by species. There are directions for creating a leaf mobile. Tips for finding tree species are also included in this book filled with drawings.