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Books in Translation

Differentiation in Practice Grades K-5

by Carol Ann Tomlinson and Caroline Cunningham Eidson

Table of Contents

Chapter 2. What Plants Need: A Science Unit on the Functions of Plant Parts

by Caroline Cunningham Eidson


This hands-on, three- to four-week science unit invites students to explore plant growth and survival. During this unit, students ask questions and devise ways to find answers as they discover why plant parts are important. They also observe plant growth to learn about a plant's life cycle. Writing is integrated throughout this unit. In addition to working with scientific process skills, students engage in writing activities that encourage descriptive and clear thinking as well as creativity.

Teacher Reflection on Designing the Unit

Many elementary students enter school knowing some information about plants, but few have really worked with plants in a scientific way. They may have some experience with planting gardens or tending to plants in their homes or neighborhoods, or they may have developed an interest in plants by exploring plants in their environments. Also, many preschool and kindergarten classrooms offer experiences with plants. The bottom line is that students come with a range of knowledge and experiences related to plants and with varying degrees of interest in them and in science in general. With this unit, I wanted to provide an opportunity for students to extend their prior knowledge of and experience with plants while they worked with the skills of science. I wanted the students to learn to ask questions, describe things in detail, carry out experiments, and draw conclusions. Because I believe it's important to get students writing early and often, I wanted to integrate opportunities for descriptive and creative writing.

I began the unit with a couple of informal pre-assessment activities to evaluate my students' engagement with the topic of plants in general and their levels of experience with and understanding of plants. I knew that my job throughout this unit would involve matching students and activities appropriately—not only to ensure challenge and success, but also to ensure engagement, either through the focus on plants or through the focus on science skills in general.

Each time I teach this unit, I find a different way to do it that best meets my students' needs. Some groups need or want more practice with the scientific process than other groups. Other groups are intrinsically interested in plants and in discovering more about them. Despite differences in groups and individual students, my non-negotiables remain the same: I want my students to come to see themselves as capable of “doing” science, and I want them to achieve this through a hands-on approach that invites them to exercise their interests.

Science Standards Addressed

  • Ask questions about organisms, objects, and events.
  • Plan and conduct simple descriptive investigations.
  • Construct reasonable explanations and draw conclusions.
  • Communicate explanations about investigations.
  • Record and compare collected information.
  • Observe and describe the parts of plants.
  • Observe and record changes in the life cycle of plants.

Unit Concepts and Generalizations

Needs (main concept), Growth, Change, System

  • All living things have needs.
  • Needs must be met in order for living things to survive, grow, and be healthy.
  • Needs can be met in different ways.
  • Living things are built so that their needs can be met.
  • Plants and animals (including people) have some similar needs.

Unit Objectives

As a result of this unit, the students willknow

  • The names and functions of plant parts: root, stem, leaf, flower, and seed.
  • Plant needs: light, water, air, soil, and food.

As a result of this unit, the students willunderstand that

  • Plants have needs that must be met in order for them to grow and survive.
  • Each plant part has a specific job that helps the plant.
  • If one plant part cannot do its job, then the whole plant suffers.
  • A plant and its parts change as the plant grows.
  • Plants are important to people in many ways.
  • Scientists use specific skills in their work.

As a result of this unit, the students willbe able to

  • Identify and describe plant parts.
  • Explain the role of each plant part.
  • Explain what plants need.
  • Ask questions.
  • Make observations.
  • Describe, compare, and contrast.
  • Carry out simple experiments.
  • Record changes in the life cycle of a plant.
  • Work independently.
  • Work cooperatively.
  • Show appreciation for plants.

Instructional Strategies Used

  • Closure strategies: Alphabet bag, 3-2-1
  • Gardner's multiple intelligences
  • Interest surveys
  • Jigsaw groups
  • Learning stations
  • Pre-assessment
  • Round robin brainstorming
  • Small-group investigations
  • Student choice concerning groupings
  • Tiered assignments

Sample Supporting Materials Provided

Sample #




Suggested Plant Anchor Activities



Needs Comparison Graphic Organizer



Plant Needs Group Experiment Planning Sheet



Plant Needs Group Experiment Observation Sheet



Plant Part Experiment Observation Sheet



Recommended Books About Plants


Unit Overview





Pre-Assessment and Introduction

2 class periods

“Find Someone Who . . .” plant information scavenger hunt

15–20 minutes

Struggling students may work in mixed-readiness pairs

Creation of class plant web, working in pairs, then as a whole group

15–20 minutes

Independent or partner work based on learning profile

25–30 minutes

Alphabet bag closure activity

5–10 minutes


Working Like a Scientist

1 class period

Introduction to science skills

10 minutes

Science skill station rotations in mixed-ability groups

20–25 minutes

Individualized scaffolding provided as necessary

Discussion of science skills

10 minutes


Exploring Plant Needs

5–7 class periods

Science skills review

5 minutes

Introductory discussion of human and plant needs

10 minutes

Small, mixed-readiness group experiments about plant needs

30 minutes to set up, then 5–10 minutes during successive periods

Groups choose a plant need to investigate based on interest

Jigsaw to share findings from group experiments

15 minutes

Independent or partner tasks based on readiness

30 minutes

Sharing of work

15 minutes

Alphabet bag closure activity

5 minutes


Plant Parts and Their Jobs

4–5 class periods

Review of plant needs

5 minutes

Lesson introduction and plant part interest survey

10–15 minutes

Plant part experiment setup

15 minutes

Small-group research and product assignments based on interest

3–4 class periods

Sharing of group products

15 minutes

Experiment and research wrap-up

10 minutes

Alphabet bag closure activity

5 minutes



2 class periods

Round robin brainstorming review in small, mixed-readiness groups

20 minutes

The Magic School Bus Goes to Seed video

35 minutes

3-2-1 closure activity independently or in pairs

20 minutes

Individualized assistance provided for students who need it


Unit Assessment

2 class periods

Three assessment tasks

45–50 minutes

Modifications and scaffolding provided for struggling writers

Whole-group acrostic activity

15–20 minutes

Plant Anchor Activities

During the unit, students should have access to a list of anchor activities that they can work on either individually or with a partner when they have finished their work on the regular lesson activities. The Suggested Plant Anchor Activities (see Sample 2.1, page 61) provides a list of appropriate activities that address various interests and learning profiles. The activities encourage students to extend their thinking about plants, and they highlight a variety of learning profiles. For example, there are activities designed for verbal learners, mathematical learners, creative thinkers, and artistic and musical students. Allowing students to choose, or even design, their own activities helps to ensure that they will be engaged with those activities.

Sample 2.1—Suggested Plant Anchor Activities

  • Make an ABC list of plants. Use books in the classroom to find the names of plants that begin with each letter of the alphabet.
  • Create a collage of plants or flowers. Label the plants and flowers if you know their names.
  • Draw and label plants that we can eat. Which do you like to eat?
  • Draw and label plants that we cannot eat. Why can't we eat these?
  • Design a garden. How big will your garden be? What will you put in it? Why?
  • Create riddles or jokes about plants and their parts. Try them out on your classmates.
  • Measure the plants in the classroom, and make a graph showing their heights. Which is the tallest plant? Which is the shortest one? Do you think that will change? Why?
  • Write a song about plants, what you like about them, and why they are important.
  • Design a new kind of plant or flower. What is special about it? How is it different from other plants or flowers?
  • Bring in a collection of leaves from home and make a booklet of leaf rubbings. Label the types of leaves if you know them, and look up and label any types that you don't know.
  • Make up your own plant activity and ask your teacher if it's okay to do it!

Post a list of plant anchor activities in the classroom for all to see, and make sure students have access to the materials they'll need, including a variety of books at multiple reading levels, magazines, catalogs, and outdated floral calendars and date books.

Teacher Reflection on the Use of Anchor Activities

Because this unit involves growing plants and observing that growth (which rarely goes “as scheduled”) and because students never seem to finish work at the same time or in the time that I provide, I knew that I needed to approach the issue of time during this unit with flexibility. Anchor activities provide a solution.

Some of my students were able to select and begin activities on their own while others needed some encouragement and guidance. I provided assistance and feedback as I circulated around the room during small-group and individual work times. Also, on Fridays, I always provide time for my students to complete work they have not finished during the week. For those who had finished all of their work, this was a great time to pursue some plant anchor activities. Fridays were also a good time for my students to share their anchor activities with one another.

Unit Description and Teacher Commentary

Lesson 1. Pre-Assessment and Introduction (2 class periods)



“Find Someone Who . . .” plant information scavenger hunt. Begin the unit by giving each student a pencil and four different-colored index cards with the following instructions on the cards:

  • Card 1: Find someone who knows two things that plants need.
  • Card 2: Find someone who has a garden.
  • Card 3: Find someone who can name three parts of a plant.
  • Card 4: Find someone who can name a type of plant.

Tell the students that they are to walk quietly around the room to find classmates who fit the instructions on each card. When they find a classmate who fits a card description, they must write that person's name on the card. Each student must collect two names on each card and all the names on all four cards must be different (“For example, you cannot write Janna's name on more than one card.”).

One challenge of teaching children is finding ways to engage them quickly in a particular unit of study. I chose this activity to get my students involved in the topic of plants and to get them up and moving!

I also find that this kind of activity allows students to learn from one another.

Circulate among the students, helping those who need assistance with finding and talking to classmates, with reading the cards, or with writing the names.

Here, moving among the students gave me a chance to listen to their ideas. Typically, I keep a clipboard with me at all times for jotting down quick notes.

In some cases, such as with ESL students or other students who might seriously struggle with the reading and writing involved in this activity, it might be helpful to pair students so that they can help one another find classmates and write names.

In activities like this one, I sometimes put students in mixed-readiness pairs so that struggling learners can participate without too much frustration.

When the students have found two classmates for each of the cards (or when you can see that the activity needs to end because almost all have finished), bring the class together to discuss what the students discovered about one another, asking questions such as, “How many of you found out that someone has a garden?” “Who has a garden?” “Does anyone else have a garden?” Note the students' responses and collect the index cards.

I used the information from this activity (my observations, the discussion, and the cards themselves) to get a baseline “read” of where my students were with regard to their knowledge of and experience with plants. Thus, it also served as a pre-assessment for this unit.

Creation of class plant web, working in pairs, then as a whole group. Next, tell the students that they are going to create a class web about plants and that they will need to share what they already know about plants.

Paired with the scavenger hunt, this whole-group activity gave me a good picture of what my students knew about plants.

Put the students in random pairs and give each pair two paper circles and a pencil. Ask the pairs to work together to write (or draw, if writing is too difficult for some) one thing about plants on each circle.

Working in pairs gives students a chance to share and test their ideas before presenting them to the whole group.

When each pair has completed its circles, bring the whole group together to share and discuss the ideas while creating the class web.

Place a larger circle in the middle of a piece of chart paper, and write “plants” in this circle. Ask students to share their ideas one at a time so that the group can discuss them and add to them. As ideas are shared, note when they are similar to other ideas, and place them together around the larger circle, asking, “Does this idea go with any other ideas? How?”

The goal is to begin categorizing the ideas based on the students' thinking and place them in categories around the larger circle.

Ask: Where might this idea belong on our web? Which ideas does it seem it fit with?

When all of the pairs' ideas have been shared and placed on the web, invite the students to name the categories: What might they call this group of ideas? Why? Label the categories. Are there other categories still needed? Why?

This was an opportunity to teach the whole class about webbing, and it got the students categorizing and labeling ideas.

By listening closely and taking notes throughout this activity, I picked up a lot of information about what students knew and understood about plants—and what they misunderstood!

When the class web is complete, post it on a wall at the students' eye level so that they can add to it throughout the unit. Tape an envelope holding small circles next to it to allow students to write their new ideas on the circles and tape them with the appropriate category on the web.

I used this web as a visual tool for the whole unit and students enjoyed adding to it as they found out new things.

Independent or partner work based on learning profile.Explain to the students that this new unit is about plants and their needs. Tell them that they have already told you much about what they know about plants and that now they will have a chance to use what they already know to create something about plants on their own.

Here I used yet another pre-assessment (this time incorporating Gardner's multiple intelligences) to help students show me what they knew and to help them learn from one another.

Students will choose one of the following options, and they may work alone or with a partner of their choosing:

Option 1: Verbal/Linguistic Intelligence

Write a letter to a kindergartner telling as much as you can about plants. What should every child know about plants? What do you like about plants? Why?

Option 2: Visual/Spatial Intelligence

Draw pictures of at least three different types of plants. Make sure these plants look very different from one another. Label as many of their parts as you can.

Option 3: Logical/Mathematical Intelligence

On a Venn diagram and using pictures and words, compare and contrast plants and animals. What is the same about them? What is different about them?

Option 4: Intrapersonal Intelligence

You are a plant. What does it feel like to grow? What do you see around you? What do you like about being a plant? What do you not like? Write and draw about your life as a plant.

When students have completed their chosen task, invite them to share their products with their classmates.

Giving students the option of working alone or with a partner is an easy way to incorporate choice.

These activities enabled me to cover a lot of ground at the start of the unit, and they invited many “teachable moments” as we discussed what the students already knew.

Most of my students already knew the basics about plants—and those who didn't generally picked them up by the end of this lesson.

Alphabet bag closure activity. Using a bag with each letter of the alphabet included (these can be written on small cards or can be small, manipulative letters), draw a letter out of the bag and ask students to come up with sentences or statements about plants that begin with that letter. (For example, “A = A plant needs water.” “D = Don't forget to water a plant.”) Make sure that the students understand this process, as it will be used throughout the unit.

This was a quick way to summarize much of what we had discussed in the lesson. I use this “alphabet bag” approach frequently with my classes.

= Differentiated Component

Lesson 2. Working Like a Scientist (1 class period)



Lesson preparation: Prior to this lesson, which uses learning stations, write the instructions for each station on chart paper to post around the room, and decide on four “resident experts” who will help the students work successfully at the stations. Make sure that these four students know exactly what should happen at each station, and put one of them in each group of students.

The “resident expert” approach is a great one for helping students to work successfully in small groups. It saves me time in the long run and gives me a chance to move among groups offering guidance as needed. It also gives students a chance to take on some extra responsibility in the classroom.

Over time, I give all students—with all readiness levels—an opportunity to be a resident expert; for this activity, however, I selected students who were already reading so that they could read the instructions to their groups.

Introduction to science skills. Invite the students to share their ideas about “doing science” and highlight some skills that they already have (for example, writing their names and counting to 20).

Ask: What skills do you think scientists need to have? (Observing or seeing carefully, keeping records of what they see, etc.) Record the students' ideas on chart paper so that the class can refer to them during the next lesson.

This was a good place to relate the lesson to the students' interests and abilities.

Science skill station rotations in mixed-ability groups. Tell the students that they will be working at four different stations to practice the skills of science. Then place the students in four mixed-readiness groups based on pre-assessment information and reading proficiency. Remember to put one resident expert in each group.

Explain the stations and their locations. The groups will spend about four minutes in each station.

Before I use an activity like this one, I make sure my students have practiced working in small groups (first for short periods of time and then for longer ones) and moving quickly between activities. Time spent practicing these skills really pays off in the long run!

Station 1: Observing

Each student will pick an apple out of a basket and look at it closely. The students will put their apples back in the basket and mix them up so that they don't know where their apples are. Then they will try to find their apples. What do they have to do to find their apples?

I was careful to provide apples that were very similar in appearance so that the students had to examine them closely to come up with differences.

Station 2: Classifying

Given a collection of different shells, the students will put them into groups. How can they put shells that are alike together? How are the groups different from one another?

I gave the students a wide variety of shells that differed in color, shape, texture, and size. I also provided small boxes for the students to use for their groups of shells.

Station 3: Comparing and Contrasting

Given a collection of different rocks, the students will select pairs of rocks and will tell how they are the same and how they are different. Can they find two rocks that are very similar? Can they find two that are very different?

Again, I provided a wide variety of rocks.

Station 4: Asking Questions

The students will ask questions about anything they are interested in. What would they like to know about animals? Outer space? Volcanoes? One student (or an assistant or classroom volunteer) will write the group's questions on chart paper.

I made sure that the student writing the questions also got to include his or her own questions. Some adult help here would have been very welcome.

As the groups work, move among the stations providing assistance and cues as necessary.

I used this time to ask questions that scaffold some students (“How do you know that's your apple?”) and stretch others (“Why is it important to look at things closely? Can you think of jobs in which people need to do this?”).

Discussion of science skills. Bring the students back together for a large-group discussion to wrap up the lesson. Ask them to explain what they did at each station. Explain the terms observe, classify, compare, contrast, and question so that they know what we call the skills they were working on.

Ask: When do you think you will need to use these skills as we study plants? Do you think these are important skills to have? Why? Have you ever used these skills before? When? Why? What other skills might we need?

I tried to ask students who I thought would be reluctant to speak up about their station activities (because they had struggled with the activity or because they generally don't like to speak up) to do so here. This ensured their chance to share what they knew. I then focused on more complex questions that asked students to predict when they would use these skills. I also asked questions designed to help the students see that these are skills they already use. My overall goal was to help everyone realize how these skills are useful.

= Differentiated Component

Lesson 3. Exploring Plant Needs (5–7 class periods)



Science skills review. Begin by reviewing the science skills you focused on in the previous lesson: observing, classifying, comparing, contrasting, and questioning.

A quick review never hurts. This was a good way to refocus the class.

Introductory discussion of human and plant needs. Explain that today the class will begin looking at what plants need to grow and be healthy.

Ask: What do you need to grow and be healthy?

As students share ideas, create a Needs Comparison Graphic Organizer (see Sample 2.2, page 62) comparing people's needs to plants' needs.

Ask: Do plants need the same things that people need to grow and be healthy? How do we know what plants need? Is there a way to prove it?

Whenever possible, I encourage my students to relate personally to the topic at hand.

Encourage students to discuss how to prove what plants need. For example, how might we prove that plants need light? Should we give one plant light? Why? How will we know when a plant is not growing or is not healthy? What will it look like?

I wanted the students to devise ways to test plant needs. I also wanted them to see that it would be important to grow a healthy plant so that they would have something to compare an unhealthy plant to. They were really working with the idea of a “control group” here.

Small, mixed-readiness group experiments about plant needs. Students will work in mixed-readiness groups of four to complete an experiment of their choosing. Every group will follow the same instructions and fill out a Plant Needs Group Experiment Planning Sheet (see Sample 2.3, page 63) but they will focus on different plant needs. The groups will choose from the following: light, water, air, soil, and fertilizer. Tell the students that each group will be given two plants to work with and a Plant Needs Group Experiment Observation Sheet (see Sample 2.4, page 64).

Because the experiment required students to work in small groups for several days, I created the groups based on who I thought would and would not work well together. I did provide some interest-based differentiation in that I asked each group to choose the need that they wanted to investigate. If any needs were “left over,” I set those experiments up myself. It was important to me that students worked with something they were interested in, and these experiments did not take too much time to set up.

Post the experiment instructions for all to see:

  1. Choose the plant need that you want to prove.
  2. Make a list of the materials that you will need to carry out your experiment.
  3. Write what you are going to do to show that plants need what you have chosen.
  4. Check your experiment plan with your teacher.
  5. Collect your materials.
  6. Carry out your experiment.
  7. Observe your plants for several days.
  8. Draw and write about what you see happening to your plants.

I gave the groups a checklist of the instructions so that students could check off steps as they completed them. Some groups needed this while others didn't.

I helped some groups choose the materials they would need—notably the groups working with soil and air. I did encourage the fertilizer group to use fertilizer sticks, which are easier and safer than using powdered products.

Circulate among the groups to make sure that they understand what they are to do. You may have to ask questions, such as “How will you give one plant light and not give it to the other plant?” or “What are some things other than soil that you can try to grow a plant in?”

My role in this activity was to observe the students and step in with help when necessary. Once the experiments were set up and the students were recording their observations on the forms I provided, I met with individuals or small groups who needed review, a new way of learning ideas or skills, or guidance toward more advanced thinking.

Be sure to provide a central location for materials that the students need. It may help to assign one person in each group the job of collecting and returning materials: boxes, plastic bags, potting soil, sand, and fertilizer sticks.

Centralizing materials is always a good idea when you're conducting activities that require lots of supplies.

Allow time during the rest of the class periods devoted to this lesson for students to examine their plants, record what they are seeing (each group member should fill out his or her own observation sheet), and share their findings with the large group. Make sure students are recording their findings on the correct day on their record sheets.

During large-group discussions, ask students to predict plant needs based on the findings so far: Do you think plants need soil? Why? What about fertilizer? Why?

As the students worked to make and record observations, I moved among the groups asking questions (“How are your plants different now? Why do you think they are different?”) and giving feedback. My students really enjoyed the independence of this activity, but again, I know it helped that they had had lots of practice working on their own and in groups.

Once the experiments were set up, recording and discussing findings took only a few minutes each day.

Jigsaw to share findings from group experiments. After several days, place the students in mixed-readiness Jigsaw groups to share the findings from their experiments. Make sure that there is at least one student from each original group in the Jigsaw groups so that each possible plant need is represented. What did the various groups find out? How did you find this out?

Regrouping gave all students a chance to share their findings. It also gave them a sense of responsibility for the activity. I circulated, offering assistance as needed.

As a large group, discuss what plants need. Are some needsmore important than others? Why do you think so?

Summarizing as a large group ensured that we covered any information that may have fallen through the cracks during the small-group discussions.

Independent or partner tasks based on readiness. Assign each student to one of three tiered tasks to work on independently or in pairs. Make your readiness determination based on pre-assessment activities, the notes you've taken on the students' in-class performance during the previous lessons, and ongoing assessment of reading and writing skills.

Some students tend to need to work in more concrete ways while others are able to think more abstractly. Here, I used a tiered assignment to address that range of readiness. I'm careful not to assume that ESL students always need to work on a concrete level. Pairing them with other students can allow them to complete a more abstract activity and get help with vocabulary.

Task 1 (Struggling Students)

You know someone who would like to grow a plant for a plant competition. This person has never grown a plant before. Write a list of everything this person should do to grow a healthy plant that will win the competition.

The first task is the most concrete, designed for students who would benefit from restating the experiment findings. These students may be struggling with the vocabulary of plants and their needs.

Task 2 (On-Target Students)

Is there something that plants might need that we did not look at? Write about what that might be, and then write about how you might find out whether or not plants really need it.

This activity is more open-ended and invites some creative thinking as well. Still, the structure is a familiar one, similar to that of the group experiments.

Task 3 (Advanced Students)

You have found a plant that is not healthy, and you would like to make it better. Write about how you will find out what it needs and what you will do to make it healthier.

This activity is the most abstract, requiring both analytical and practical thinking. It requires students to apply their understanding of plant needs in determining what might be wrong with the plant in the first place and to consider how they might rule out some possibilities.

Sharing of work. Provide time for the students to share what they've done on their tasks with one another.

This was a chance for me to assess my students' grasp of the needs of plants and to give them an opportunity to share their learning with the class.

Alphabet bag closure activity. Draw another letter (or several) out of the alphabet bag and ask the students to come up with sentences about plants that begin with the letter(s).

I like to use routines for review so that the students know what to expect and are more likely to be successful. I've found that routine is especially important for my struggling learners, who often benefit from knowing what's coming next and what's expected of them in terms of the response format. With the alphabet bag, I sometimes add sentences of my own to make sure we're reviewing the essential ideas.

= Differentiated Component

Sample 2.2—Needs Comparison Graphic Organizer

What We Need to Be Healthy

What Plants Need to Be Healthy

Sample 2.3—Plant Needs Group Experiment Planning Sheet

Group members______________________________________

We are going to prove that plants need _______________________________.

These are the materials that we need for our experiment:

This is what we are going to do to prove that plants need ________________________:

This is what we think is going to happen to our plants:

This is what did happen to our plants:

Conclusion: Do plants need _____________________? (Circle one) YES NO

Sample 2.4—Plant Needs Group Experiment Observation Sheet

Do Plants Need _____________________?

Group Members________________________________________________________

Directions: Each day, draw and write about what your plant looks like and how it has changed. What do you think is causing the changes?

Day 1

Day 2

Day 3

Day 4

Day 5











Possible Causes:

Possible Causes:

Possible Causes:

Possible Causes:

Possible Causes:

Lesson 4. Plant Parts and Their Jobs (4–5 class periods)



Review of plant needs. Open with a review-focused discussion: What parts of a plant help it meet its needs? What plant parts are most important to plants? Why do you think so?

Another quick review. I wanted students' predictions about which plant part is the most important to set up the next activities.

Lesson introduction and plant part interest survey. Explain to the students that the class is going to begin an experiment to look at plant parts and their importance. Tell them that the experiment will continue over several class periods.

I designed this lesson, which combines an experiment and group research, to present a lot of information about plant parts. I also wanted students to apply the science skills (observing, comparing, contrasting) that they practiced earlier in the unit.

Explain that at the same time, they will be working in groups to research a specific plant part that they are interested in. Pass out index cards and ask students to take one, write their name on it, and write down two plant parts that they want to learn more about. List the following options on the board so that students can copy them: stem, roots, leaves, flowers, seeds. Explain that you'll be announcing their research group assignment once you've had a chance to take a look at their preferences.

Because I had already differentiated by readiness and learning profile and because I wanted my students to be engaged with their research, I grouped them based on their interests. I asked them to provide their top two choices of plant parts so that I had some flexibility in creating the groups. In every classroom, there are some students who do not work well together because either they don't get along well or because they distract one another. I wanted to create groups of students who had similar interests and would be productive.

Plant part experiment setup. Kick off the experiment by leading a whole-class examination of the parts of pansies. Give small, random groups of four students one pansy and ask them to find the stem, the leaves, and the flowers. Where are the roots? Where are the seeds?

Now take back each of the pansies and tell the students that you are going to remove one part from each pansy, leaving one pansy whole. Pause to ask them why they think you're leaving one pansy whole: What will we learn by doing this? What do you think will happen if I remove all of the leaves on a pansy? What if I remove the roots? How is the work we are doing like the work a scientist does?

Carefully cut away parts (roots, stem, leaves, flowers) and replant and water each pansy, asking students to suggest reasons why you're watering the plants. Be sure to label each pansy to show what part it is missing.

Ask: Will all of the plants live and grow? Why do you think so? Which plants will live the longest? Why?

Again, I wanted my students to make some predictions. I was hoping they would know the answer to this after our previous work with plant needs!

The students will observe a pansy of their choice for several days and record what they notice on the Plant Part Experiment Observation Sheet (see Sample 2.5, page 65).

It's important for students to have a way to show their observations. Here, I set up a simple chart to provide the structure that young children often need.

Small-group research and product assignments based on interest. Put the students into the small, interest-based, mixed-readiness groups you created. There should be no more than four students in each group; you may need to create more than one small group per plant part, depending on the interest information you find in the students' surveys.

Tell the students that sometimes, scientists must be detectives. For the upcoming activity, they will be detectives seeking information about plant parts. Their job will be to teach their classmates what they learn.

As mentioned previously, I grouped the students based on their interests rather than on readiness or learning profile.

Provide several books about plants and their parts (see Sample 2.6 on page 66 for some suggestions), and make sure to audiotape some of the books for students who are not yet able to read for information.

I made sure to provide books on different reading levels. Providing books on tape ensured that struggling readers and auditory learners could participate fully in the activity.

Explain to the students that they must work together to complete their research and that all group members will be responsible for contributing to four product assignments. List the following directions for all to see:

I encouraged the groups to do their research (reading and listening) together so that they could discuss what they were learning.

Product 1

Make a small poster of different examples of your plant part. You may either draw pictures yourself or cut examples from magazines and catalogs.

Product 2

Create a list of the great things about your plant part. Include at least three ideas on your list.

Product 3

How does your plant part help the plant meet its needs? List two ways that it works to help the plant.

Product 4

As a group, write a thank-you letter from a plant to your plant part. What would a plant say to your plant part to show it is glad to have it?

I designed these product assignments to draw on different skills, so that each group member could make a valuable contribution to the group's work. I knew that I wanted all of the groups to create a written product (the letter), and I wanted to make sure the other products called for skills other than writing. Accordingly, the poster draws on creative and visual skills and the lists draw on thinking skills (pulling together all the information learned) without relying too heavily on verbal (writing) skills. Although I encouraged group members to work together to create the products, I did notice that students were drawn to particular ones based on their learning profiles and abilities.

Sharing of group products. When the research groups have completed their products, provide time for them to share the products with the whole class.

Experiment and research wrap-up. Conclude the plant part experiment by examining the pansies. What has happened to each pansy without specific parts? Which plants are healthy? Which ones are not? Why? Do students think the same things would happen if the class did this experiment again? Why? Why might scientists repeat an experiment?

During this large-group discussion, I wanted to ensure that my students understood what had happened during the experiment. I also wanted to make sure that many different students could respond during the discussion. Thus, I asked questions ranging from ones that focused on the students' observations to ones that asked them to consider what might happen if we repeated the experiment.

Remind the students that they have learned a lot about plant parts from the different research groups and by observing the changes in the pansies. Now, ask them to vote on which plant part they believe is the most important to a plant.

My students like to vote and give their opinions about a wide range of topics. Here, I gave them chance to do so . . . and to practice evaluative thinking.

Turn the discussion to what would happen to plants if they had no flowers. Make sure that the students understand that flowers make seeds and plants would die out without them.

Ask: What would happen to a plant if one part could not do its job? What can you compare that to?

I took time to discuss flowers explicitly because my students sometimes have a hard time understanding why flowers are important to plant survival.

Lead students to see that plant parts must all work together to help the plant survive and be healthy, and help them see how this might work in their own lives (for example, people work together at home and in school to help one another, the home, and school).

I presented examples here to help students make a personal connection to what they were learning.

Alphabet bag closure activity. Repeat the alphabet bag activity, encouraging students to create sentences about plant parts.

= Differentiated Component

Sample 2.5—Plant Part Experiment Observation Sheet

The plant I am observing has no (check one box)

  • Stem
  • Leaves
  • Flowers
  • Roots

Directions: Every day, draw and write about what your plant looks like and how it has changed. What do you think is causing the changes?

Day 1

Day 2

Day 3

Day 4

Day 5











Possible Causes:

Possible Causes:

Possible Causes:

Possible Causes:

Possible Causes:

Sample 2.6—Recommended Books About Plants

All About Seeds by Susan Kuchalla

The Carrot Seed by Ruth Krauss

A First Look at Leaves by Millicent Selsam and Joyce Hunt

A Flower Grows by Ken Robbins

From Seed to Plant by Gail Gibbons

From Seed to Sunflower by Gerald Legg

How a Seed Grows by Helene J. Jordan

I Wonder Why Trees Have Leaves, and Other Questions About Plants by Andrew Charman

The Magic School Bus Plants Seeds: A Book About How Living Things Grow by Joanna Cole

Plants That Never Ever Bloom by Ruth Heller

The Reason for a Flower by Ruth Heller

Roots Are Food Finders by Franklyn Branley

A Seed Grows: My First Look at a Plant's Life Cycle by Pamela Hickman and Heather Collins

Seeds, Pop, Stick, Glide by Patricia Lauber

Stems by Gail Saunders-Smith

The Tiny Seed by Eric Carle

What Is a Plant? by Bobbie Kalman

Your First Garden Book by Marc Brown

Lesson 5. Review (2 class periods)



Round robin brainstorming review in small, mixed-readiness groups. Begin with a review of what the students learned during the previous lesson. Write each plant part (stem, roots, leaves, flowers, seeds) on a separate piece of chart paper and post the chart paper around the room.

Round robin activities get students up and moving and allow them to learn from one another. I used this one to give the students a chance to recall what they had learned about plant parts.

Place the students in five mixed-readiness groups, making sure that each group has at least one member from each of the plant part research groups.

Having each research group represented in the round robin groups ensured that at least one student in each group had a deep understanding of each of the plant parts.

Ask the groups to choose a recorder (a person who will do the writing for the group) and give each recorder a different color marker. Tell the groups that they are to write what they know about the plant parts on chart paper.

Choosing a recorder up-front ensured that the groups didn't spend time arguing about who would write at each piece of chart paper. Some groups opted to have two recorders who took turns.

The groups begin at different pieces of chart paper posted around the room and rotate so that they visit each piece one time. When they come to a paper that already has ideas, they should read the ideas that are there and add to them. The groups spend about three minutes at each “station.”

As with all round robin activities, I kept the rotations quick so that the students didn't have time to get off task.

When all of the groups have brainstormed ideas about all of the plant parts, review the students' ideas as a whole group and add to the chart paper as needed: “Is there anything else we need to add about seeds? What about roots?” Point out the connections between the different parts.

Here, we checked and revised ideas as needed. I didn't want my students to have any misunderstandings at this point in the unit.

The Magic School Bus Goes to Seedvideo. Show Scholastic's The Magic School Bus Goes to Seed. Explain to the students that some of the information in the video will not be new to them.

My students enjoy the Magic School Bus videos, which are filled with good information. Plus, many of my visual learners pick up information effectively from videos.

Encourage them to listen closely for new information, and tell them that they will have an assignment to do after the video is over.

I warned students that an assignment was coming to encourage them to focus on the information in the video.

3-2-1 closure activity independently or in pairs. Use this activity to summarize the video. Write the following on the board and go over it with the students before they begin their work:

Tell me . . .

  • Three new ideas you got from the video.
  • Two things you already knew.
  • One thing you can do to meet the needs of plants.

3-2-1 is a quick way to summarize just about any information. It worked well here as an assessment of student understanding.

Allow the students who wish to complete the activity with a partner to do so. When the students have finished their work, ask for volunteers to share their ideas.

Working in pairs can result in better ideas, but I let my students choose whether they wanted to work with someone else or not. In an activity like this, I sometimes pair struggling writers with students who are able to write, but when I do so, I'm careful to ensure that both students are sharing their ideas.

As the students worked, I offered assistance to those who needed it.

= Differentiated Component

Lesson 6. Unit Assessment (2 class periods)



Three assessment tasks. Explain to the students that this activity is made up of three parts and that they are to work on each part alone (without help from others). Provide each student with the three tasks:

Although I did not tell my students that they were being “tested,” I did encourage them to show me what they knew about plants.

Task 1

Using a diagram of a plant (this should be included on the sheet), label each plant part.

The first task is a simple recall that I felt certain my students could complete successfully.

Task 2

Imagine you are a plant part. Write a letter to another plant part telling it why you are more important than it is.

The second task asks students to apply their understanding of plant parts and their roles while having to use evaluative thinking.

Task 3

Pretend that you are going to plant a garden at school. What will you need to plant your garden and take care of it? How can you make sure that your plants will be healthy? Make a list of everything that you will need to do.

The third task also invites application, but here, students have to focus on the needs of plants.

Allow the students to spread out around the room so that they have ample space to work and think quietly. They may complete the three parts in any order they wish. As they finish, encourage them to work quietly on the plant anchor activities.

Combined, these three tasks addressed my unit objectives and gave me a good indication of how well my students had mastered them.

Provide scaffolding for selected students, as necessary.

To help my struggling writers complete the assessment successfully, I provided a sheet listing the names of the plant parts we'd covered and a template for a letter. Students who needed this assistance could simply copy the plant part names onto the diagram and the letter template. I also allowed them to draw in response to Task 3. With these modifications, they could show me what they had come to understand about plants without being penalized for weaknesses that had little to do with my unit objectives. I also met with individuals or small groups who needed assistance completing the task.

Whole-group acrostic activity. After all of the students have finished the unit assessment, bring the whole group together for unit closure activity: creating an acrostic using the words “PLANT NEEDS.”

The students come up with words and phrases that draw on what they have learned about plants and their needs. If they would like to, they can also create a “PLANT PARTS” acrostic.

Post the acrostic(s) in the classroom.

This activity provided a final opportunity for the students to work together and share ideas during this unit. It was a quick and easy way to end our study of plants and plant needs.

= Differentiated Component

Teacher Reflection on the Unit

Teaching this unit is always great fun. The hands-on activities give my students a chance to really work as scientists. Even when things don't go as planned (such as when a plant lives or dies when it “shouldn't”), my students learn about “doing science.” An added bonus of focusing on science is that young children are really natural scientists, and even my most struggling learners can participate in unit activities—and grow from having done so. I've found that by giving the students a say in what they will learn about, I can improve the chances that each of them will participate in and benefit from the unit activities. The closure activities give me a sense of who's getting it and who's still working on developing understanding. This unit helps me deal with the reality that my students bring a range of prior knowledge and experience to the classroom.

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  • Samantha_Cooke 4 years ago

    Thankyou for this is a wonderful,thoughtful and detailed unit. One fun addition, for any who uses plants in the classroom, which I always include, is to use the TickleMe Plant as you way to excite kids even further about plants, nature and science. TickleMe Plants are the only plant that will close their leaves and lower their branches when tickled. This is kids' favorite plant. You can do all the activities on the Function of Plant Parts and give your students and experience they will never forget. Search TickleMe Plant or visit for educational materials. Your kids and you will never look at plants in the same way!