Leaves of a Different Color

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Students will be able to analyze and interpret data about leaf color.

Big Idea

Collecting leaves from the playground, sorting, counting and recording data helps students practice a basic scientific skill - analyzing data.


15 minutes

Gather students on the rug using a preferred classroom management technique. I like to use my “Stop, look, listen.” The students stop what they are doing, look at me and listen for the direction. I usually preface the direction with, “When I say go…” This reminds the students to listen to the whole direction before moving to follow the directive.

In this case I would say, “When I say go I would like you to clear your space, push in your chair and go take a spot on your dot. Walking feet go.” By saying walking feet I am reminding the students to use walking feet in the classroom to ensure safe movement between areas.

When all of the students are seated on their dot in the rug area I ask them, “Has anyone noticed how the leaves are changing color?”

“Well did you know the leaves are actually red, yellow and orange all the time?” Most student look perplexed by this comment and I explain how the process of photosynthesis (we have discussed the process of photosynthesis in the previous day’s lesson – Green Is Good) makes the green color from chlorophyll the dominant color.

I discuss the meaning of dominant with the students. “Dominant is like the boss. Remember back when we compared our facial features during our "Me, Myself and I" unit? We compared things like dimples, and attached earlobes, and how some of those traits came from dominant genes - genes that are more "bossy" than others. I make the schedule in the classroom and decide when we do work stations etc, so I am dominant because I am the boss of the classroom schedule.”

“In the fall the leaves do not photosynthesize as much because there is less sunlight; so the green chlorophyll loses the job as boss and the other colors can come out.”

The reason I discuss the word "dominant" with the students is because I like to take every opportunity to review my students scientific vocabulary. I like to take advantage of every teachable moment to add to the lesson. The word "dominant" came up naturally in context so I was able to take advantage of this and review an old word with my students. 

"Let's watch this short video clip to see a more detailed explanation."

I have already loaded the short video clip onto the SMARTBoard for the students to see.

Why do Leaves Change Color?

I use this short explanation to engage my students attention. I use the video clip to reinforce the information I presented to the students. In this way the students received the same information in two different formats - one orally and one visually.  



45 minutes

“The book for today is called Why Do Leaves Change Color? This book is written by Betsy Maestro and illustrated by Loretta Krupinski. The first thing I noticed on the front of this book is what?”

“That’s right – children jumping in the leaves. We just talked about that yesterday how we see many of our fall books have children jumping in leaves. Can anyone tell me something they notice about the title of this book?”

“You right Christopher; the title is an asking sentence. What is the word we use to name an asking sentence?”

“Good work Emily; it is a question. What were the two clues which helped us know the title was a question?”

Yes Adam it does have a question mark. That is one clue the title is a question. What is the other clue?”

“Well done Sarah the word “why” helps us recognize it is a question. We are going to go ahead and read the book now to see if we can find out the answer to the question, “Why do leaves change color?””


During reading we discuss any unknown vocabulary words. Words like; absorb, chlorophyll, barely, dormant, etc. On page 24 I like to ask the students to recall the scientific word for “rot” which we learned in our Pumpkin Unit. I highly encourage the students to use the correct scientific word whenever they can. 


Once the book is over I ask the students to take a seat around the edge of the rug by singing the “Edge of the Rug” song.

Once the students are settled I pull out a big plastic bag which has five smaller bags inside it. Inside each bag is a collection of anywhere from 30 to 40 leaves from the playground at the back of the school. The reason I have collected the leaves is because of time. It would take too much time for the students to go out and collect the leaves and then walk back into the classroom to do the activity. I could have the students collect the leaves but I have found that the students tend to select the leaves based on color and this tends to skew the results. Another reason I collect the leaves is the fact that the weather can be unpredictable at this time of the year. If I have the leaves already collected then it does not matter if it is wet or cold because we already have the materials we need to complete the lesson.   

I tell the students, “Today at one of your work stations you will be sorting, counting and recording leaf data. Once you have collected and recorded your data we will be using the data to answer the question, “Which color leaf is more commonly found on our playground?””

Leaf Color Graph

“Once we have answered that question we can determine why that is by answering the question, “What are the common deciduous trees surrounding our playground?””

“While you are at this station you will sort the leaves by color. Now you may think this is easy, but take a look at this leaf.” I hold up a leaf that is multi-colored with orange and yellow.

“It is up to you to decide if this leaf is yellow or orange. Some people may feel this leaf is more orange and someone else may feel this leaf is more yellow. Neither answer is wrong, just different. When trying to determine which color you think it is, it might be helpful to think back to our leaf area activity where we used different sized white grid paper squares to cover our leaves. Ask yourself, “Which color takes up more leaf area?””

“When you have sorted your leaves record the results on your recording sheet. Your results now become data because we have recorded numerical information. We will put all of the groups’ data onto one classroom graph. This complied data will help us answer the question, “Which color leaf is more commonly found on our playground?””

“If we have time we will use the LeafSnap app on the i-pad, the leaf identification chart and our leaf id books to try and identify the leaves in our collections.”  

“Does anyone have any questions?”


Once I feel the group has a good grasp of the instructions I send the students over one table group at a time to maintain a safe and orderly classroom. It usually sounds like this;

“Table number one go have some leaf color fun.

Table number two, you know what to do.

Table number three, hope you were listening to me, and

Table number four, you shouldn’t be here anymore.”


Allow the students 15-18 minutes to work on this activity. I remind the students to keep an eye on the visual timer so they will use their time wisely.

The students in my class have worked on sorting and graphing during math and science lessons before and now I want them to use this skill to answer a question. I always start out this process by direct modeling which is how I will help my students during this lesson. Working in a small group of five students helps me by ensuring each student gets the instructional level they need.

 Student graphing leaf color 1

Student graphing leaf color 2

In this activity the students are exploring how the scientific skill of sorting and recording data. Then we analyze the data and use the results to answer a given question. When the students begin to identify the leaves they sorted they are elaborating on the lesson topic. Now we are not just recognizing the colors of the leaves but also the types of leaves they are. 




At one of the other integrated work stations the students are working on filling in a Fall Leaves sight word reader. I have the students trace stencils of local leaves and they must color the leaves the correct color to match the color sight word (ELA). 


At another station the students are playing a leaf game using little acrylic leaves I bought at Joann’s. Each pair of students has 10 leaves and a laminated game board which has a tree on it. The first student places the ten leaves on the “ground” under the tree. The second student then closes their eyes. The first student removes any number of leaves and hides them from view. The second student then opens their eyes and has to determine the number of leaves removed based on the number of leaves left on the ground. Once the second student gets the number right the students switch roles (Math). I place a number line at the table as a resource for students to use if they need it. For higher performing students I may use a larger number such as 15 or 20 leaves.

How Many Leaves Blew Away? 


At the final station students are using leaves to create an animal they like. Once the animal has been created, the student uses crayons to draw details of the animal’s natural environment (art – engineering).

Student creation 1

Student creation 2

Student using a book as a resource

Students working on leaf creations


These activities provide the students with opportunities to explore leaves in different content areas. The activities allow students to expand their content skills while still maintaining a connection to the science lesson topic.     


10 minutes

When all four rotations of the integrated work stations are completed I blow two short blasts on my whistle and use the “Stop, look listen” technique mentioned above.

“When I say go, I would like you to clean up your space remembering to take care of our things, push in your chair, and use walking feet to go and take a spot on your dot. Walking feet – go.”


Once all of the students are seated on their spot I say, “Today your exit ticket is to tell me one piece of information based on the data you collected from station four and be prepared to give me a reason why. I am going to give you one minute to have a whisper conversation with yourself to recall the activity we did on the rug. Start your whisper conversation now.”

After the timer goes off I use the fair sticks to determine the order of the students.

Once a student has given me their fact and answered a related question they are free to use the hand sanitizer and go to get their snack. If a student has difficulty in coming up with a piece of information, they can wait until all of the other students have gone and we will come up with a piece of information together.  


I use this exit ticket process as a way for the students to explain what they observed from the lesson we just did. This quick assessment process allows me to see if the student is able to take information learned in one format and be able to transfer it to another format.   


In order to assess if my students have successfully understood and retained the information presented in the lesson I evaluate each student by providing them with a task the next day for morning work. For this assessment I place the following assignment sheet at each student’s seat.

Leaf Data Assessment

The students’ are asked to fill in the graph, look at the data and use the data to answer the questions at the bottom of the page.

Some of my students will be able to work on the assignment independently. Other students will need to have the assignment and questions read to them, but will be able to work on the task by themselves. For my lower performing students I will need to read the directions, direct where to put their information, read the questions and point out where they need to write their answers. The reason I do not have students work in pairs on this assignment is because the more advanced students tends to tell the other student not only how to do it but what to write. This means I do not get to see what the other student can accomplish.