I call one table at a time to come to the carpet to sit like scientists. I do this to maintain focus and excellent behavior. Once the kids are on the carpet, I tell them that I am looking for the best scientist row. As soon as they hear that, they sit up straight and put their hands in their laps. I acknowledge the first row that is ready and then I acknowledge the rest of the rows one at a time because every student deserves to be recognized when they are doing what is expected of them. This is how they learn what is okay and what is not as many of my students come from environments that do not consistently provide that kind of feed back to them.
Once all the kids are gathered on the carpet, I ask the kids to think about a tree that they really like, maybe their favorite tree. I call on kids to tell us a little about their favorite tree. I use a name stick can to randomly draw names for kids to share their thoughts. I do this so I don’t subconsciously call on the same students all the time. We all do it; we can’t help it, but the use of a name stick can really helps avoid that. I call on four kids to share information about their favorite tree, but discover something interesting. Please see the reflection below.
After we share our thoughts about our favorite trees, we prepare for our nature walk.
To prepare for our nature walk, I explain exactly what we are going to do and what the expectations/rules are:
We are going outside to look at trees ONLY.
We will stop at different trees and make observations using only our eyes for now.
We will talk about each tree we stop at and share what we observe.
We will be quiet while walking from tree to tree because other classrooms are working and learning, and we never know when our sense of hearing may help us observe something so we need to listen carefully while we are outside.
I explain exactly what we are going to do so there are no “surprises” and the expectations are set in their minds. This avoids behavior problems while exploring things outdoors.
I line the kids up at the door by calling the line leaders first and then by shoe color. I have them hold their hands in the air then place them behind their backs. This gets their bodies prepared to follow directions. I encourage them by telling them what awesome scientists they look like. This reminds them of what appropriate behavior looks like and reinforces the purpose of the nature walk.
Once we get outside, I point to the tree that we will be looking at first. I do this so they have a firm understanding of what direction we will be walking in and helps the line leaders know where to go without me doing all the leading. Doing this helps to develop a deeper sense of responsibility and positive behavior while walking because the students are able to take responsibility for their experience.
We stop at the first tree and quietly look at it for a few moments. I then call on random kids to share what they notice about the tree. I choose a medium-high student to start off the discussion so my struggling kids and my ELL students have a model to follow when they are chosen. For some kids, I don’t call on them until the second or third tree so they can experience several models before having to share their own observations. This helps with developing observation skills and language to share those observations.
The first student I call on shares what she notices about the leaves of the tree. They are green, thin and pointy. The next student shares what color the trunk is, but does not know what that part of the tree is called. I do NOT tell them because this will develop intrigue and they will want to know when we go over the vocabulary in this lesson. That takes place in the explanation.
When we move to the second tree, I have the kids share observations and then make comparisons between the trees. The last tree we visit is their favorite. It is called a bottlebrush tree. It is very unique looking and the kids look forward to seeing it in the spring when the “brushes” sprout.
Once we return to the classroom, the kids are instructed to sit back down on the floor. I draw a picture of a tree on chart paper. I then ask the kids to think quietly to themselves about what the parts of the tree are called. I again use the name stick can to call on kids. They name leaves and branches, but they do not know the name for the trunk of the tree. This is a perfect time to elaborate.
I do not address “bark” during this lesson. There is a separate lesson that specifically addresses bark and compares the bark from different trees.
I elaborate by having the kids sit in a ball on the floor and slowly “grow” into a tree. See video
As the kids “grow” from a seed to an adult tree, we say the stages of a tree life cycle: seed, sprout, seedling, young tree, adult tree. The kids love doing this, so we pretend to be a growing tree three times. They love it! I do this not only because they like it so much, but also because it is a form of total physical response and the kids connect to the vocabulary much stronger than if I just drew a picture and labeled it myself.
During this time is when I tell them that the big part of the tree is called the trunk.
I have the kids tell me what to label the parts of the tree that I drew on chart paper. I again use the name stick can because almost every hand is up ready to share what they know. I label the tree as each child whose name is drawn tells me which part of the tree to label.
I then ask, “I wonder how trees eat.” One of my little girls just can’t hold it in and blurts out, “Roots!! Roots! We forgot the roots!” My whole class starts laughing, but she did exactly as I hoped someone in the class would. She helped us complete our tree vocabulary poster by remembering and naming the roots. I add them to the picture of the tree and label them.
We go over the vocabulary on the tree poster one more time to make sure everyone either knows the names of the parts of the tree, or at least knows where they can find them.
To evaluate their learning, I have them draw and label their own tree in their science journal. I leave the class chart up so they can reference it when needed. Everyone draws the tree, including the roots, without support from the poster. They use it to access the words for labeling the trees in their science journals. I roam the room and support students who need help with labeling the parts of their tree drawings. This not only supports student learning, but it also helps maintain appropriate behavior during the individual work time.
The journals serve as a running record of their science experiences in kindergarten. The kids love working in them and each day I can see how much they have grown since the first day of school. It also brings all the learning to an individual level and allows me to see who is understanding the concepts being introduced and who needs more support.
Once the kids are finished with their science journals, I tell them that they have a homework assignment. They have to go home and tell their families what they’ve learned about trees and have a discussion with them about how trees help people.
If you have a student who is unable to draw and label their own tree, I see the resources section in the extend section for a pdf of a cut and paste.