What makes a leaf?

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SWBAT describe leaves as external parts of plants.

Big Idea

There is something magical about a leaf, from the unfurling springy green to the bold colors of fall. Unlock the magic.

Instructional Notes

In this lesson, students are working towards NGSS standard 1-LS1-1. Use materials to design a solution to a human problem by mimicking how plants and/or animals use their external parts to help them survive, grow, and meet their needs.  The first step in unpacking this standard is for children to understand the structure and function of external plant parts.  Today we explore leaves and how leaves help plants survive. 

Part of the NGSS Science & Engineering Practices call for students to actually make observations.  I teach this lesson one to two weeks after we have planted bean seeds, when leaves have started to grow.   In today's warm-up, we look closely at the leaves on our growing plants.

Then, we'll watch a video describing the purpose of leaves.  

By the end of the lesson, students will complete a journal entry, "How do leaves help plants survive?" 

Warm-up: Planting the Seeds

10 minutes

To warm-up, students will observe leaves of their bean sprouts closely.  I have desks arranged in groups of 4-6 desks, and I also have tables in the room to promote collaboration.  I pass out seedlings to each table, and students from each desk group observe the leaves with magnifying lenses.  Students observe and draw the shape of the leaves in their science journals.

I play a transition song, during which students come to the rug with their science journals while I put plants back in the Grow Lab.  Each of my students has a marbled composition notebook as a dedicated science journal.  If your class doesn't have these, your students can record on blank paper.

In a prior lesson, my students did not know the purpose leaves.  So, in this lesson, we will describe leaves by determining their structure and functions.

Exploration: Tending the Garden

30 minutes

Before we watch the video, I ask students, "What questions do you have about leaves?"  I record questions on the easel.  I prompt as well with questions such as, "Why are leaves different shapes and sizes?," "Why do leaves on some trees change color?,"  and "Do pine trees have leaves?" 

Then, I set the purpose for watching the video.  "Today as we watch to learn more about leaves, let's listen specifically for answers to our questions."

I chose the Schlessinger Media video, "All About Plant Structure and Growth."  Chapters 8, 9, and 10 are all about leaves and their importance making food for the plant.  This video can be ordered online if your school does not provide it.  What is so wonderful about this video if you choose to watch it in its entirety, is that it follows the process of scientific inquiry as a young boy figures out "Why hasn't the lowest branch on my favorite climbing tree grown taller?"  This leads him to explore the structure and function of all plant parts (a review for us of roots, introduction to stems, and also an introduction to leaves).

If your district does not have access to Schlessinger Media educational videos, you can substitute a nonfiction text about leaves.

While students watch the video, they have journals and sticky notes in case they choose to take notes.  Most of my students take notes, but I do not require it.  Note-taking is a great educational strategy, but I find that my struggling writers tend to tune-out with increased writing demands.  Choice allows students to learn in the way they prefer!  

One best practice is to pause the video after key details or when it displays a vocabulary term, so that students can process the information, copy the word, or write/draw about it in their notebook.  I also have students turn-and-talk to tell a friend key details before they write.  This helps them put the information in their own words and process the new learning.

Closing: Harvest

5 minutes

In today's closing, or as a morning journal the following day if time does not allow, students respond to a journal question, "How do leaves help plants survive and grow?"  By responding to this question, students are citing evidence to support their point.  This aligns to Science & Engineering Practice #6 Constructing Explanations for science.  

To show success, I am looking for at least one key detail about how leaves support a plant's survival.