Plant Stems

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SWBAT explore, observe and identify how plant stems are essential to a plants survival.

Big Idea

Plant stems come in many shapes and sizes but they are key to a plants survival. In this lesson my students discover that stems are the center of the plant. The stem has many important jobs that scientist study to solve real world problems.

Setting the Stage:

National Science Education Science Standards Connection:

The National Science Education Standards has said that making observations is key to inquiry-based and discovery-focused learning in science instruction. In order to do this students participate in inquiry-based learning that allows them to solve a problem in science through observation, discourse and using a science journal. Students will then be give a chance to share their findings with their peers and then reflect on their own understanding.

Next Generation Science Standards Connection:

In this unit students will learn that plants have external parts that help them survive in nature and then use that information to help them solve a human problem by mimicking plants. This is called Biomimicry - bio: life, mimicry - to copy. To learn more about Biomimicry check out this Ted Talks.

NGSS Standard asks that student identify that all organisms have external parts. Plants have different parts (roots, stems, leaves, flowers, fruits) that help them survive and grow.  In this lesson students learn that the stem holds everything together.  My students learn that plants have many jobs that help plants to survive. They learn that the stem supports the leaves and flowers while keeping the leaves in the sunlight. The stem even transports fluids and stores nutrients for the plants.

Classroom Structures:

In order to support a high level of student discourse within my science lessons I have assigned two different student partnerships.  Turn and Talk Partners are discourse partners that work together to share the deep thinking that happens throughout the day.  Workshop Partners are partners who are matched together for the purpose of working during our independent times.  In this lesson students will be engaged in both partnerships.

Vocabulary Cards:

These cards include the vocabulary that it important for this unit on plant life.  The standards covered by this unit are 1-LS1-1, 1-LS1-2, 1-LS3-1. You can choose to use these cards in different ways. I like to print all vocabulary words on card stock and hang them on my science bulletin board as a reference tool throughout the unit. You can also use these cards as flashcards or a concentration matching game.


Day 1:

KLEWS - How do plants survive and grow?

Exploration 1: Celery, food coloring and 3 glass jars, science journals

Exploration 2: Collection of books about plants

Exploration 3: Plant Stem Classification - Sorting Page, Photographs of Stems

Day 2:

KLEWS - How do plants survive and grow?

Science Journals

Knife to cut the celery

Anchor chart - Plants

Science Journals:  I just use blank paper in my journals so my students have space and freedom to experiment with graphic organizers, illustrations, etc.

Science Journal Prompt: How do stems help plants survive?

Anchor Chart - Plant Vocabulary

Engage - Day 1:

15 minutes

A KLEWS anchor chart is described as a tool that allows students to track their learning throughout an investigation, building up to the understanding of a scientific principle. Our KLEWS chart will track the learning about the plants for our next lessons.

Boys and girls, let's look back at our KLEWS chart. Let's reread our over-arching question: How do plants survive and grow? 

Today we are going to explore plant stems. When I say the word plant stems, what do you think?  I allow my students to share their ideas.  I confirm their responses. You are right.  Stems are the part that hold the flower up? Do you have any questions about them? Are you wondering why plants have stems? Are you wondering what they do? After giving my students a few moments to think on this I ask them to share their wonderings with their turn and talk partners.  I allow my students a few moments to share and I listen in on conversations and guide questions to support our investigation. 

My students say things like:

I am wondering why stems have holes in them?

I wonder why some stems are hard but some are wiggly?

Do trees have stems?

Why don't beans have stems?

Do all plants have stems?

I bring my students back together. I am wondering the same thing as all of you?  Will you please take a moment and write your question on this sticky note?  Once you have written your question, you will come over to our KLEWS chart and stick it under the "What -What are you wondering?" column. 

I use different color sticky notes so I know what questions are about stems.

After the students have placed their sticky notes on the KLEWS chart, I read over the questions in a whole group setting.

Explore - Day 1:

25 minutes

The standard addressed in this unit requires students to make observations and identify how different plant structures help them to survive.  In this lesson my students get to observe and collect data on the important purpose of plant stems!

I have set up a few plant stem explorations that allow my students to discover that the stem holds everything together.  My students investigate how stems transports fluids and stores nutrients for the plants as well as help keep the leaves in the sunlight.

EXPLORATION #1 - Celery Stalk Investigation:

The NGSS asks that students learn science by doing science so for this lesson we need 3 celery stalks, 3 glasses of water colored with food coloring (blue, red, yellow). 

Plants have stems and these stems have an important job. Our first experiment is to determine if stems can carry nutrients all the way to the top of a plant.  If we place a celery stalk in this water, what do you think will happen?

I allow for any responses then we place the celery in the cups. I ask my students to observe and draw their observations in their science journals and then we leave the celery overnight. 

EXPLORATION #2 - Stems keep the leaves in the light:

Prep work:  I collect books about plants from my school library and local library.

The CCSS asks that students ask and answer questions about key details in a text. My students use the books to answer this questions: How do the stems help the leaves?

Boys and girls today you will be looking in books to try to answer this question: How do the stems help the leaves? 

EXPLORATION #3 - Sorting Plant Stems:

For this exploration my students categorize pictures of plant stems into some of the different types of stems. 

I pass out a handful of plant stem photographs and ask my students to use the Plant Stem sorting page to help them put the stems into different categories.


As my students rotate through the different explorations,  I walk around and confer with each student naming and noticing the smart thinking happening. Conferring is the process of listening and recording the work the student or students are doing and then compliment the work. As I listen, I research a teaching point and then work to provide clarification through questioning, modeling and re-teaching. I ask questions like:

When you look at the picture what does the stem look like it is doing?

How do stems help leaves to do their job?

What plant parts are attached to the stem? How does it seem to help them?

Explain - Day 2:

10 minutes

Day 2 

We begin our investigation by examining our celery stalks.  It is so fun watching my students as they notice that the celery has absorbed the color of the food coloring.  My students collect their science journals and record their observations using pictures, labels and words.  After they have finished recording their observations. I show them the bottom of the celery stalks and cut them into pieces so my students can explore further.

The Science and Engineering practice 8 requires our students to obtain, evaluate and communicate information. By students sharing their evidence and explaining results students are allowed to engage in scientific reasoning. After our exploration, I bring my students to our meeting area and ask them to help me fill in our KLEWS chart about stems.

Evidence: The celery stems drank the food coloring.  Every part of the plants connect to the stems.  Stems can move and grow towards the sun.

Learning: The plant stem carries fluid and nutrients through the plant.  Stems help keep the leaves in sunlight.  The stem holds the plant together.

Elaborate - Day 2:

15 minutes

Did you say Biomimicry? In this section I ask my students to start thinking about ways that stems have been used to solve human problems.

In order to develop a culture that encourages student engagement, curiosity and a desire to understand the world through scientific exploration, I elaborate on student learning by allowing them to brainstorm different human inventions created from studying plant stems. We fill in our Anchor chart - Plants.

Evaluate - Day 2:

10 minutes

The Science and Engineering Practice 4 asks students to analyze data. At the K-2 level this involves students collecting, recording, and sharing observations. In this lesson the students are recording information, thoughts and ideas in their science journals. I send my students back to their science journals and ask them to write the answer to our big question: "How do stems help plants survive?

I encourage my students to include both illustrations and words that describe how roots help plants by acting like straws absorbing water as well as anchoring the plant in the soil so it does not fall over. I am hopeful that my students may start mentioning Biomimicry in their journals.

On our Plants Vocabulary anchor chart I record, "Plants have seeds, roots, leaves, stems and flowers."


Have     Need     Give

seeds    water     Roots to eat

roots      soil       Stems to eat

leaves    sun      

stems    space          

flowers   air