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Spring Lesson: Learning About Trees

EducationWorld is pleased to present this lesson shared by the Get to Know Program, which inspires youth to discover the natural world by providing innovative programs, resources and events. The original lesson plan was developed in consultation with acclaimed artist and naturalist Robert Bateman and science consultants from the California Department of Education. The lesson appears on the Get to Know Program’s Best Practices Resource Page, which provides teachers and parents with free, cutting-edge lesson plans, videos and interactive activities designed to connect children with nature through art, music, drama, writing, photography, video and nature journaling. Find more information, including a large selection of lesson plans, here.

See other Get to Know lessons on EducationWorld:
Sustainable Products, Consumer Responsibility

The Plants Around Us: An Art and Science Lesson


--Science as Inquiry
--Life Science



Brief Description

In this hands-on science activity, students experience trees by using senses other than sight.


Students will

  • Learn to identify several tree species by sight, touch, and smell
  • Be able to describe several tree species based on features such as leaf shape and type, bark, growth form, and others
  • Describe the importance of trees to humans and to other species


Trees, science, ecosystem, ecology, environment, outdoor, nature, senses

Materials Needed

  • Tree tags (large recipe cards with strings taped or stapled to them)
  • Blindfolds for half of your class
  • Copies of the Blind Tree Discovery Worksheet (one copy per student)
  • Pencils, pens, or crayons
  • Student notebooks, journals, or sheets of drawing paper
  • Clipboards (optional, one per student group)

NOTE: This lesson requires 30 to 90 minutes, and access to the schoolyard or a nearby park is recommended.

Lesson Plan

Trees are a key component of any ecosystem, as they influence everything around them, including the local weather and the wildlife that lives in the region. Getting to know the trees in your area is a great place to start if you want to appreciate and understand the ecology of your state. This is true not only of rural areas, but also in cities where trees are an important part of the urban ecology.

In this activity, your students will become intimately familiar with trees by using senses other than just their sight. Your students will discover the features of local tree species that make them unique, and will make connections with trees that go beyond just knowing their names and what they look like. This is an activity you can do in any season, but the best time is in spring or early fall when deciduous trees still have their leaves.

In advance of your class, visit the field trip site and pick a gathering spot within a short walk of several trees. Pick out between three and six different species of trees that students will visit, and place nametags on them. Try this source or this source (or a library reference book) for helping identify different species.

These trees should be located within a short walk of the gathering spot, and be clearly visible so you can see your students at all times. If possible, choose trees that have branches your students can reach so they can check out the leaves. Give your trees short names like “Sam” or “Betty” so that you and your students will have a way to find individual trees in your field trip area. Write the common name on the back of the nametag.

To prepare your students for this activity, go over the Background Information: Get to Know Trees (at the bottom of this lesson).

Before staring this activity, you'll also want to check with your students to see what they already know about trees. The following questions can help you assess your students’ prior knowledge:

  1. What makes a tree different from other kinds of plants? Trees have a thick woody stem, and are usually fairly tall (greater than 3 yards). Shrubs also have woody stems, but have many smaller stems that rise together from ground level. Other kids of plants lack the woody stems, and are usually much shorter in height.
  2. What trees grow in your neighborhood? Check for knowledge of accepted common names. Students may say “spruce”, or “pine”, or they may know the actual common names, like “aspen poplar”, or “jackpine.” If trees are visible outside the window of the classroom, ask your students if they know what kind of trees they are, and what their names are. Check to see if your students understand the difference between deciduous and evergreen trees.
  3. What animals live in trees? Let your students name as many as they can. This will help them think about trees as a part of the habitat for local animals. They may identify birds that nest and or feed in trees, and they should also be able to name some mammals, such as squirrels, that live mainly in trees.
  4. How do trees reproduce? Let your students name any of the ways they may be familiar with. Trees may reproduce by means of seeds (most common), but can also clone themselves through suckers (saplings that rise from the spreading roots of the parent tree). Do your students realize that many trees are either male or female?


Have students complete one or more of the following three activities:

A. Blind Tree Discovery

Have your students work in pairs. Each group should have a blindfold and a copy of the Blind Tree Discovery Worksheet.

Allow one member of the pair to blindfold the other, and carefully lead him/her to one of each of the tagged tree species.

Once at the tree, the blindfolded student will explore the tree from the ground to as high as she/he can reach, and describe the texture, smells, shapes and other attributes of the tree. The partner will record these observations on the worksheet.

They will have five minutes to explore the tree before moving to the next one.

Before leaving the tagged tree, the blindfolded student must take a guess as to what kind of tree it is.

Visit at least three different trees and make blindfolded observations at each one.

Call your students back after 20 minutes, and have the partners switch roles and repeat the blind tree discovery.

When they have completed the activity, test your students' ability to identify the tree species. Ask them what features most clearly distinguish each species. Have them highlight these features on their worksheet.

B. Drawing Trees

Distribute plain paper and pencils to your class. Have them do any or all of the following:

  • Make a portrait of the whole tree as it appears in its habitat.
  • Make a rubbing of the bark of a tree
  • Make a rubbing of a tree leaf
  • Make a detailed sketch of just one branch with a few leaves and buds

C. Field Guide to Local Trees

When your students have identified trees in your field trip area, have them put together a several-page field guide to these tree species. Have them take a photo using a digital camera, or make drawings and diagrams that help identify the tree to include with the description.

Include details like the leaf shape and color, the arrangement of the branches, size of the tree, what habitat it seems to prefer, the texture and color of the bark, and other details. Divide your class into groups, and assign one tree species to each. They may use the Internet to gather additional natural history information they can summarize for their descriptions.

Indoor Option
If you are unable to bring your class outdoors to work with living trees, you can have fun with a version of this activity in the classroom. Simply find large samples (pruned branches will do, or potted domestic varieties from a greenhouse or nursery). Tag them and place them around the room, and conduct the blindfolded discovery activity with these materials.

Extending the Lesson

Plan a tree-planting project. A wonderful way to reinforce the value of trees and to help your students develop personal connections with trees is to have them plant trees in the schoolyard, neighborhood, or on local public land. You will need to seek permission from a landowner or local authority to do this, but such permission is usually easy to get. Select a tree species that is preferably native to your region and which you know will grow well without much help. Enlist the help of parents if the project is out of the school yard and requires travel. If planting trees in the schoolyard, make sure the trees are planted in a place where they will get adequate sun and moisture, and where they will not be disturbed.

Multimedia: Instead of writing down student observations as they touch and explore trees blindfolded, have the partner shoot a video clip using a handheld camcorder, digital camera, or make an audio recording using a portable sound recording device such as a cassette recorder or digital voice recorder. Have your students transcribe their observations back in the classroom.

Social Media: Web sites like Flickr and Facebook are useful tools in constructing field guides, journals of observations and photographs of the trees studied. Some suggestions for their application: a class page where students are encouraged to share their observations; a running update of trees discovered and where; or a photo mural or montage of all the trees involved in your study.

Background Information: Get to Know Trees

What’s a tree?

Trees are simply large plants with thick woody stems. Wood is a tough material that trees make as they grow. It is the wood in their stems that lets trees grow to such large sizes. You can find trees pretty much everywhere—in our cities and parks, and as part of the landscape almost everywhere we go. They are extremely important in nature because they are the dominant living things in many ecosystems.

Tree types

a. Broad-leafed Trees

Broad-leafed trees have soft, flat leaves with branching veins. Broad-leafs include species like the Bigleaf Maple and the Blue Elderberry. Broad-leafed trees are also called deciduous, which means they lose their leaves each fall. Most of these trees have simple flowers, and produce seeds during the summer or fall. Some of their seeds are in the form of hard nuts, such as the acorns on oak trees, while others, like aspen and maple, make seeds that are carried on the wind.

b. Needle-leafed Trees

The needle-leafed trees include spruce, pine, larch, fir, cedar and hemlock. The leaves of these trees are stiff and woody, and except for larch, stay on the tree year-round. All of these trees produce their seeds in cones, and so are also called coniferous trees, meaning “cone-bearing.” For the most part, conifers are evergreens, meaning they keep their needles year round.

Anatomy of a tree

  1. Leaves: Like other plants, trees use sunlight to make sugar from carbon dioxide and water in their leaves. This is called photosynthesis.
  2. Crown: The top of the tree is the crown. The tree grows taller by adding new branches and adding height to its crown.
  3. Branches: Branches support the leaves, spreading out so that the leaves can get sunlight.
  4. Trunk: The trunk is the thick, woody core of the tree. It is made of a tough material called cellulose, which is made from the same sugars trees make in their leaves.
  5. Bark: Bark is the rough outer covering of tree trunks and branches. It protects the growing tissues inside from drying out. Some trees have thick bark that resists insects, fungi, and fires.
  6. Base: The base of the tree is usually the widest part of the trunk, and often has the thickest bark.
  7. Roots: Tree roots do several important jobs. They anchor the tree in the soil so it stays upright, they bring water and minerals into the tree for use in the leaves, and they store sugars and starches over winter.

The importance of trees and forests

Trees play a vital role in ecosystems as one of nature’s most important food producers. Trees absorb vast amounts of carbon dioxide and water, and as part of the process, make oxygen and sugar. The oxygen is needed by animals so they can breathe. The sugar, called glucose, is used to make wood and other plant materials, which is also used by many animals as food. In this way, trees and other plants supply animals with both their oxygen and food.

Forest-covered lands supply water to rivers and lakes. Forests act like a sponge and a filter, absorbing water from rain and snowmelt, removing dirt and minerals from it, and releasing it slowly and steadily to streams.

Without forests, our fresh water supply would be further threatened. Forests also provide essential habitat for many kinds of animals. Animals such as lynx, bears, wolves, caribou, deer, mountain lions, and many others depend on forests for their survival. Destruction of forests through logging and agriculture is often the most serious threat to these species.

National Standards

Grades K-4
NS.K-4.1 Science as Inquiry
NS.K-4.3 Life Science- Characteristics of organisms, life cycles of organisms, organisms and environments

Grades 5-8
NS.5-8.1 Science as Inquiry
NS.5-8.3 Life Science - Structure and function in living systems, diversity and adaptations of organisms

This lesson also conforms to Environmental Principles and Concepts laid out by California’s Education and Environment Initiative, and correlated with California Science Standards.


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