Featured image of post A cross-curricular unit on parts and needs of plants
Episode 49

A cross-curricular unit on parts and needs of plants

Ideas for a cross curricular unit on the parts and needs of plants.


  • Curriculum

    • What a plant needs to live
    • Parts of a plant
  • Set up experiments to see how plants react to more or less: water, light, soil types

    • Students record their set-up, anything they add (watering)
    • Record observations 2-3 times/week
    • Describe how the pants react and grow
  • Weekly snapshots

    • Students start the experiment with several identical set-ups
    • Every week, gently rinse away soil from one of the experimental setups
    • Press the plant or take a photo for comparison at the end
    • Compare pressed plants to see if different parts are affected by the experiments
  • Not everyone in a class needs to do everything

    • Groups are responsible for investigating one factor
    • Students circulate to different stations and make notes on other experiments
    • Mini science fair
      • Students circulate and a representative shares their observations. Other students ask questions or make suggestions about the experiment.
      • Groups share their experience and expertise. They may recognize a growth habit from their own experiments and help others make sure their experiments aren’t being affected by other factors.

Outdoor ideas

Look for examples of the same type of plant growing in different micro habitats. Students can make notes of any difference in growth habit. Some plants will grow differently in bright/low light, or if they are cut/trampled/grazed.

Make notes, take photos, or draw sketches of different microhabitats to capture what the conditions are like. Take advantage of being able to examine rich details which are really only possible to explore in outdoor spaces.


  • Curriculum

    • Create sketchbooks to record observations
    • Use them to review and revisit ideas
  • Activity ideas

    • Sketch their experimental seedling once per week
    • Take a photo of their plant and edit the photo so it accurately captures the light levels.
    • Take a photo of the experimental plant each day and create a video
    • Look at different plant/botany photography styles on platforms like Instagram and compare the effect of different styles/techniques.
    • Create a plant sculpture using crepe or crumpled tissue paper and pipe cleaners. Manipulate the tissue paper leaves so they mimic the leaves of their plant

Writing an artist’s statement about their work blends science and art. Student’s need to use correct terms for parts of plants to describe their work. Need to be thoughtful about how their technique captured what was happening to their plant. But be clear in what is being assessed. If the artist statement is being assessed for art, make sure the criteria are focused on that.

Outdoor ideas

Make sure you know: how much time and space will be available, what habitats are around to explore, is it a wilder or more managed site.

  • Constraints of being on a field trip can be an opportunity to explore different techniques.

    • Bring a limited range of colour pencils. Less to carry, and forces students to experiment with colour mixing to match the colours they encounter.
  • Use digital photography to quickly capture scenes if time is limited.

    • Bringing paper or clipboards to place behind subjects can help isolate them from the background.
  • Look for opportunities to blended art and science.

    • Capture mood using repetition by picking a plant and exploring what would be lonely, comfortable, or crowded for it. Would these situations look the same for a tree as it would for grass? How does this link up to the parts of a plant and the amount of room a plant needs to grow?


  • Curriculum

    • Changes from the stone to iron age
    • Connections and trends over time
  • Lesson ideas

    • How people made use of plants. What plants did they use.
    • What kinds of tools would people have used
    • Compare stone age and iron age peoples’ impact on their environment
    • What would people need to do to the landscape in order to grow crops?

History unit provides background information to inform the big project. Writing a picture book to add to the class or school library.

English/Language arts

  • Curriculum
    • Plan by reading writing in similar style to what is planned in order to learn from structure
    • In writing narratives develop setting, characters and plot

End goal of a unit is to write a story from a plant’s perspective about what happened when people arrive.

  • Lesson ideas

    • Start with reading books written in a similar style to learn from the format.
      • Books from a plant’s perspective
        • The little Crooked Christmas tree - Michael Cutting
        • The Giving Tree - Shel Silverstein
        • The Dandelion Seed - Joseph Anthony
        • In a nutshell - Joseph Anthony
        • Sequoia - Tony Johnston
      • Books about plants
        • The Great Kapok tree - Lynn Cherry
        • The Lorax - Dr. Seuss
        • The Last Tree - Mark Wilson
        • The Sequoia Lives On - Joanna Cooke
  • Break down the project into parts

    1. Choose an important or interesting plant from science or history
    2. Outline the plot using developments learned about in history
    3. Develop character and fractions to events using observations from science
    4. Share the outline with other students to give feedback. Peer review history and science content.
    5. Start writing out the story
    6. Block text into pages and sketch illustration ideas
    7. Use diagrams from science or sketchbook from art as basis for illustrations
    8. Put text and illustrations together into final piece

Set deadlines for milestones. Students have class time to work, but if they don’t feel like they are going to make the deadline they may need to work together with the teacher to come up with a strategy.

  • Do they need to take the work home because they haven’t been working effectively in class?
  • Talk through writer’s block with a friend, parent, or the teacher?
  • Are they being a little bit too ambitious?
  • Is there are another way they could be working that might speed things up?
  • Reduce the number of pages by condensing their text.
  • Do they need it to be in a different format with fewer illustrations? Story blog post, magazine article etc.

Consider assessing milestones instead of the final product, or allow students to decide. This approach could allow this project to gather evidence of student learning and achievement in different subject areas.

  • Outline of plot
  • Outline of character and reactions to events in the plot
  • Sketches of ideas for illustrations
  • Evidence of giving constructive feedback to another student
  • Text of the final book

Final product might not be assessed at all if you have collected sufficient evidence of learning from the earlier stages. They’ve put so much hard work into the final product, rather than putting a red circle around a typo or grading the effort out of 100, final product is just celebrated.

Further reading

Smithsoniam Magazine article about the possibility of tree communicating with one another, and why Peter Wohlleben anthropomorphizes trees and uses narrative style in his science books.

Edutopia article on getting started with project based learning.

Making time for project based learning

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