Creating a Classroom Garden: Teaching Students About Plant Growth

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Part 1: Discussion & Planning

Objective: Enable students to become aware of plant and tree life. Students will: observe, record and make predictions about indoor and outdoor plant life, compare predictions to results, create plans to care for plants inside, chart and track progress of indoor and outdoor plants, compare progress of indoor versus outdoor plant life as the seasons change.

Timeline: 4 one hour lessons, continual throughout school year as per class and teacher.

Instructions for Discussion and Planning

Getting in touch with our environment is the first vital step in helping to teach young people to care about the world we live in today. When people care about something they are more likely to become involved in protecting it. This is essential for our natural resources.

This lesson plan will help develop an awareness of the world and its natural resources at the most basic level. It’s great to start this lesson at the beginning of the school year. That will give you and your class the chance to thoroughly observe the outdoor trees and plants as they go through entire seasons.

First, discuss with the class all aspects of plants and trees: how they grow, what they start off as, what they need to grow, how they die, how they contribute to the environment, what trees and plants are in danger of becoming extinct, etc.

Read a book about the trees, forest or plants. I suggest The First Forest by John Gile. The goal is to actively engage the students in thinking about trees and plants. Many of them may have never even taken the time to think about this topic.

Generate a list of what plants can be grown inside, what is needed to plant, care for and grow these plants. Discuss how plants can be grown from seeds, cuttings, bulbs. Theorize on the stages of different plants and how they look during the stages of growth.

Next talk about how indoor plants differ in care needs and what their lives look like compared to outdoor trees and plants (eg: outdoor plants lose their leaves, exposed to elements, etc.).Theorize about how the same plant will do inside and how it would survive outside year round. Discuss why there are differences.

Tell the class that together you are going to create a class garden. Discuss some of the plants that would be good for an indoor garden and ones that wouldn’t be so good. Discuss why.

Collectively create a list of plants that you will grow for your indoor garden. Make sure that you select plants from each of the categories of starters, i.e. seeds, cuttings, bulbs. Make a list of what you need to create and care for this garden: potting soil, mister, watering can, bulbs, seeds, seed tray, containers. Students can volunteer to bring in items from the list.

Here’s a list of great plants for indoor planting and this lesson:

  • Carrots.
  • Bean seeds (untreated with fungicide).
  • Garlic bulbs.
  • Flower bulbs.
  • Potatoes with eyes.
  • Plant cuttings (geraniums, etc.).

Depending on your schedule make sure to send a note home a day or two before the gardens are to be planted. Ask the students to wear old clothes. Prepare ahead of time with newspapers, brooms and other items for a messy lesson. Messy is good!

Part 2: Observation & Recording

Objective: Students will observe trees outside in late summer, early fall and record their observations. Students will make predictions on changes that will occur to the specific trees and plants they are tracking.

Timeline: One class period (45 minutes).

Instructions for Observation and Recording

The second part of this lesson will begin to connect the indoor and outdoor tree and plant life. This is the foundation step for the outdoor observations. Students will need a notebook or journal to record observations.

Begin the lesson by reviewing the lists generated in the last class. Focus in on the discussion of outdoor plants and trees versus indoor plants and trees. Discuss with your class that they will be tracking several outdoor plants and trees for the course of the school year. Instruct them that they need to choose at least two trees and two plants outside that they will be responsible for keeping track of throughout the school year.

Ask your class to draw a picture of each of their selected trees and plants (at least four total), and record a minimum of five observations about each one. You may, depending on age, want to discuss what possible observations would be.

Take your students outside or if this is impossible then to a window area to observe outdoor trees and plants. If this can’t be done, then you can take pictures or a video of a nature area and plants and trees. Put this on your computer and overhead for the students to observe.

Once outside allow your students time to choose the trees and plants and record what they see, smell, hear, etc. Once ample time has been provided, gather your class and instruct them to record predictions about what they think will change or not change about their selected trees and plants in one month’s time. You may want to discuss what the weather will be like in one month.

Once back inside, discuss as a class what trees and plants were chosen and observations. Have them discuss in groups or pairs predictions they made about their trees and plants. Have students give each other feedback on observations and predictions.

As a class choose three trees to track and three plants to track on a chart. Create a chart and record what trees and plants are being tracked and the observations of each. Have students recreate this chart in their journals referencing their own trees and plants.

Conclude the lesson by a wrap up discussion of what everyone observed and predicted today.

Extend this lesson by reading a book about trees, plants, seasons. With older students find and read magazine articles about trees, plants and how they change, etc.

Part 3: How to Care for Plants

Objective: Students will brainstorm a list of what care an indoor plant needs and corresponding timeline (eg: water every other day, sunlight, etc.). Students will collaboratively create a year long calendar for plant care for the selected number of plants that will be in the classroom garden. Students will create a schedule to observe the trees and plants they selected outdoors.

Timeline: 30-45 minutes.

Instructions for How to Care for Plants

Begin this lesson with a discussion of what the class has learned and observed so far about outdoor plants and indoor plants. Discuss any experiences that students have had with gardens.

Depending on class size you may want to divide the class into groups for various stages of this year long lesson. Groups can work together to plant; care for indoor plants and also to discuss observations and predictions for both indoor and outdoor plants and trees.

Review the created list of what indoor plants need. Discuss with the class, that in order for your garden to survive, everyone will need to help care for it. Decide what will need to be done and how often. Use a calendar (large pre-made by you on paper) designating which students (or groups) will do what (water, check, etc.) on what specific day. One group can be responsible for a certain week, month, etc. They can then decide amongst the group who will do what and when. Record on calendar.

It’s your option here to either do a complete school year calendar, one month or several months. Make certain to discuss how the plants will be cared for over the weekend, long weekends, holidays, etc.

Next discuss with the class the predictions they made about the outdoor plants and tress they observed. Discuss what will produce changes in them. With this in mind create with the class an observation schedule for outdoor trees and plants. I suggest one month, less time when changes are occurring quickly such as fall and more time when not much is happening such as in winter. Even though it may seem like not much is going on in the winter students should observe this stage too, weather permitting of course.

Reserve a special calendar for the plant and tree lessons. On this regular size calendar record the dates for observation and indoor garden care.

Once a schedule is in place, have the students make predictions about what they think will happen with the outdoor plants and trees for the next four observations and the indoor plants over the next four weeks.

Discuss. A great extension is any book or article about plants and trees. Ask your students to do a web search (age dependent) and bring in some unusual facts on trees and plants to share or some stories.

Part 4: Creating the Garden

Objective: Create a classroom garden.

Timeline: 1 hour.

Instructions for Creating the Garden

The final part of this lesson will be messy and fun. It’s great to get the kids hands dirty and see them involved in what they’re doing. Active learning not passive learning is always better whenever possible.

Go back and discuss the lists that the class created about the needs of indoor plants, the plants your class chose, expectations, etc. Discuss how you create a garden. How much soil, how deep the seeds go, bulbs, cuttings. Show the students where their gardens will each go upon completion (this spot should have been selected by the students when generating the plant needs list, i.e. sun).

Ask the students to get into their groups. Have them go to the pre-arranged areas where they will be planting their gardens. Show students the variety of plants that you will grow. Show the seeds, the cuttings, the bulbs. Let the students handle these with care.

Next pass around either real life or pictures of full grown versions of the plants that will be used in your garden.

Finally it’s time to dig in, literally. Each group should have the same number of plants to plant as students so each student can actively take part. The groups should have a variety of the discussed options: seeds, bulbs, cuttings, etc.

Guide your students when they need it. Try to stay hands off. You may be tempted to keep it neat but unless they’re out of control let them go. This is a messy lesson so expect a mess.

Once the students have completed the planting process and placed their gardens in the designated spots have them clean up. If you have extras of the basic supplies (brooms, rags, etc.) great, if not they can take turns.

When the clean up process is complete and the students have washed up discuss with them the process. What they liked, didn’t like. How it felt, what they saw smelled, etc. Was it something they had done before, like anything else?

Review the previous lessons. Emphasize the care routine as scheduled. Have the students record in their journals what they think each plant in their garden will look like in one week, two weeks. Discuss.

This is an ongoing lesson. The bulk of the work has now been completed but the learning has just begun. Keep up with observations, predictions and checking actual results compared to predictions. There are many extensions to this lesson and ways to keep students engaged in it throughout the year.

Extension Activities

This lesson is ongoing and can be utilized throughout the school year to teach other subjects – math, language arts, Spanish, social sciences, art, the list is really endless.

The key is that the students took an active part in planning, creating and now caring for this garden. Hook onto that and teach lessons from there. The students care for this garden and that will grab their attention for other lessons throughout the year. Get creative.

The following are extension ideas for either the kick off of this project or so it can be stretched out through the year to reinforce key concepts in science. Either the teacher can set up and prepare these extensions or you can ask the selected groups to create one per group. If you choose this option, the displays can exist for a certain amount of time and then groups can rotate with the displays, each having a chance to create each display.

Set up near (at) the garden area tools that can be used for viewing the plants. Gloves, pens, paper, magnifying glass, microscope, chairs, paper towels, etc. Let creativity rule here. Observation is more than just looking.

The goal is to make this an area that the groups can gather throughout the year to view, discuss and take notes about the gardens.

Create a plant center. Display books, posters, magazines, newspaper articles, graphs, photos, anything you or the groups want to include that has to do with plants, trees and vegetation. The goal here is to immerse the children in the subject and provide a wealth of learning materials for them to choose from; even the most stubborn learning is bound to find something of interest.

Using a premade drawing or group produced drawing of a plant display it. Use index cards to name plant parts with definitions on the back. Laminate them so they last through the year. Also write Spanish names of the plant parts on index cards and laminate.

Create index cards (or use index cards cut in half or quarters) that give the name of each of the plants in the gardens. On the back of the cards have the groups describe a few things about that particular plant. For example:grew from a bulb, likes a lot of light, water every other day, will flower, etc.

Brainstorm and make your classroom full of all the information about the topic you can find. I prefer to have the students in their groups create these areas.They will have to take the time to make a plan of what they will do, how they will get the supplies (who will get what, what from home, what available at school, etc.) and then put the plan into action. If possible, it’s a good idea to provide a time after the area is created to review their plan, what worked, what was easy, what was more challenging then they thought, etc.. Just let them reflect on their plan and implementation.