Know Your Neighbors–Common Plants in the Pacific Northwest

My lesson focused on teaching students the names of common trees and shrubs in the Pacific Northwest, and showing them real samples of the plant parts. I wanted the students to leave knowing the names and the appearance of 7 trees and shrubs, some facts about the form and function of plant physiology, and a fun story about Douglas fir cones.

I used curiosity and experiential learning to guide my plan; touching, smelling, and examining the plant samples were ways I wanted to inspire students to ask questions. I also wanted them to have a physical key connecting the names and images of common plants–the basic skill of knowing the name of something is integral to building further knowledge. To achieve these goals, I used several whole-class activities and two small group activities. The class turn out was small, making all the activities easier–yet we still ran out of time!

The activities we did accomplish were the introduction and presentation of plant samples, our chair hop game, the leaf rubbings project, the personal field guide creation, the speed naming contest, and a quick conclusion including Douglas fir cones. Left out was the reading of the “Mouse, Douglas Fir Tree, and The Great Forest Fire” story to accompany the fir cone exploration.

Taking a closer look at how each activity went, beginning with students examining the plant sample with magnifying glasses went well. The goal here was to get them thinking about the appearance and function of leaf components, which primed them well for later activities. We moved to the chair hop game where students walked around a circle of chairs, stepping from labelled plant to plant pictures and describing the plant by which they stopped when told. Hearing the students sound out the names was eye-opening and made me realize how far I’ve come since second grade. I tried to structure this so the students were teaching each other. However, spirits were low, so we had snack to boost energy, followed by counting off to mix up the members of our two small groups.


My small group activity was creating the personal field guide. Talking the students through the folding and cutting was a good challenge that helped them get in the mindset of listening to the teacher. Then, we were able to transition easily into them flipping through their newly-created booklets and writing down the names of the plants. We tried reading the facts on each page, which I had accidentally written for higher-level readers…oops.

Simultaneously, the other instructors helped the students do leaf rubbings, which did not go as well as I had envisioned. The lesson of seeing veins in plant leaves and understanding their function was absorbed, but the execution of recording plant texture and name did not happen. The activity also went twice as quickly as the field guide activity, so Jasmine added in the speed naming game, which allowed the students to burn off some energy while challenging themselves to hit the correct picture just from hearing the name.

Finally, with 10 minutes left, we handed out pinecones and magnifying glasses again and told the students a short version of the story. This evolved into a conversation about the significance of plants and a quick quiz on all the names we learned.

All in all, I would have liked more time, or just to have switched the story and chair activities. My main hope was to give the students a few words that they can keep in the back of their minds to help them in future ecology explorations, and to have inspired them to look more closely at the plants around us.





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