California Agriculture in the Classroom

People and Plants Need Nutrients

Grade Level(s)

K - 2

Estimated Time

50 minutes


In this lesson, students will learn that although plants and people obtain nutrients differently, they both need proper amounts of nutrients to grow and be healthy.


Essential Files (maps, charts, pictures, or documents)

Essential Links


nutrient: substance that provides nourishment essential for growth and life

macronutrient: a substance required in relatively large amounts by a living organism such as nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium in plants

micronutrient: a substance required in relatively small amounts by a living organism such as iron in plants

Did you know? (Ag Facts)

Background - Agricultural Connections

This lesson is part of the Fun with the Plant Nutrient Team series which was written to help children better understand what the soil needs to be healthy in order to provide us with healthy foods. The lessons encourage students to think for themselves, ask questions, and learn problem-solving skills while learning the specific content needed to better understand the world in which they live. The lessons include:

Plants depend on the soil for the nutrients they need to grow and be healthy. If the soil does not contain the right amount of nutrients, the farmer or gardener will need to add one or more nutrients to the soil. Plants obtain three of these essential nutrients—carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen—from the atmosphere and water.  Nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium are classified as primary macronutrients because plants consume large amounts of these nutrients and therefore, they may be lacking in the soil. Secondary macronutrients include calcium, magnesium, and sulfur and are often present in the soil in amounts that are sufficient for plant growth.

The remaining essential nutrients are called micronutrients.  Micronutrients are just as important for plant health as the macronutrients, but are required in much smaller amounts. Micro and macronutrients are obtained when plant roots take up water from the soil that contains the dissolved nutrients. Altogether, there are 17 nutrients that plants require for healthy growth and development. The chemical symbol for each of these nutrients is shown on the last page of your Fun With the Plant Nutrient Team student activity book.

Both plants and people need nutrients to grow strong and be healthy. While plants use their roots to absorb nutrients from soil through water, people must get their nutrients by eating a balanced diet of nutritious foods.

The People and Plants Need Nutrients chart shows a list of the nutrients that are highly important for plant growth and why those nutrients are also important for people.

Interest Approach – Engagement

  1. Ask students, "Did you know that people and plants BOTH need nutrients to grow and be healthy?"
  2. Ask students, "Where do people obtain nutrients?" (Food) "Where do plants get nutrients?" (from the soil, air, and water)
  3. Inform your students that they will be learning about the nutrients that plants need in order to grow and provide healthy food for our diet.


  1. Ask students if they know why it is important to eat healthy foods. Explain that healthy foods supply our bodies with the nutrients they need for energy, growth, and repair. Ask students to help make a list of some healthy foods they can include in a meal or snack. Give an example of foods that are good sources of certain nutrients. For example, milk is a good source of calcium, oranges are a good source of vitamin C, and bananas are a good source of potassium.
  2. Ask students if plants need food. Explain that plants, just like people, need food for energy, growth, and repair, but they do not eat food like people do. Instead, plants make their own food by capturing energy from sunlight to carry out a process called photosynthesis. Chlorophyll is the pigment inside leaves that gives them their green color and makes grass stains on your clothes. It helps plants absorb energy from the sun to make their own food.
  3. Ask students to help you make a chart on the board of what plants need in order to make their own food. Write the words and draw the symbols for sun, water, and soil on the board. Next, draw a simple plant on the board and show its roots growing down into the soil. Explain that most of the nutrients a plant needs come from the soil. Plants get these soil nutrients when their roots absorb them along with water. Distribute the People and Plants Need Nutrients chart to each student. As a class, review the chart to discuss what nutrients are important to plants and people. Use the questions from the People and Plants Need Nutrients activity sheet as group work or individual assignments for each student.

Note: The plant nutrients shown in the chart are called macronutrients because plants use large amounts of these nutrients. Micronutrients are nutrients that are just as important for plant growth but are needed in much smaller amounts. Micronutrients include iron, manganese, chlorine, zinc, boron, molybdenum, copper, nickel, hydrogen, carbon, and oxygen.

Concept Elaboration and Evaluation:

After conducting these activities, review and summarize the following key concepts:

We welcome your feedback! Please take a minute to tell us how to make this lesson better or to give us a few gold stars!


Enriching Activities

Suggested Companion Resources


The Educator’s Guide was funded by California Department of Food and Agriculture’s Fertilizer, Research, and Education Program (FREP) and developed by California Foundation for Agriculture in the Classroom.

Executive Director: Judy Culbertson
Illustrator: Erik Davison
Layout and Design: Nina Danner and Renee Thompson
Copy Editor: Leah Rosasco
Special Thanks to: Nutrients for Life Foundation, International Plant Nutrition Institute, Fertilizer Research and Education Program, and California Department of Food and Agriculture.


Shaney Emerson and Mary Pat Jones

Organization Affiliation

California Foundation for Agriculture in the Classroom