California Agriculture in the Classroom

Plants Around You (Grades 3-5)

Grade Level(s)

3 - 5

Estimated Time

2 class periods followed by daily observations


Students will categorize plants into groups, describe what plants need for healthy growth, start their own garden by planting seeds inside a cup.


Activity 1: Thinking About Plants

Activity 2: Growing a Garden

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

Essential Links


seed: what a flowering plant produces in order to reproduce another plant

Background - Agricultural Connections

This lesson is organized into a conceptual framework that allows students to move from what they already know about plants and the environment to a more complete and accurate perspective on the topic. To express their prior knowledge about plants, students begin the unit by sorting plants into categories. They also begin thinking about what plants need to be healthy and what comprises a plant’s environment. Students plant a variety of seeds to explore differences and similarities among different types of plants.

After completing this lesson, students will be able to:

Teachers can find more background information and preparation instructions for Activity 1 and Activity 2. 

This lesson is one of a 5 part series.  See the following titles for related lessons:

Interest Approach – Engagement

Ask students the following questions to begin discussion and introduce the lesson:


Activity 1: Thinking about Plants

  1. Begin the lesson by displaying a variety of plants, vegetables, fruits, and grains (see Preparation) to the class. Ask a few students what they notice about the materials on the table.
    • At this stage, look for students’ initial ideas. This will help you gauge what their current thinking is about plants. If you are using pictures, you may want to point out that students should think about the plant (or plant product) illustrated and not just that it is a picture.
    • For example, if you have a picture of a tree, they should think about the tree rather than it is a picture compared with other real plant materials that are on the table.
  2. Ask students if they could sort the materials into categories. Ask students to think about one way that they might be able to put the materials into categories. Have students write their categories on a piece of paper and list things that would fit into each of their categories. Allow about 2–3 minutes for this step. Students can work individually or in pairs for this step.
    • Students may have a variety of ideas about how to sort the materials. At this stage, accept all reasonable ideas, but probe students’ thinking if there are items on the table that don’t make sense in their categorization scheme.
    • Possible categories might include:
      • Edible vs. non-edible materials
      • Living vs. not living (previously living)
      • Growing vs. not growing (currently)
      • Color
      • Vegetable vs. fruit
      • Tree vs. non-tree
      • Parts of the plant (leaves vs. roots, for example)
    • Some categories are likely to be more useful than others. Some categories that students propose may have examples that don’t really fit and students won’t know how to categorize. This may be an opportunity to ask them if they would revise their decision about a categorization scheme now that they have run into difficulties placing the examples.
  3. Propose to the class that it might be good to think more about sorting by growing vs. not currently growing. Ask, “What parts of a plant are necessary for a plant to grow?” 
    • Students should suggest that plants need roots, stems, and leaves to grow. The vegetables you show in class probably do not have all the parts of the plant that are necessary for growth. For example, a stalk of broccoli obviously was growing at one point (when it was attached to the rest of the plant), but as a separate stalk would not currently be growing because it doesn’t have the roots attached.
  4. Continue the discussion by asking if there are other things a plant needs to be able to grow. Write a list of student responses on the board or chart paper.
    • If students have trouble getting started with this list, start off by asking if plants need light to grow. This should spark other ideas to add to the list.
  5. Write the word “environment” on the board or chart paper. Explain to students that the environment is a word that describes all the living and non-living things surrounding an organism. Would the things that the students listed in Step 4 be part of a plant’s environment?
    • For a plant, its environment would include soil, air, light, water, appropriate temperatures, other plants, animals, and insects living around or on the plant. Students are likely to have mentioned some of these in the previous step, but they may not realize that other plants, animals, or insects are part of a plant’s environment.
    • Some things in the environment are required for plants to grow. For example, plants require water and light for growth. Other things are in the environment but may not be required/requirements. For example, plants don’t always require the animals and insects that normally live in their environment to grow.
    • Tip from the field test:  Students will continue to think about environment in later lessons. Writing “environment” and its definition on chart paper for students to refer to later can help reinforce their understanding of this term as they move through the activities in this unit.
  6. Continue the discussion by asking students, “What happens if plants don’t have the things they need to grow?” Follow that with “What do you think would happen if they don’t have the right amounts of the things they need?
    • Accept reasonable responses and ask them to explain their thinking if appropriate. Students may bring up examples of plants not growing well if there is not enough (or even too much) water. The students’ answers to these questions will help you gauge their current understanding. Explain to students that they will continue to investigate these questions in the following lessons.

Activity 2: Growing a Garden

  1. Begin the activity by asking students where the food they eat comes from. After getting responses from several volunteers, follow this up by asking if people might grow some of their own food. Students’ life experiences will influence how they answer this question. Most students will probably say that their food comes from the grocery store or maybe a restaurant. Other students may have experiences with growing some vegetables in a family garden, and still others on their family’s farm.
  2. Ask, “Do you think it would be fun to grow some vegetables and see what makes them grow?” 
    • If you know of any community gardens in your area, you may ask if students have heard about them. Students may have heard about the vegetable garden at the White House. In 2009, Mrs. Obama, working with students from elementary schools, started a vegetable garden. The garden produced a variety of vegetables, some of which were served to the President’s family as well as to visiting leaders from other countries. In 2010, the garden was expanded to grow more plants.
  3. Inform students that they will start growing some plants to study how they grow and what makes them grow best. Explain that they will start this activity now, and over several weeks they will watch the plants grow and investigate what keeps them healthy.
  4. Give each student a copy of Master 1.1, My Gardening Record. Give each student a few seeds to examine (see Preparation). Ask students to draw a picture of their seed in the appropriate space and to write a few words to describe the appearance of the seeds.
    • Students will continue to work with this master over the course of their gardening activity. Point out to students that there is a place on the handout for them to write the date. Explain that part of the activity involves learning how to keep good records of their investigation. Whenever they make another observation or record data, they will also record the date of that entry onto their handout.
  5. After students finish drawing their pictures, demonstrate how students will plant their seeds. Point out the cups that students will use and tell them that you have already added some potting soil to each one. You can also point out that the cups have holes in the bottom so extra water can drain out. Explain to students that they will place five seeds on top of the soil. Draw the pattern for arranging the seeds on the board or chart paper. After students place the seeds on top of the soil, have them put a thin layer (usually about ¼– 1/2 inch) of soil on top of the seeds. Students can then use a spray bottle to moisten the top layer of soil.
    • You may want students to bring their cups to you to add the top layer of soil. In that way, you can help them add the right amount—enough to cover the seeds well but not too deeply. Also, you may want to explain that they want to be gentle when they water so that the seeds aren’t disrupted (and that not all the seeds end up in a single place in the container). The spray bottle works well if you are just moistening the top layer of soil and that the soil beneath the seeds is already fully moistened (see Preparation). The spray bottle, however, is not an efficient method for thoroughly watering all the soil in the cup.
    • Having students plant five seeds in their cups helps ensure that students will have at least one seed germinate. Students will also be able to observe that even for a single type of seed, there is variation in the amount of time it takes for germination. At a later point, the seedlings may need to be thinned out so that there are one or two plants per cup.
    • Have the students write their names on their containers. Then show students where to put their containers. Make sure students record when the seeds were planted on the gardening record.
  6. Over the next several days, allow students to observe their cups to see if their seeds have germinated. Each day, they can count the number of seedlings that have sprouted and record their data in their gardening record.
    • Consider the day the seeds were planted to be Day 0. The following day would be Day 1. At first, students may not see any visible change in their containers. They can make a brief note on their gardening record of this. After a few days (depending on the seed type), they will start seeing sprouts emerging. They should record the date and the number of seedlings sprouted on their record. They should also draw a picture of what they observe.
    • Note: The soil needs to be kept moist while seeds are germinating. Decide whether you will take that responsibility for watering all the cups or if you want students to be responsible for watering their own cups.
  7. When students have seedlings that are about one week old (doesn’t need to be exact), ask students to draw another picture of their seedlings.
    • Some students will have seeds germinate before others. Encourage students to look at the seedlings that other students have and compare the different kinds of seedlings. Ask them if they see differences in leaf shape, leaf size, color of stems or leaves, and so forth.
    • Note: If you skip Step 8, go directly to Step 9 to conclude this activity.
  8. (Optional) If you have employed the strategy of having students plant two cups of seeds with each student planting the same type of seed in one cup, you can pool the data for one kind of seed from the entire class for analysis. Begin by collecting the data from each student on a transparency of Master 1.2. Then use the data to construct a bar graph using a template similar to the one that follows.

    • Discuss the data with the class to make conclusions about the time needed for seeds to sprout. Guide the discussion using questions such as:
      • When did the first seeds sprout?
      • On what day did the greatest number of seeds sprout?
      • Did all seeds sprout on the same day?
      • Did all seeds sprout?
      • Why do you think some seeds didn’t sprout?
      • Why do you think that seeds sprouted at different times?
      • The data should reveal that the seeds generated over a range of days. Even though they were all the same type of seed, there were differences in the time it took for the seeds to sprout. It is also likely that some seeds didn’t sprout at all; perhaps those seeds got damaged in some way or they weren’t healthy seeds. Just as in humans and all other species, there are differences between individuals.
        • If time permits, students could also measure the height of seedlings over time and communicate that information graphically.
  9. Ask students to draw some conclusions based on what they have learned from the seed growing activity.
    • You may want students to think about this individually or in small teams before sharing their responses with the class. Some possible conclusions are:
      • Some kinds of seeds sprout more quickly than others.
      • Some seeds may not sprout at all.
      • Different seedlings look different than others in their size, shape of leaves, color, and so forth.
      • If you have more than one seed of the same kind, you can see differences between individuals (e.g., time to germinate or size may be different among individuals).
    • Note to Teachers: You can decide how long students will keep their plants growing. Depending on the type of plant, the size of the container, and the type of soil, some seedlings may do very well at first and then become less healthy over time. This is an opportunity to help students understand that there is probably something about the plant’s environment that isn’t exactly right. Maybe that plant needs something else to be healthy that can’t be provided in this setup.

Concept Elaboration and Evaluation

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

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Enriching Activities

Suggested Companion Resources



Nutrients For Life Foundation

Organization Affiliation

Nutrients for Life Foundation