PreK–8 Activity Guide

cover of PreK-8 Activity Guide


96 hands-on activities about trees, forestry, and natural resources (land, air, and water). Every activity allows students to investigate environmental issues, make informed, responsible decisions, and most importantly, learn how to think, not what to think.

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Minnesota Resource pages for activities

Adopt a Tree

cover of the tree journalSummary: Students "adopt" a tree, deepening their awareness of individual trees over time and encouraging a greater understanding and appreciation of their local environment.

Objectives: Students will 1) describe a chosen tree using personal observations and investigation and organize information about the tree, and 2) identify relationships between their tree and other organisms.

Subject: Science, math, language arts, visual arts, social studies

Grades: PreK-2 and 3-8

Use one of these Adopt-A-Tree booklets. Both feature lessons on tree measurements, tree parts, observation, and writing skills.

Birds and Worms

Overview: Camouflage is an important survival strategy in the animal kingdom. In this activity, students will discover the value of protective coloration as they pretend to be birds in search of colored worms or bugs.
Objective: Students will demonstrate their knowledge of how camouflage is used for protection and survival.
Subjects: science, math, physical education
Grades: K-6
Optional resources:

Can it be Real?
black and white drawing on chickadee

Overview: Students discover extraordinary plants and animals, and will gain insight on how they are uniquely adapted to environmental conditions.
Objectives: Students will 1) predict whether unusual plant and animal characteristics are real, and 2) research a plant or animal to understand how organisms are adapted to their particular environments.
Subject Areas: Science, Language Arts
Grades: 4-8
Optional resources:

Every Tree For Itself

Overview: This active simulation will help your students learn about the conditions trees need to live and grow, and how trees compete for their needs.
Objectives: Students will 1) simulate how trees compete for their essential needs, and 2) describe how varying amounts of light, water, and nutrients affect a tree's growth.
Subject Areas: Science, math
Grades: K-8
Optional Supplemental Resource:

Field, Forest, Stream

Overview: In this inquiry-based activity, students will conduct a field study of three different environments as they focus on sunlight, soil moisture, temperature, wind, water flow, plants, and animals in each environment. By comparing different environments, students will begin to consider how nonliving elements influence living elements in an ecosystem.
Objectives: Students will 1) describe similarities and differences they observe in the non-living (abiotic) and living (biotic) components in three ecosystems, and 2) identify ways that abiotic components of an ecosystem affect the biotic components.
Subject Areas: Science, Math
Grades: 4-8, grades 1-3 (variation)
Optional resources:

Get in Touch with Trees

teacher holding log with student reaching inside.Summary: In this activity students will explore their sense of touch and discover why touch is important to animals, including themselves.
Objectives: Students will 1) become aware of how the bark of different trees varies in texture and 2) describe a variety of textures found in leaves and other tree parts.
Subjects: Science, Language Arts, Visual Arts
Grades: PreK-6
Optional resources:

Have Seeds, Will Travel

Overview: A plant is a biological system. Its systems, processes, and components enable it to grow and reproduce. By observing, collecting, and classifying seeds, students are introduced to one aspect of a plants' reproductive system.
Objectives: Students will 1) sort or classify plant seeds they have collected, 2) identify varying methods of seeds dispersal, and 3) model or design seeds that use varying methods of dispersal.
Subject Areas: Science, Visual Arts
Grades: K-8
Optional resources:

How Big is Your Tree?

student and teacher measuring a treeOverview: Trees come in various shapes and sizes. In this activity, students will measure trees in different ways and become familiar with a tree's structure. They will also learn the importance of standard units of measure and measuring techniques.
Objectives: Students will 1) measure and compare trees and tree parts, 2) discuss how and why people measure things, including trees, and 3) explain the need for consistency in measuring.
Subject Areas: Science, Math, Social Studies
Grades: 3-8; Variation: PreK-2
Optional resources:

Invasive Species

Overview: Throughout history, people have intentionally and unintentionally moved plant and animal species to new environments. Some of these species have proved beneficial, but other invade natural habitats causing environmental, and sometimes economic harm. Students will research invasive species to determine how these species got to their new locations and what characteristics make them so challenging.
Objectives: Students will learn what invasive species are, why they are problematic, and how to prevent their spread.
Subject Areas: Science, Math, Social Studies
Grades: 5-8
Optional resources:

Life on the Edge

Overview: Students will become advocates for endangered species of plants or animals and create "public relations campaigns" on behalf of these species/
Objectives: Students will 1) understand the habitat components that organisms need to survive, and 2) research an endangered, threatened or rare species and give a persuasive media presentation on preserving that organism's needs.
Subject Areas: Science, Social Studies
Grades: 4-8
Optional resources:

Living with Fire

Overview: Students learn about the three elements a fire needs to burn and find out how an understanding of this "fire triangle" can be used to both prevent and manage wildland fires.
Objectives: Students will 1) describe the three elements of the fire triangle and explain how eliminating one or more of them can help prevent or control a fire, and 2) describe ways to reduce the risk to homes of wildland fire.
Subject Areas: Science, Social Studies
Grades: 4-8 (Part A) and K-2 (Part C)
Optional resources:

Looking at Leaves

leaves from different trees labelOverview: Students take a closer look at leaves and find out more about leaf characteristics and how leaves can be used to identify plants.
Objectives: Students will understand how leaf shapes, sizes, and other characteristics vary from plant to plant.
Subject Areas: Science, Visual Arts
Grades: K-4, Enrichment: PreK-8
Optional resources:

Name that Tree

student leaning on desk with spruce branches writingOverview: Students can identify trees by observing, twigs, bark, seeds, fruit, leaf shape, and overall tree shape.
Objectives: Students will identify several trees using various physical characteristics.
Subject Areas: Science, Physical Education
Grades: 2-8
Optional resources:

Picture This

pie chart showing the diversity of lifeOverview: Students learn about the diversity of life on Earth by looking at different pictures of plants and animals from around the world.
Objectives: 1) Students will categorize similarities and differences between organisms, and 2) make the connection between diverse organisms and the divers environments in which they live.
Subject Areas: Science, visual arts, math
Grades: K-1 (Part A) and 1-5 (Part B)
Optional resources:

Plant a Tree

student holding a pine seedling on a planting holeOverview: Never underestimated the power of a tree! Besides giving us an amazing array of paper and wood products, trees provide a host of other benefits – from shading our backyards to assisting in the maintenance of the global climate. Students can express their appreciation of trees by planning and carrying out their own tree-planting project.
Objectives: Students will 1) identify ways that urban trees enrich our lives, 2) determine how people care for urban trees and identify areas in the community that would benefit from having more trees, and 3) organize and execute a class tree-planting project in a local area.
Subject Areas: Science, Social Studies
Grades: 1-8
Optional resources:

Planet Diversity

boy and girl holding leaves and pine coneOverview: Students observe and describe, in minute detail, all the life they find in a small plot of land, and become more aware of the diversity and abundance of life on Earth.
Objectives: Students will 1) investigate the diversity of plants and animals on a small plot of land, 2) compare their data with others in the class to conclude what factors influence diversity, and 3) explain the value of diversity of life forms in a particular ecosystem.
Subject Areas: Science, Social Studies, Language Arts, Visual Arts
Grades: 4-6
Optional resources:


student drawing of a treeOverview: Writing and sharing poems give students an opportunity to express their thoughts, values, and beliefs about the environment and related issues in creative and artistic ways.
Objectives: Students will 1)express their points of view and attitudes about the environment using various forms of poetry and 2) analyze their own and other people's poetry to discover its full meaning.
Subject Areas: Language Arts, Science, Social Studies
Grades: 3-8
Optional resources:

Renewable or Not

collage image of a oak trees, apple and plywoodOverview: Students learn which resources are renewable and which are nonrenewable, or which are recyclable or reusable. In this activity, students will learn what these terms mean and discover why sustainable use of natural resources is so important.
Objectives: Students will 1) identify and define renewable and nonrenewable resources and explain the differences between them, and 2) participate in simulations that demonstrate society's use of renewable and non-renewable resources to understand the factors that make a renewable resource sustainable.
Subject Areas:  Science, Social Studies
Grades: 4-8
Optional resources:

Resource Go Round

Overview: This activity gives students the opportunity to explore a variety of natural resources and products that people depend on every day. They learn about product life cycles, using a pencil as an example, and then research a specific product to find out the sources of its various components.
Objectives: Students will gain insight into the various sources of natural resources, the processes by which natural resources are turned into products, and the energy needed to make the products we use.
Subject Areas: Science, Social Studies
Grades: 4-8
Optional resources:

Schoolyard Safari

student holding magnifying glassOverview: Every organism needs a place to live (habitat) that satisfies its basic needs for food, water, shelter, and space. In this activity, students go on a safari to explore a nearby habitat – the schoolyard (or yard, park, or other outdoor space) –while looking for signs of animals living there.
Objectives: Students will 1) identify signs of animals living in the schoolyard, and 2) describe ways the school environment provides suitable habitat for animals living there.
Subject Areas: Science, Language Arts, Visual Arts
Grades: K-5
Optional resources:

Signs of Fall

red leaves of a dogwoodOverview: In temperate regions, people can observe the annual change of seasons. In this activity, students will look for signs of autumn. They will also try an experiment to discover why leaves of deciduous trees change color in the fall.
Objectives: Students will 1) identify and describe the signs of fall they observe outside, and 2) understand why leaves of deciduous trees change color in the fall.
Subject Areas: Science, Language Arts, Visual Arts
Grades: K-5 (Part A); 3-6 (Part B)
Optional resources:

Sounds Around

student outside in the winter writing on clip boardsOverview: Our ears are constantly being bombarded with sound—so much that we automatically "tune out" a lot of it. Some sounds are "music to our ears," while others can annoy us and even damage the delicate structures in our ears. This activity helps students "tune in" to the sounds in their environment and help them identify and lessen local noise problems. They also learn how different sounds in nature have inspired cultural stories.
Objectives:  Students will: 1) identify sounds and map their location in the environment, 2) explain how noise can be a problem in the community, 3) create and carry out a plan to lessen a local noise problem, and 4) study a Greek or American Indian myth about sounds in nature. 
Subject Areas: Science, Language Arts, Social Studies, Math
Grades: K-8
Optional resources:

Tale of the Sun/Star in the Cottonwood Tree

cut away of cottonwood tree showing a starOverview: Traditional stories reveal how things came to be in the natural world.
Objectives: Students will develop an understanding of how groups of people, or cultures, used stories to explain the natural occurrences around them.
Subject Areas: Language Arts, Science, Social Studies
Grades: K-6
Optional resources:

The Forest of S.T. Shrew

teacher reading to students outside in the winterSummary: By taking a "shrew's eye view" of life in the woods, your students will gain an appreciation for the variety of living things that make forests their homes, and for the variety of habitats within forests.
Objectives: Students will 1) identify microhabitats in the forest by drawing pictures or writing a story describing a microhabitat and 2) describe some of the plants and animals that characterize several microhabitats within the forest.
Subjects: Science, Language Arts, Visual Arts
Grades: 1-6
Optional resources:

The Shape of Things

Overview: We use our senses—touching, tasting, hearing, smelling, and seeing—to gather impressions of our environment. Our brains sort out the diversity of shapes, sizes, colors, and shapes that we see. Students will focus on the many shapes that are found in both natural and built environments.
Objective:  Students will identify common shapes appearing in natural and built environments.
Grades: K-3
Optional Resources:


Trees as Habitats

young boy hanging in a treeOverview: From their leafy branches to their tangled roots, trees provide a habitat for a host of plants and animals. In this activity, your students will inventory the plants and animals that live in, on, and around trees and discover how plants and animals depend on trees in many ways.
Objectives: Students will 1) describe ways animals and plants depend on trees for survival and, in turn, influence the trees, and 2) identify interrelationships between the organisms using a tree.
Subject Areas: Science, Math, Social Studies, Visual Arts
Grades: K-2 (Part A), Grades 3-5 (Part B & Variation)
Optional resources:

Tree Cookies

student hands on a tree cookieOverview: One of the best ways to learn about a tree is to look at its annual rings. Tree rings show patterns of change in the tree's life as well as changes in the area where it grows. In this activity, students will trace environmental and historical changes using a cross section of a tree trunk, or "tree cookie."
Objectives: Students will 1) identify heartwood, sapwood, and a tree's annual rings, 2) infer from a tree's rings what damage or stress might have occurred in its life, and 3) make a timeline of human history that coincides with a tree's rings.
Subject Areas: Science, Social Studies, Visual Arts, Language Arts
Grades: 3-8; Variation: 1–3
Optional resources:

Tree Factory

student drawing of a tree showing different parts of a treeOverview:  By acting out the parts of a tree, students will learn about the structure of a tree. They create a tree factory.
Objective: Students will understand the structure of a tree and how different parts of a tree help the tree function.
Grades: 3-6 (variation is K-2)
Optional resources:

Trees in Trouble

Overview: Like humans, trees can become weak and unhealthy, suffer injury, and die. Students can read symptoms of unhealthy trees by examining trees for signs of damage and poor health. They will also conduct a series of experiments to determine the conditions that may cause plants to become unhealthy.
Objectives: 1) Students will recognize symptoms of unhealthy trees and describe possible causes, and 2) perform investigations to determine the effects of crowding, acidic precipitations, or fertilizers on plant growth.
Grades: 1- 8 and 4-8 (part b)
Optional resources:


Tree Lifecycles

Overview: In this activity, students will discover that trees have a lifecycle that is similar to that of other living things. They will investigate a tree's role in the ecosystem at each stage of its life.
Objectives: Students will diagram the lifecycle of a tree to show their understanding of that lifecycle and the tree's role in the ecosystem throughout its life.
Subject Areas: Science, Language Arts, Visual Arts, Performing Arts
Grades: 4-8, and K-2 (variation)
Optional resources:

Watch on Wetlands

Overview: If a duck can paddle in it, it's a wetland. If a duck can waddle on it, it's not. If only wetlands could be defined as simply as this, wetlands issues and legislation would be less muddy. In this inquiry-based activity, students will conduct field studies in a local wetland, and learn how land use decisions and legislation affect wetland areas.
Objectives: Students will 1) investigate a wetland ecosystem and 2) analyze the issues and opinions relating to the management and protection of wetlands.
Subject Areas: Science, Social Studies, Language Arts, Performing Arts
Grades: 7-8
Optional resources:

Water Wonders

Overview: The water cycle is the system by which Earth's fixed amount of water is collected, purified, and distributed from the environment to living things and back to the environment. Through a game and an experiment, this activity will introduce students to the various steps of the water cycle and will help them make connections between the water cycle and all living things.
Objectives: Students will 1) describe the various components of the water cycle and the path a water molecule might take on its way through this cycle, 2) explain how the water cycle is important to living things, and 3) describe how plants affect the movement of water in a watershed.
Subject Areas: science, language arts, social studies
Grades: 4-8
Optional resources:

Web of Life

students in a classroom with yard across the room like a web.Overview: In this activity, students will take a close look at one particular ecosystem (a forest) and will discover the ways that plants and animals are connected to each other. By substituting the appropriate information, you can also use the activity to study other ecosystems, such as oceans, deserts, marshes, or prairies.
Objectives: Students will 1) collect information about various organisms in an ecosystem, 2) create a mural that depicts the interdependence of various organisms with other components in an ecosystem, and 3) create a simulated web of life using a ball of string.
Subject Areas: Science, Language Arts, Visual Arts
Optional resources:

We All Need Trees

Overview: Students are often surprised to learn how many different products we get from trees. Use this activity to help your students learn just how much we depend on trees in our daily lives.
Objectives: Students will 1) examine various products and determine which ones are made from trees, and 2) describe ways that trees are used to make products and ways that these products can be conserved.
Subject Areas: Science, Social Studies, Visual Arts, Language Arts
Grades: K-1 (Part A) and Grades 2-6 (Part B)
Optional resources:

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