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5th Grade Science Lessons on Plants

By Margo Dill

Fifth graders have been learning about plants since kindergarten or first grade when they most likely planted seeds in a paper cup and watched them grow. In fifth grade, they'll build on their knowledge to talk about photosynthesis, plant cells, plant life cycles, and how plants fit in ecosystems.

Plant Cells and Photosynthesis

With fifth grade lessons on plants, you can combine objectives, learning about plant cells and photosynthesis, so students can see how the photosynthesis process works to create food for the plant. With these lessons, it's best to start with the big picture and then teach students individual concepts.

  • Begin the lessons by building on prior knowledge and asking students how plants get food. Most students will remember that plants need water, carbon dioxide (or air), soil, and sunlight to grow. Then explain to them that the plant actually uses all of these materials to create its own food in a process called photosynthesis.
  • Explain how photosynthesis works using a chart and a real plant as a model. You can also pass out a worksheet with a diagram drawn on it for students to follow along and label as you talk about each part.
  • In these fifth grade lessons on plants, you will then discuss plant cells with students. If microscopes are available, you can have students look at plant leaves under a microscope and record or draw what they see before you discuss the plant cell parts.
  • To teach about plant cell parts to fifth graders, it will help to have a diagram and worksheet for students to view and label. The important part of the cell to point out to students, especially in combination with the photosynthesis lesson, is the chloroplasts in the plant cell. (Many teachers will also use this opportunity to cover the objective of the similarities and differences between a plant and animal cell.)
  • The important thing to remember is that students have an overall view of why the plant cells are important and how photosynthesis helps the plants grow. This way, they can connect the individual components--what a plant needs to make food, chloroplasts in the cells, and so on--to the larger science concepts they are learning.

Plant Life Cycles and Ecosystems

Some other fifth grade lessons on plants will focus on plant life cycles and how plants fit in food chains and food webs in different ecosystems. Again, you can use the strategy of teaching the big picture, and then teaching more individual concepts in-depth.

  • Pick an ecosystem where many animals rely on plants as food such as a forest. Discuss with students different food chains or food webs within this ecosystem and how plants play a part. You can also discuss what happens if plants start to disappear (such as too many trees being cut down in the rainforest).
  • Once students understand the interdependence of plants and animals, then you can discuss specific plants and their life cycles. For example, in a forest, you could discuss the life cycles of pine trees and ferns since they have two different ways seeds are stored and scattered for more plants to grow. You can also talk about how the animals in that ecosystem affect the plant's life cycle as many of them are responsible for pollinating the plants or scattering the seeds.
  • Once you have taught these concepts in fifth grade lessons on plants, ask students to create a project that displays the concepts you have worked on. A popular project is to create a diorama with a written explanation.