Life Science
Interdependence Among Living Systems

Natural systems have many components that interact to maintain the system.

Benchmark: Plant Needs

Recognize that plants need space, water, nutrients and air, and that they fulfill these needs in different ways.


Standard in Lay Terms 

MN Standard in Lay Terms

Plants need light, air, nutrients, and water, but each kind of plant is different, and the environment in which it grows also affects its needs.  Students will learn that a system is any group of parts that work together as a unit.

Big Ideas and Essential Understandings 

Big Idea

Students know light, gravity, touch, or environmental stress can affect the germination, growth, and development of plants.

It is relatively easy to change the appearance or growth patterns of plants by changing the conditions of growth.

Discussion of this standard can be tied to the discussion of the other two Life Science standards.

Benchmark Cluster 

MN Standard Benchmarks  Recognize that plants need space, water, nutrients and air, and that they fulfill these needs in different ways.

The Essentials


In this ZOOMScivideo segment, a cast member of ZOOM creates a self-contained biome and explores evaporation, condensation and precipitation.

Living Life as a Plant: Students explore how plants are well adapted to their surroundings.



NSES Standards:

Life Science; Content Standard C:  As a result of activities in grades K-4, all students should develop understanding of:

  1. The characteristics of organisms
  2. Life cycles of organisms
  3. Organisms and environments
  4. Organisms have basic needs. For example, animals need air, water, and food; plants require air, water, nutrients, and light.  Organisms can survive only in environments in which their needs can be met.  The world has many different environments, and distinct environments support the life of different types of organisms.

See this page.

AAAS Atlas:

Plants and animals both need to take in water, and animals need to take in food.  In addition, plants need light. 5E/P1 (ID: SMS-BMK-0295)

Most living things need water, food, and air. 5C/P2 (ID: SMS-BMK-0268)

Animals eat plants or other animals for food and may also use plants (or even other animals) for shelter and nesting. 5D/P1 (ID: SMS-BMK-0283)

See this page.

Benchmarks of Science Literacy

Plants and animals both need to take in water, and animals need to take in food.  In addition, plants need light. 5E/P1

See this page.

Framework for K-12 Science Education

All animals  need food in order  to live and grow. They obtain  their food from plants  or from other  animals.  Plants need water  and light to live and grow. 2LS1.C

Animals depend  on their surroundings to get what  they need, including food, water,  shelter, and a favorable  temperature. Animals depend on plants  or other  animals  for food. They use their senses to find food and water, and they use their body parts  to gather,  catch, eat, and chew the food. Plants depend  on air, water,  minerals  (in the soil), and light to grow. Animals can move around, but plants  cannot,  and they often depend  on animals  for pollination or to move their seeds around. Different  plants  survive better  in different  settings because they have varied needs for water,  minerals,  and sunlight. 2LS2.A

Living things can survive only where their needs are met.
If some places are too hot or too cold or have too little water  or food, plants  and animals  may not be able to live there.  2LS4.C


Student Misconceptions 

This article describes some common misconceptions that elementary students may have about plants.  It also includes suggestions for formative assessment and teaching for conceptual change.

Student misconceptions in this area focus on giving plants human characteristics.  The role of light and nutrients in plant growth seems to be especially difficult for elementary students.  According to misconception studies, elementary students tend to believe that food must come from outside an organism.

See this page.


Life science in the primary grades centers on students learning about the characteristics of organisms, their life cycles, and their environments. This lesson attempts to touch on all of those topics as an introduction to life science. Notice how the teacher works outdoors with his students, has them keep records, and introduces them to the skill of data collection.

In the fall, Mr. D. has groups of students adopt a tree on or near the school site.  Throughout the school year, students visit their tree regularly to observe and record visitors and changes.  They collect twigs and leaves, and make bark rubbings.  Simple picture keys are used to identify the trees, and the students read about their tree to find out what kinds of changes to expect and what kinds of animals may visit their tree.

By wrapping a string around the trunk of the tree, the students measure the circumference of the trunk and then make comparisons among their classmates' trees.  They estimate the height of their tree and make drawings of the tree as it changes throughout the year.  A scrapbook is kept by each group where they place their pictures, rubbings, leaves, and other artifacts and information they collect about their tree.

During the winter, they might see a squirrel eating the berries on the tree.  These kinds of events lead them to ask about food sources of squirrels and other animals during the winter.  In the spring, they eagerly anticipate changes in the tree as its buds swell, producing leaves and in some cases flowers and berries.  Mr. D. also has developed tree backpacks that the students take turns taking home throughout the year.  Some backpacks include a book about trees, materials and instructions for making recycled paper, a bird identification guide, and other activities that students can do with their parents.  Other backpacks contain a tree identification guide and instructions for putting together a scrapbook of the leaves that students find in their neighborhood or other research-based publications.

(ref: SciMathMN Minnesota K-12 Science Framework, pp. 3-39)

While utilizing the tree is an excellent introduction, choose from the following ideas to extend this concept into the classroom:

  • Present real examples of nonflowering plants or plants without typical features (stem, leaves, roots).
  • Present examples of plants that grow in water without soil.
  • Have students germinate seeds with and without nutrients to observe the importance of nutrients in plant growth.
  • Have students grow plants in light and in darkness to observe the importance of light in plant survival.
  • Allow students to observe a variety of root structures and consider their functions.
  • Help students understand ways that plants are different from humans in form and function.
  • Plants have adaptations to help them survive (live and grow) in different areas. Adaptations are special features that allow a plant or animal to live in a particular place or habitat.  These adaptations might make it very difficult for the plant to survive in a different place.  This explains why certain plants are found in one area, but not in another.  For example, you wouldn't see a cactus living in the Arctic.  Nor would you see lots of really tall trees living in grasslands.  Click on this link to see the different biomes or areas to learn about them and some of the adaptations plants have to live there.

Mindfully use language to promote correct understanding. For example, avoid the use of words such as "food," "eat," "drink," and "breathe" when discussing plants.


Instructional Notes 

Suggested Labs and Activities

Squanto's Science Lesson

Students participate in a hands-on science activity that proves what a great help Squanto was to the early settlers.  They plant seeds, water one plant with water, water the other plant with water and a fish emulsion supplement for plants.

Light Plants, Dark Plants, Wet Plants and Dry Ones

Students plant sunflower seeds in plastic cups, and once germinated; these are exposed to different conditions of light levels and/or soil moisture contents.  After a few weeks, students compare the growth of plants exposed to the different conditions.

What do Plants Need to Grow?

Using a variety of seeds, students will discover that in order to grow healthy plants, they must provide soil, water, light and air.

Form and Function

In this lesson, students begin to understand that plant survival is dependent on structures and their functions. 

Hey, We Need That!

Students observe plants that are deprived of their vital resources.  Students then learn the necessity of keeping these resources clean and what they can do to help.

Interactive sites for K-2. Fun for students yet full of useful resources for teachers.

The Needs of Living Things

In this lesson, students watch video clips of animals and plants in their natural environment, to gather evidence that all living things have basic needs that must be met in order to survive.

Instructional Resources 

Instructional suggestions/options

Living Life as a Plant

Students explore how plants are well adapted to their surroundings.

Investigating Local Ecosystems

Students investigate the habitats of local plants and animals.  They will  explore some of the ways animals depend on plants and each other.  Includes access to online field journals and more.

Invent A Plant

Students construct models of plants that are adapted to living under specific environmental conditions.

Choose from some of these fun facts on plants to share with your class:

  • Orchids are grown from seed so small that it would take thirty thousand to weigh as much as one grain of wheat.
  • The Mexican Jumping Bean is not a bean.  It is actually a thin-shelled section of a seed capsule containing the larva of a small gray moth called the jumping bean moth (Laspeyresia saltitans).
  • Trees do not have life expectancies like humans.  Some in California are believed to be four-thousand years old or more.  How can trees live so long? The simple answer is that they're not as complex as people.  So, as long as conditions are right, trees continue to live and grow, until something interrupts it.
  • Carrageenan is a common ingredient in ice cream and toothpaste.  Carrageenan is seaweed.  A purple, edible seaweed, also known as Irish moss, that's found along the coasts of Northern Europe and North America.
  • Bamboo can grow up to three feet in a 24-hour period.
  • Oak trees do not have acorns until they are fifty years old or older.
  • There are an estimated 285,000 species of flowering plants on earth compared to 148,000 for all other plants.  Flowering plants are very important because they provide food for herbivores - plant-eating animals - and for humans.
  • The squirting cucumber (Ecballium elaterium), when brushed by a passerby, ejects its seeds and a stream of poisonous juice that stings the skin.
  • The Saguaro Cactus, found in the southwestern United States doesn't grow branches until it is 75 years old.
  • Lightning keeps plants alive.  The intense heat of lightning forces nitrogen in the air to mix with oxygen, forming nitrogen oxides that are soluble in water and fall to the ground in rain.  Plants need nitrates to survive, so without lightning, plants could not live.
  • An ear of corn averages 800 kernels in 16 rows.  A pound of corn consists of approximately 1,300 kernels.  One hundred bushels of corn produces approximately 7,280,000 kernels.  Corn is produced on every continent of the world with the exception of Antarctica.
  • The telegraph plant of Asia has leaves that flutter constantly, even when there is no breeze.
New Vocabulary 


Air: air is the part of the Earth's atmosphere that living organisms breathe.  Context: Plants use carbon dioxide in the air and return oxygen.

Interact: to act together or towards others or with others.  Context: Observing a terrarium is a wonderful way for children to observe plants interacting with their environment.

Nutrients: chemicals that an organism needs to live and grow.  Context: Most of the nutrients that a plant needs are dissolved in water and then taken up by the plant through its roots.

System: any group of parts that works together as a unit.  Context: It aids in flower and seed production and in the development of a strong root system.

Water: the liquid that descends from the clouds as rain, forms streams, lakes, and seas, and is a major constituent of all living matter.  Context: Without water or with too much water, a plant dies.

Technology Connections 

This is an excellent site that contains a wide range of resources, games, and activities all having to do with plants.

Promethean/SMART board activities:

Plants (SMART notebook)

Explore plants by labeling, life cycle activities and reading comprehension.  Very interactive for students with multiple learning styles.  See this page.

Plant Needs (SMART notebook)

This activity explores what a plant needs to grow.  Click and dragging skills are employed to reinforce learning.  The summary focuses on writing a sentence to describe what a plant needs to grow.  Cross-curricular with Language Arts.

Plant Needs (SMART Table activity pack)

Use the SMART Table to identify what plants need.

All About Plants (SMART Notebook lesson)

A review of plant parts and their jobs, needs, life cycle, deciduous or evergreen, plant products, and plants and animals as partners.

Daily Science (SMART Notebook lesson)

This is a short review of plants.  You can begin this unit with a plant movie about parts of plants and the needs of plants using United Streaming.  This notebook presentation begins with a review of plant parts and plant needs and then has a short assessment piece.

Helping Plants to Grow (flip chart)

In this unit, children learn about what plants need to grow well and why that is important.

Plants flip chart

Teaches the basic needs of plants and the parts of a plant.

Basic Needs flip chart

This is a PreK - 4th grade combined flipchart on the basic needs and adaptations of plants and animals.

Cross Curricular Connections 


Number and Operations

Demonstrate mastery of addition and subtraction basic facts; add and subtract one- and two-digit numbers in real-world and mathematical problems.  Solve real-world and mathematical addition and subtraction problems involving whole numbers with up to two digits.

Geometry and Measurement

Understand length as a measurable attribute; use tools to measure length.  Understand the relationship between the size of the unit of measurement and the number of units needed to measure the length of an object.  For example: It will take more paper clips than whiteboard markers to measure the length of a table. 



Participate in shared research and writing projects (e.g., read a number of books on a single topic to produce a report; record science observations).

Social Studies:

1. US/World History

1. Historical Thinking

1. Historians organize the past into chronological units of time.

Use and create calendars to identify days, weeks, months, years, decades, centuries, and seasons; use and create timelines to chronicle personal, school, community, and world events.


Additional resources

Food Chain Game

In this outdoor game, learners role play populations linked in a food chain.  The more "animals" (learners), the merrier in this active game.

What's Wild?

In this activity (pages 7-8 of the PDF), learners will create a food web and explore food sources for different organisms. 

What do Plants Need to Live?

These sites focus on the things plants need to live.  There are video clips, animations, experiments, and lesson plans to understand what plants need to live and grow.          


Assessment of Students

  • Create a garden habitat that will attract and provide shelter for birds and butterflies. Research and plant appropriate flowers.
  • Students draw pictures of their homes and an animal's habitat.  Discuss differences and similarities (e.g., type of materials used to build each shelter).        
  • Explore and describe the effects of light and water on seed germination and plant growth.
  • Design and construct a habitat for a living organism that meets its needs for food, air, and water.
  • SMARTboard Assessment: Use the Senteo interactive response system to test knowledge about what plants need to grow.

See this page.

Assessment of Teachers

  • Identify the ways a habitat provides an organism's basic needs (plants require air, water, nutrients, and light; animals require food, water, air, and shelter).
  • Plants need air, water, soil, and light.  Discuss what happens when plants are deprived of one of the things they need.
  • Give an example of a biome and explain how plants might interact within it.


Struggling Learners 

Struggling and At-Risk

The most important modification of this concept would be giving these students extra time to complete the activities.  They could also create less detailed drawings and could orally report their findings.

English Language Learners 

Label plant needs and pre-teach the vocabulary.

This is an excellent site for printable worksheets.

Extending the Learning 
  • Present examples of plants that grow in water without soil.
  • Have students germinate seeds with and without nutrients to observe the importance of nutrients in plant growth.
  • Have students grow plants in light and in darkness to observe the importance of light in plant survival.
  • Allow students to observe a variety of root structures and consider their functions.
  • Help students understand ways that plants are different from humans in form and function.
  • This booklet includes activities that children can do to find out more about plants, focusing on ways that children can grow their own plants.  Several of the activities are set out as investigations, to support children developing their approach to investigations in a scientific way.  See this page.

Educators have often overlooked cultural beliefs and perspectives in science education, however recent research emphasizes the importance of recognizing diversity in the science classroom.  Recognizing diversity facilitates a more active learning experience for the student because it emphasizes understanding in terms of different perspectives rather than just learning the facts.

The Multicultural Resource Center has a variety of resources available to support multicultural science instruction.  Consider borrowing our musical instruments to investigate the study of sound, using sand paintings and sculptures to illustrate geological properties, or butterfly paintings for biology.  See this page.

Edible gardens help children learn about plant growth.  Cities used to be able to feed themselves by growing their own food.  Food plants can be grown to represent students' countries of origin in multi-cultural gardens.  See this page.

Special Education 

Provide your special need students with detailed directions for each step of the experiment, check their work after they finish, and distribute instructions for the next step.

Plan to do science experiments in class whenever possible.  This will help all your students, but especially special needs students.  Children learn best by doing.  They remember better when they are involved in the lesson.


Classroom Observation 


Administrators might see students outdoors, observing one or more local ecosystems, such as a schoolyard, backyard, neighboring lot, or local pond. The students will count and record the number of living things that they encounter in this area. They then will draw or write about the living things that they observe. In addition, students will describe (in words and/or pictures) at least two ways living organisms interacted in the outdoor area they observed.


School Projects on Biosystems

Teaching children about the world around them is a vital part of their education as they learn how plants and animals interact to survive.  See this page.

Plant Lesson Plans

Giving Time-Teaching Skills for Life

A variety of plant lessons for parents and their children.  See this page.