Kindergarten Inquiry: Investigating Leaves

Peggy Winchell, Hiawatha Community School, Minneapolis, MN, loosely based on activities from Project Learning Tree and Project Wild workshops.
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During these activities, children will investigate leaves by using the 5 Senses, simple observational tools, playing a game, making a class Leaf Matrix and recording drawings and notes in a science notebook.

Learning Goals

Learners will compare similarities and differences of leaves.
Learners will describe, classify and draw leaves accurately.

Context for Use

This set of introductory activities is written for kindergarten but may be used in other elementary grades. These activities are designed to capture children's curiosity of the natural world. The intended outcome is for children to understand that science is the study of our natural world and that everyone can be a scientist by raising questions, using our 5 senses, recording information and thinking about how all things are related. The amount of time needed is dependent on the group of children and how much time you have available. The set of activities tries to build toward more learning.

Children should have prior knowledge or at least experience with the following:

  • Drawing and writing in science notebook
  • Using a hand-held magnifier
  • Using a "Looker" (This is a simple index card with a 1-2 inch diameter hole cut out for the observer to focus on patterns/designs/shapes, etc, in a much smaller section of an entire item. The observer places the card on the item being observed. The observer can only see a small portion and records just what is seen through the hole.)

* Note - Most Kindergartners are just beginning to draw, color, write letters, words. Oftentimes, children do not produce drawings, writings and recordings that are readily legible. Teachers need to model and make the recodings, writings, etc, available for children to see and use as a guide. The value is the process and not the best product.

Description and Teaching Materials


  • A box
  • Several leaves
  • Class set of baggies to store each child's leaf
  • Chart paper
  • Wall space for Science Word Wall, Charts and Leaf Matrix
  • Science Notebooks
  • Writing, drawing, coloring utensils
  • Leaf Book such as RED LEAF, YELLOW LEAF by Lois Ehlert


  1. Mystery Box - Place several different kinds of leaves in a box. Play 20 questions with the class. After the children have guessed the contents of the Mystery Box, take out 1 leaf at a time and have children make observations. Display leaves in pocket chart.
  2. Introduce BIG IDEA: Leaves are alike and they are different.
  3. Ask children, "What do you know about these things?". Record on a chart.
  4. Ask children to "THINK, PAIR, SHARE" about "What questions do you have about leaves?". Write questions chart for future lesson(s).
  5. Read a leaf book, for exampls, RED LEAF, YELLOW LEAF by Lois Ehlert. Discuss book. Ask "Are all leaves exactly the same?". Let's be a Leaf Detective and find out.
  6. Game - FIND MY LEAF In class, use small items to teach a game through a guided discovery. When children have learned how to play the game, go outside to play it.

    1. Make small groups of children (5-8 children in a group). Choose a leader in each group to facilitate groups.
    2. Outside find a tree with fallen leaves. Children sit in a circle. Each child chooses a leaf to study with a hand-held magnifier. After two minutes, children put leaves in the middle and the leader chooses someone to GENTLY mix up the leaves. Children take turns finding their own leaf.
    3. Game is played several times. ( Note- Children use the same leaf each time.)
    4. Children place a leaf in a baggie. Go back to class.
    5. Teacher leads a discussion about the FIND MY LEAF GAME. How did you know which leaf was your leaf?
  7. Let's take a closer look at your leaf.
    1. Re-introduce a "Looker". Model how to use it to focus on just one section of the leaf. Model how to draw just what you see through the hole, not the whole leaf.
    2. Pass out a "Looker" to each child. Have children draw their "Looker" observations in their science notebooks.
      * Note- This is a very difficult skill for children to not draw the whole leaf. Be encouraging as you try to help kids focus on just one part of the leaf.
    3. Have children share their notebooks and tell one observation about the leaf. Teacher records children's responses to use as formative assessment.
  8. Have each write name on leaf baggie. Make a Leaf Matrix with the shapes and sizes of leaves. Draw the Matrix Grid and staple baggie to correct spot. For example: LEAF MATRIX
    SizeLeaf Shape-TriangleLeaf Shape-CircleLeaf Shape-Oval
  9. Lesson Closure. Review activities. Ask the question, " How are leaves alike and different?". Record children's responses.

Teaching Notes and Tips

Science notebooks are a wonderful, teaching, learning and assessment tool.


1. Performance Assessment: Use the LEAF MATRIX as an assessment tool. Teacher asks each child to identify two leaves on the matrix that are alike and tell why. Repeat for leaves that are different. Responses are recorded.

2. Verbal Assessment: Analyze student responses from the notebook sharing activity or the lesson closure.

3. Written assessment: Have children draw 2 leaves that are alike and 2 leaves that are different. Note - this may not be the best assessment as some children may lack fine motor skills and not be able to "Show What They Know" in writing.


These activities address the following Minnesota Academic Standards for Science:
Kindergarten - I. History and Nature of Science
B. Scientific Inquiry
Standard - The student will raise questions about the natural world.
Benchmarks - 1. The student wil observe and decribe objects using simple tools.

References and Resources