MnSTEP Teaching Activity Collection > MnSTEP Activities > Tree Leaf Identification and Leaf Display Activity

Tree Leaf Identification and Leaf Display Activity

Rebecca Hansing, Phalen Lake Elementary School, St. Paul, MN.
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In this Biology field activity, students will collect tree leaves and (seeds if possible) to make an identified collection after drying in a plant press, phone book, or drying in magazines.

Learning Goals

Students will be able to note distinguishing characteristics of leaves (lobed, toothed, simple, compound, etc) using a Dichotomous Tree Key.




-Simple (not divided into leaflets)

-Leaves opposite

-Leaves alternate.
Students will work together to identify leaves correctly. They will also work to make their own leaf display. They will learn that leaves have distinguishing characteristics, and what to look for when identifying leaves.

Context for Use

This activity can be done at various grade levels K-12, but will need to be modified accordingly. I have chosen grade 5 and up for teaching how to read a simple Dichotomous Tree Key. Make sure the key is local and contains trees at your collection site. Also be sure to have other books/posters available with photos of the trees and leaf samples. You might want to set a limit on number of trees students collect from depending on your time constraints.

Subject: Biology
Resource Type: Activities:Classroom Activity, Field Activity
Special Interest: Field-Based Teaching and Learning
Grade Level: Middle (6-8), Intermediate (3-5)
Theme: Teach the Earth:Enhancing your Teaching:Teaching in the Field

Description and Teaching Materials

1. Go for a tree leaf and tree seed collection walk. Make sure to help students note the difference between a tree and a shrub. As they are collecting, have them work in pairs to note where the tree is, the approximate size, and take other notes such as if the leaves alternate or opposite on the branch, and make they collect the entire leaf (some leaves have leaflets) to where it connects to the woody branch.
2. Have students place leaves (a couple from each tree) inside their magazine. The color seems to keep and it is easy to keep organized with names on magazine.
3. Have students identify the leaves right away by using a sticky note to put the name of the tree on the page where they have the specific leaves.
4. Put the magazines in a plant press or place some heavy science books on top of the magazine. Allow to dry 1 week or so. Students will then make an organized collection. Laminate or have students tape down the leaves and seeds to paper.
5. Students will label the leaves from the identified trees. Laminate or cover leaves neatly with clear wide mailing tape.
6. Have students share thier tree leaf collections during a gallery walk.

Teaching Notes and Tips

Make sure your students understand the expectations for collecting leaves and the purpose before heading outside. Show an example of activity so students are aware of what they are expected to do. Have them work with a partner they are familiar with, and make sure they have some background knowledge about trees, and dichotomous tree keys before heading out. Make sure they have their name on the magazines and that they collect at least two nice leaves from each tree (if working in pairs).


Assess how students work cooperatively on this assignment. See that they are identifying the leaves correctly using the Dichotomous Tree Key. The final product should show understanding of organization, correct information and labeling of different tree leaves.


Grade 5 Minnesota Science Standards
A. Scientific World View
The student will understand that communication is essential to science.
1. The student will know that current scientific knowledge and understanding guide scientific investigation.
2. The student will recognize that clear communication of methods, findings and critical review is an essential part of doing science.

E. Biological Populations Change Over Time
The student will know that biological populations change over time.
1. The student will recognize that individuals of the same species differ in their characteristics and that sometimes the differences give individuals an advantage in surviving and reproducing.

References and Resources