MnSTEP Teaching Activity Collection > MnSTEP Activities > Compare and Contrast deciduous and evergreen tree leaves to aid in tree identification

Compare and Contrast deciduous and evergreen tree leaves to aid in tree identification

Elizabeth Baker-Knuttila
Century Elementary School
501 Helten Ave.
Park Rapids, MN. 56470
Author Profile


In these biology-environmental ed. lessons, first grade children will observe differences in tree leaves leading them to an understanding of the terms deciduous, evergreen, and coniferous. Children will compare and contrast leaves and then, viewing a chart key, use what they know to help them identify 3 common deciduous trees and 3 common coniferous trees. Extensions of the lesson into the areas of art and writing are also given.

Learning Goals

1. Students will compare and contrast 6 leaves, 3 deciduous, 3 coniferous.
2. Students will draw the 3 leaves of each kind after sorting them into two groups based on similarities.
3.Students will learn a basic definition of the terms evergreen, coniferous and deciduous.
4. The students will use what they have learned about these leaves to look at a chart key to identify the kinds of trees each leaf comes from.

Context for Use

These activities will be used as a part of a first grade science curriculum centered around developing an understanding of and appreciation for nature in our surroundings. The lessons will be from 20 minutes to 30 minutes in length and continuing for about 1 week.

Subject: Biology
Resource Type: Activities:Classroom Activity
Grade Level: Primary (K-2)

Description and Teaching Materials

6 sets of leaves for the following trees; White Pine, Jack Pine, Norway (Red) Pine, Oak, Birch, and Aspen sorted into 6 baggies, one per group.

Book: A Tree is Nice, by Janice May Udry

Chart displaying leaves of 6 trees along with the names and pictures of the entire tree. If possible, include the bark of the tree or photos of the tree's bark.
Book: The Important Book, by Margarite Wise Brown
Crayons and sketch paper
Poetry on charts and individual copies

Day 1-Observation of tree leaves:

Introduction: Begin by reading the children the book: A Tree is Nice, by Janice May Udry, copyright 1956.

Divide the class into groups of 4 students. Each group will be given a bag with 6 different tree "leaves". Each group will also be given one hand lens per child and one sheet of paper folded and divided into 6 sections.

Ask the children to look at the leaves and be able to tell how they are alike and how they are different. Allow about 3-5 minutes for observation.

Draw observation time to a close after 3-5 minutes. Call on groups to tell 1 way the leaves are alike or different. Record comments on chart drawn on the board.

-Make food for trees
-Grow high up in the tree Some fall off the tree in the fall, some don't
-Texture, soft or prickly

Can you sort the leaves into 2 groups? Why did you sort them into those groups?

Hopefully they will have sorted into 2 being the kind of leaves that remain on the trees all year, and the other the kind that fall off the tree in fall. Guide children to that sort if they have not done it in that manner. Explain that those 2 groups have different names. Leaves that fall off the trees in the season of fall are on what are called, deciduous trees. Leaves that look more like needles and stay on the trees all year around are called evergreen (trees that remain green all year) and most are coniferous trees.....coniferous meaning cone-bearing.

Deciduous: Falling off at a certain season or stage of growth; leaves, teeth, deer antlers,
Evergreen: Trees having green leaves throughout the year, including most conifers.
Coniferous: A tree which bears it's seeds in cones.

Day 2-Looking closely at deciduous leaves and conifer needles:

If all of the leaves were the same, trees would all look the same. We look at the differences in tree leaves and also tree bark to identify, or tell which kind of tree it is.
So, we look at their differences to tell us what kind of tree it is.

Looking just at the deciduous leaves: How are they different?

-Different shape
-Different sizes
-The edges of the leaves are different.
-The veins in the leaves have different patterns.

Look at the chart which has a leaf sample, bark or a picture of the bark, and a photo of the tree. Using that chart, can you figure out what kind of tree each of your deciduous leaves came from. Guide students to the identification of the Birch, Aspen, and Oak trees.

Allow for discussion and time to look at the chart.

Now let's look at the "leaves" or needles from the coniferous trees.
How are they different?

Length of the needles.
Number of needles in a group.
The feel of the needles; soft, sharp, or prickly.

Again, allow the children to look at a chart which has a sample of each of the needles, along with a picture of a tree and of the bark. Guide them to the identification of the Red Pine (Norway), White Pine, and the Jack Pine.

As a culminating activity for the lesson allow the children to make a rubbing of one kind of leaf with crayons and paper asking them to label the leaf with the correct tree name.

Day 3-Writing about the importance of trees in our life:

I would begin our lesson on this day reading the children the book, The Important Book, by Margarite Wise Brown. I would ask the children to draw a tree on story paper and then complete a sentence about a tree: First we would brainstorm all of the ways in which trees are of value and useful to people. I would list those on the board for a spelling reference for the children.

The important thing about trees is:___________________________________________.

The children's individual pages could be bound into a classroom book, The Important Thing about Trees. activities']

Teaching Notes and Tips

I have not done this activity before with students and I anticipate some difficulty in using the chart to help in tree identification. It may be advisable to make small charts and have enough available for each group to have their own. I googled the most common deciduous and evergreen trees in my area and printed the most recognizable photos in the making of my chart. I also selected a leaf or branch specimen to put with each picture. If a piece of back or photo of the bark could be attained that would be most helpful.


As I teach first graders I am not concerned with a formal assessment. However, I could ask children individually to identify 6 leaves, and to define the words deciduous, evergreen and coniferous.
A power-point slide show could be done with photos of the trees studied and asking the children to choose from the six species listed on an answer sheet for each one. They could be asked to draw a picture to define each of the terms: deciduous, evergreen, and coniferous.


Grade 1: I. History and Nature of Science: B. Scientific Inquiry; 1. The student will observe, describe, measure, compare and contrast common objects, using simple tools including but not limited to ruler, thermometer and balance. (hand lens)
II. Physical Science: A. Structure of Matter; 1. The student will describe objects in terms of color, size, shape, weight, texture.

References and Resources