MnSTEP Teaching Activity Collection > MnSTEP Activities > Plant Field Study: Adaptations of Plants for Survival in Different Environments

Plant Field Study: Adaptations of Plants for Survival in Different Environments

Diana Magner
Hill City Elementary
Hill City, Minnesota
Based on a lesson in Macmillan McGraw-Hill science textbook , grade 5, Chapter 2 – Plant Structure and Functions, Lesson 3 – Roots, Stems and Leaves
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In this field lab, students investigate plant adaptations by observing plants in different environments (water plants, trees, grasses, moss, and shrubs). Students then compare the plants to show similarities and differences. A class discussion will help the students learn about the adaptations plants need in order to survive in different environments.

Learning Goals

Students will observe plants from different environments to determine similarities and differences.
Students will explain how certain physical properties of plant parts help a plant survive in its environment. Vocabulary discussed will include: shrub, moss, adaptation.
Key concepts: Plants are adapted to live in different environments. These adaptations help a plant get the food, water and other things it needs to survive.

Context for Use

This lesson is a 5th grade introduction to a unit on plant structure and how plant adaptations. Students have already completed a unit on the five kingdoms of life and are aware of how living things are classified in the plant kingdom. Students have been using science notebooks and have had practice with observation techniques including sketching. Students also have learned about the concept of adaptation and how living things adapt to their environments. This introduction would be approximately two class periods, each an hour in length. It involves a field study where students will be going to a setting where a variety of plant environments are present. Plants from different environments (i.e. cactus, water plant, etc.) could be brought into the classroom if a school forest isn't available.

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

Description and Teaching Materials

Lesson Introduction – Discuss question, "What do plants need to survive?" Display list. Show students photographs of a variety of plants from different environments including cacti, trees, flowering plants, pond plants, ocean plants, etc. Discuss similarities and differences in how they get food, water, etc. Record in science notebooks.

Field Study – Break class into six groups. Give each group a specific type of plant to study: water plant, tree, flowering plant, grass, moss, or shrub. Each group member should find a specific plant in his/her category and do some observations. They should record 10 observations, and include a labeled sketch. Students should meet back with their groups and share their observations with group members. Each student should create a t-chart in his/her notebook, showing similarities and differences in the group's type of plants. After discussion, each student should answer this question, "How is _____________ (type of plant) adapted to where it lives? Each group should then prepare to present their findings to the rest of the class using chart paper.

Class Discussion – Each group will share the information they have gathered. Discuss with the class the different adaptations plants have for living in different environments. Students should record in their notebooks three adaptations they have discovered.

This activity is adapted from an introductory lesson in Macmillan McGraw-Hill science textbook, grade 5, Chapter 2 – Plant Structure and Functions, Lesson 3 – Roots, Stems and Leaves.

Teaching Notes and Tips

Teachers may need to help students find plants in the specific categories (i.e. water plants). They should also be sure students are observing and sketching a plant that is in their category. During the comparison discussion, it might help to focus student observations to specific plant parts (roots, stems, leaves).

In the past, I have introduced this unit with the activity in the book – photographs of three different plants are observed and a worksheet was filled out to show the students' answers to specific questions. This new adapted activity is more inquiry based with students observing plants in the environment right outside our school.


The teacher will assess the students by looking at the science notebook and group presentation. Can the student identify plant adaptations? For a final assessment, students will be given a photograph of a plant from a specific environment. They are to list 3 adaptations of the plant to its environment.


Life Science Standard
Living things are diverse with many different characteristics that enable them to grow, reproduce and survive.

References and Resources