MnSTEP Teaching Activity Collection > MnSTEP Activities > Inquiry: How herbs change based on growing conditions

Inquiry: How herbs change based on growing conditions

Colette Kastner, Glen Lake Elementary School, Minnetonka, MN
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In this inquiry investigation, students will use basil to see if growing conditions will change the taste of the herb. Students will test basil in different growing conditions while also comparing it to a controlled variable. Students will keep a science journal of their investigation. Also, students will create a poster and lead their own poster session about the results of their investigation.

Learning Goals

Students will develop a testable question related to the growth of basil/ herbs. The investigation of the taste of basil will help to develop writing skills by recording the findings of the investigation. It will also help develop inquiry skills by having children create questions and then also find ways to test their questions. The students will also have to use math skills to develop charts or graphs to share the findings of their investigations on a poster.

cause and effect
controlled variables
independent variables

Context for Use

This lesson is to be used in an elementary classroom setting.

This is a project that will be completed over 2 weeks of class time. For this specific activity, students will need 2 class periods of 45 minutes to create a testable question, a materials list, and a process for investigating. Once the investigation is set-up, students will need 5 minutes every day for 1-2 weeks to record their findings. On the final day, students will need 50 minutes to create their poster and have a poster session.

Items that would be useful would be a grow light, a variety of planting materials, basil plants, journals, and other items that students request.

You could also alter this to be a classroom investigation.

Subject: Environmental Science, Biology
Resource Type: Activities:Lab Activity, Classroom Activity
Grade Level: Intermediate (3-5)
Theme: Teach the Earth:Course Topics:Environmental Science

Description and Teaching Materials

Lesson Introduction:
Materials needed:
Magnifying glass
Magi scope
Piece of paper
Plants-dill, cilantro, basil, mint (enough of each for 6 groups)
Knife (dull)

Students will observe different qualities of herb plants. The students will look at mint, basil, cilantro, and dill. They will observe their taste, scent, leaf texture, height, and the appearance of the plant as a whole. Students will observe herb plants at grown states and will record information on a chart they create. As a class, we will then talk about how herbs are used to flavor foods.

Main Activity:
Materials needed:
Poster paper
Basil plants (enough for 3 replicates for 3 investigations for each group)
Grow light
Because the questions are being created by the children, I will not know all the materials needed for the investigations. I will get the materials by getting them from my classroom or school. If they are not available at school, I will see if I have it at home, or if the children can bring it in. If they can't, I will guide the students to a different item for their investigation.

Once students have learned about herbs, I will then ask students what they notice about how the herbs are grown. I will then pose I wonder questions to get the students thinking about testable questions.
Examples of questions: I wonder how the taste of basil will change if you grow it in the dark? I wonder how the taste of basil will change if you grow it in M & M's? I wonder how the taste of basil will change if you hydrate it with orange juice?

Then the students will have time to create their own 'I wonders.' The students will then share their questions/ wonders. After they have shared, then the kids will get into groups of 2-3 based on their questions. After students are in groups, they will create a group testable question. Once they have created their question, they will need to make a materials list. After their materials list is created, they will need to decide a process for testing their question. The next day, students will set-up their investigation. Once the investigation is set-up, students will journal about their plant findings for 8 days. On the last day, the students will create a conclusion based on their findings. The students will create a poster sharing what their question was, how they set-up their investigation, and also what they concluded.

Students will have a poster session, so they can look at what other students did and also answer questions students have for them.

Teaching Notes and Tips

Once students have brainstormed types of investigations that they would like to make, then have the students get into interest groups of 2-3 to investigate the same question.

Make sure that the materials list by the children are gathered 2-3 days in advance to provide you time to get the materials needed. Also, put a limit on materials if they are not practical or safe. I have not done this lesson with students but I have done similar explorations that are less guided. The hardest thing is that when students do the experiment they will request numerous items. To help get materials, you can ask parents or local nurseries for donations in advance. Also, you can put a limitation on the materials by providing a list of materials that are available to the students.


  • Teacher observation of students asking "I wonder" questions that are relating to the question of how the taste changes in basil
  • Students' ability to write a plan of how they will answer their questions
  • Interview students about their way of creating a way to answer their "I wonder" question
  • Assess student's research findings in their notebook

For ESL students in my classroom, they will be able to work in groups to be able to foster their language skills surrounding inquiry and science. They will also be able to work with other students to create their plan. They may also draw pictures to represent the steps they will be taking to answer their inquiry question.

  • Assessing final poster for Poster Session
  • Informally assessing how students are responding to the questions that other students are asking about their poster


4.I.B.-students will participate in a controlled scientific investigation (including benchmarks 1-3)

References and Resources