Seed Dispersal

Mpala Wildlife Foundation
Type Category
Instructional Materials
Experiment/Lab Activity , Lesson/Lesson Plan
This resource, vetted by NSTA curators, is provided to teachers along with suggested modifications to make it more in line with the vision of the NGSS. While not considered to be “fully aligned,” the resources and expert recommendations provide teachers with concrete examples and expert guidance using the EQuIP rubric to adapted existing resources. Read more here.



In this series of activities, students collect and observe different types of seeds and hypothesize about how they might be dispersed. They also investigate the design of seeds that use a helicopter method of wind dispersal, which offers an opportunity for a design challenge.

This is Lesson 3: Seed Dispersal, from Unit 3 (How Plants Work) in a series of units on plants, animals, and ecosystems. It includes many NGSS correlations for disciplinary core ideas, crosscutting concepts, and science and engineering practices for the lessons, but not all are addressed explicitly in this lesson. Some are more fully addressed in other lessons or would need to be further developed by the teacher. 

Intended Audience

Educational Level
  • Upper Elementary
  • Grade 5
  • Grade 4
  • Grade 3
Access Restrictions

Free access - The right to view and/or download material without financial, registration, or excessive advertising barriers.

Performance Expectations

4-LS1-1 Construct an argument that plants and animals have internal and external structures that function to support survival, growth, behavior, and reproduction.

Clarification Statement: Examples of structures could include thorns, stems, roots, colored petals, heart, stomach, lung, brain, and skin.

Assessment Boundary: Assessment is limited to macroscopic structures within plant and animal systems.

This resource appears to be designed to build towards this performance expectation, though the resource developer has not explicitly stated so.

Comments about Including the Performance Expectation
This lesson on seed dispersal extends concepts introduced in Grade 2 and includes two separate investigations. Investigation 2 provides an opportunity for students to examine seeds collected themselves or provided by the teacher and hypothesize about the mechanism of seed dispersal.

Science and Engineering Practices

This resource was not designed to build towards this science and engineering practice, but can be used to build towards it using the suggestions provided below.

Comments about Including the Science and Engineering Practice
Investigation 1 of this lesson provides a template for students to make a "whirlybird" that models a double-samara type of seed. Although it is suggested that students try to improve the design and compare different versions to extend the lesson, there is no guidance for the teacher to manage a comprehensive design challenge. Teachers could provide materials, create constraints of various kinds, and provide or suggest creation of data tables to record results in order to develop the design aspect of the lesson further. Teachers might show students a variety of winged seeds after the construction of their initial prototype, then re-engineer them based on their observations of their whirly bird and the new information they now have about winged seeds. Trials could be conducted using a fan to simulate wind dispersal over a distance to determine which whirly bird travels the farthest.

This resource appears to be designed to build towards this science and engineering practice, though the resource developer has not explicitly stated so.

Comments about Including the Science and Engineering Practice
This lesson focuses on constructing an explanation about seed dispersal methods based on observation of different seeds. The teacher would have to steer observations and explanations toward an understanding of the relationship of structure to function.

Disciplinary Core Ideas

This resource appears to be designed to build towards this disciplinary core idea, though the resource developer has not explicitly stated so.

Comments about Including the Disciplinary Core Idea
Investigation 2 concentrates on methods of seed dispersal, but the teacher should encourage students to focus on how the different external structures of the seed serve different dispersal functions.

Crosscutting Concepts

This resource appears to be designed to build towards this crosscutting concept, though the resource developer has not explicitly stated so.

Comments about Including the Crosscutting Concept
Along with directing students to focus on how seed structures relate to methods of seed dispersal, the teacher can build toward this concept by helping students to understand seeds as having internal substructures (embryo, storage tissues) and outer structures that aid is dispersal (barbs, wings, etc.). The seed should also be presented as one substructure of the plant as a whole.

Resource Quality

  • Alignment to the Dimensions of the NGSS: In Investigation 1, students are provided with background information about seed dispersal. If less background were provided, students could have a chance to make sense of phenomena, relate structure and function, and evaluate different seed dispersal methods themselves. Placing Investigation 2 before Investigation 1 would help to accomplish this goal. The resource list many NGSS standards as being addressed, although most of them not explicitly in this lesson. More opportunities could be provided for students to express, clarify, justify and represent their ideas to more fully address the dimensions of the NGSS.

  • Instructional Supports: The instructional supports for this lesson are fairly limited, but the lesson is part of a series of five units comprised of 46 lessons focused on plants and animals and their habitats. Support is lacking for differentiated instruction, although animated examples of seed dispersal methods can be accessed by following the link provided in Investigation 2. Although this is not a text-based lesson, this could benefit those with reading difficulties or English language learners. An extensive list of links, a glossary, and references can be accessed through a Teacher Resources link. A template is provided for making the "whirlybird" for Investigation 1. Teachers could also find short videos online showing examples of various seed dispersal methods, similar to this one -

  • Monitoring Student Progress: Pre- and Post Assessments suggestions are provided, but they primarily ask for students' prior knowledge at the beginning, and again at the end of the activity as a post-test. Students are asked to hypothesize how seeds might be transported, but if their ideas recorded and illustrated in Science Notebooks during the investigations, their work would provide some formative assessment.

  • Quality of Technological Interactivity: Although it links to a series of brief animations of seed dispersal methods and provides links to other websites, this resource does not include a technologically interactive component.