Where Do Plants Get the Material They Need?

Jennifer Sallas
Type Category
Instructional Materials
Lesson/Lesson Plan , Experiment/Lab Activity
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.



Over the course of lessons 4 and 5 (of a 14 lesson unit) students set up experiments comparing the growth of plants under different conditions, then observe their experiments over several weeks, recording observations along the way. Students later analyze and present their data before defending their conclusions with evidence. This resource is part of a fifth grade unit exploring transfer of matter and energy between organisms in an ecosystem.

Intended Audience

Educational Level
  • Grade 5
Access Restrictions

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

Performance Expectations

5-LS1-1 Support an argument that plants get the materials they need for growth chiefly from air and water.

Clarification Statement: Emphasis is on the idea that plant matter comes mostly from air and water, not from the soil.

Assessment Boundary: none

This resource is explicitly designed to build towards this performance expectation.

Comments about Including the Performance Expectation
Detailed instructions are provided for controlled experiments with the variables of air, water, sunlight and soil type that allow students to develop evidence to support an argument about what plants need for growth. To more fully address this performance expectation, the teacher might include another set of trials that eliminated soil from one of the set-ups so that students might begin to understand that air and water primarily provide the materials for the plants' needs. Other bundled PEs within the whole unit include 5-LS2-1 and 5-PS3-1. The resource also cites 3-5 ETS1-3, but it does not align well to this performance expectation. Plant height is used as evidence of growth, but height is not necessarily a good indicator of strawberry plant growth. A different variable to measure might be number of leaves or fruits, or recording plant height for a different plant with a tall growing habit might be used to provide more meaningful data.

Science and Engineering Practices

This resource is explicitly designed to build towards this science and engineering practice.

Comments about Including the Science and Engineering Practice
Students complete provided lab sheets formatted to become trifolds glued into their science notebooks. They could more fully address this practice if they had to plan their own experiments as an extension of this activity, possibly designing their own data collection tools as well. Three weeks may be too short for generating valid data.

This resource is explicitly designed to build towards this science and engineering practice.

Comments about Including the Science and Engineering Practice
At the outset of the lesson, students create a poster in small groups that records their predictions about what is important for plant growth. After collecting their data, they have an opportunity to compare their results with their original predictions, revise their thinking, and then present their findings to the rest of the class. The teacher might analyze the aggregate results with the class to emphasize the importance of larger data sets.

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
The experiments investigate plants’ needs, but do not explicitly confirm that plants get their material for growth chiefly from air and water. Having a plant grow without soil might stress the fact that air and water are essential, where soil is not. Testing using bromeliads or other hydroponic plants that need no soil would be a good additional set-up or extension to more fully address this core idea.

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
Students will likely understand the cause/effect relationship between plants that do not have their needs met and their failure to thrive, but this crosscutting concept should be made more explicit. The bundled performance expectations in this unit cover Matter and Energy in Organisms and Ecosystems, and they provide many opportunities to address this crosscutting concept.

Resource Quality

  • Alignment to the Dimensions of the NGSS: Students have an opportunity to make predictions based on prior knowledge and then conduct investigations to provide data to support or refute their ideas. They communicate evidence-based claims to each other to make sense of the data collected during their weeks of observing plant growth. This lesson could become more three-dimensional if a phenomenon were provided to spur student sense-making at the beginning of this activity.

  • Instructional Supports: In this lesson sequence, students present and revise their ideas before and after the investigation. As part of a more comprehensive unit bundling several performance expectations, these lessons cover a well designed learning progression, but they do not always make explicit connections to the crosscutting concepts. Part 2 includes making line graphs, and a detailed bar graphing lesson plan is linked within the lesson. A sheet provided has templates for three graphs, one for ea. trial. Teachers might consider using the average of the three trials or a triple line graph to combine the data into one graph. While some differentiation is suggested in other lessons in this unit, these two lessons concerning 5-LS1-1 offer no suggestions for support or extension.

  • Monitoring Student Progress: The teacher can assess student understanding through students’ posters, foldable lab recording sheets, and during group presentations. A poster and presentation rubric would be helpful. An overall assessment (with answer key and item analysis grids) is provided at the end of the 13 lesson unit. Items aligned with 5-LS1-1 on the key assess photosynthesis and plant parts, so there is no true assessment of the understanding covered in this PE.

  • Quality of Technological Interactivity: This resource does not include a technologically interactive component.