Track a Plant's Movement

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 activity, students monitor the position of plants to find out whether or not they change position in response to a change in sunlight. By measuring the distance from a leaf to a sunny window, students can generate data to prove plants move toward the sun. The effect of gravity on plant movement is also explored in a related activity.

Intended Audience

Educator and learner
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 is explicitly designed to build towards this performance expectation.

Comments about Including the Performance Expectation
Students conducting this investigation explore the movement of plant leaves in response to a change in the direction of sunlight. After collecting data demonstrating leaf movement toward a sunny window, they should have some evidence to support a claim that increasing exposure to sunlight has a survival and growth benefit for the plant, so the ongoing reorientation of the leaves maximizes this exposure. The details of the process of photosynthesis are beyond the assessment boundary at this grade level.

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
Recording the distance plants move toward the window provides evidence for a claim that answers the question: Do plants move? PDF and editable Word versions of a Plant Movement Data Sheet are provided to record the distance of a selected leaf from the window over time. This could be expanded to record vertical and/or horizontal movements as well. Students could also design their own follow-up investigations to test the plant movement along different axes, or the effects on plant movement of other variables they choose.

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
Students should be encouraged to consider how and why plant movement provides a better chance of survival and better growth potential by maximizing leaf exposure to the sun or ensuring roots and stems grow in the proper direction during germination. A linked video exploring the growth of plants in micro-gravity in the International Space Station should be viewed. Many other videos can be found online by searching “plant tropisms” to provide evidence, additional information, or inspire questions for discussion or further investigation.

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
This lesson is focused on phototropism, the movement of plants towards the sun. Phototropisms allow plants to maximize sunlight exposure on their leaves by orienting them towards the sun, allowing them to produce more glucose through the process of photosynthesis. Students could be asked to identify various plant structures labeled on a diagram of a plant similar to those being investigated by the class and write about or discuss their functions. Teachers should be sure students understand that the various parts being considered are substructures of the complex organism.

Resource Quality

  • Alignment to the Dimensions of the NGSS: Students conducting this investigation are engaged in making observations and collecting data as they measure the changing distance of a plant’s leaves from a window in response to sunlight. They could also design additional investigations of their own to answer questions like whether the leaves also move vertically or horizontally, or if there are other things that affect plant movement (movement due to changes in gravitational direction when a plant is tilted is offered as an extension, and a link to a time-lapse video is embedded). They might also investigate other questions of their own. The investigation might be initiated by posing a question such as “How do plants respond to the changing location of the sun?” A fascinating video about cucumber tendrils is linked near the beginning of the activity, but this provides so much information that it would be better used later after students have been encouraged to make sense of the phenomenon they have explored on their own. The first minute of the video has many brief examples of plant movement and might be shown, possibly without sound, to encourage exploration of why plants move. The teacher will need to be explicit in connecting the observed phenomenon to the plant’s growth and survival needs, and in encouraging the understanding of the how plant substructures function to contribute to the plant’s survival.

  • Instructional Supports: Students engage in inquiry as they study plant movement in the classroom, but they could also use plants in their own household to extend their learning. Background information is provided for the teacher, and there are links to videos that offer support for students struggling with the phenomenon as well as extension ideas. These include scientist interviews and scenes of experiments being conducted. Specific supports for students reading below grade level or English language learners are not provided.

  • Monitoring Student Progress: This Science Friday activity is targeted at the home learner, so no assessment is provided. The data sheet would allow the teacher to assess student engagement in the practice, and it can be customized to allow for more frequent or extended data collection points than suggested in the instructions. It could also be enhanced by the addition of formative or summative assessment questions. Prior the the lesson the teacher could ask students to respond to the prompt: "Do you think plants can move? Explain your thinking." This could also be done in science notebooks. For use in the classroom, the teacher might add questions in a Claim-Evidence-Reasoning format, and these could be scaffolded as needed to differentiate for varying levels of ability.

  • Quality of Technological Interactivity: Other than viewing videos linked in the activity, this resource does not include a technologically interactive component.