Tree Leaves: Determining the Characteristics They Share in Common

Keywords: simple, compound, alternate, opposite, whorled, entire, toothed, lobed, deciduous, coniferous; Lesson Plan Grade Level: ninth through twelfth grade; Total Time Required for Lesson: 1 or more periods (repetition is good to check understanding and retention); Setting: This lesson is intended to be a way of reinforcing knowledge gained in the basic dendrology units. It can also be an excellent way of evaluating retention of and understanding of basic dendrology principles.

Goal for the Lesson

  • Students will be asked to use their basic knowledge of dendrology concepts and terms in a new way.

Materials Needed

  • variety of leaf samples

State Standards Addressed: Renewable and Nonrenewable Resources (4.2)

Teaching Model: Marzano's Dimensions of Learning: Dimension 3: Extending and Refining Knowledge (comparing, classifying); Concept Attainment

Subjects Covered: agricultural science, dendrology

Topic Covered: basic dendrology


  1. Cover basic tree identification and proceed as follows.
  2. Give students a list of the characteristics for which they will be checking for commonality. It may be helpful to run through one sample group as a class before you proceed the first time you introduce this concept. You can have students try it themselves or in small groups and then go over it as a large group so that they can see how it is to be done.
  3. Be sure to tell them not to consider leaf arrangement (i.e., alternate, opposite or whorled) for needlelike leaves
  4. Be sure to tell them how many characteristics they should be looking for that all of the species in the sample share in common. (You may later modify this to make it more challenging if you wish).

    For example, if you lay out a white pine, a red pine, and a red spruce and don't tell them how many characteristics they should find, the average student will tell you they are all pines and that they are all coniferous. If you tell them they only have one characteristic in common, they are more likely to come to the correct response that they are all coniferous.

If you show them an ash and a hickory, the students should note they are both deciduous and compound.

If you show the students a number of different maples, they may be thinking these are simple, deciduous, and opposite. If you add an oak to the mix it now shifts to deciduous and simple. If you remove the oak and add an ash we are now looking at deciduous and opposite.

See appendixes for sample score sheet for other ideas. Try throwing in the astern larch to keep them on their toes since it is a deciduous conifer.

  1. Assemble samples and predetermine the groupings and number of characteristics each group will have in common. Modify quiz sheet appropriately.


This lesson is evaluative by nature. The basic evaluation tool for determining the characteristics that a specified group of tree leaves have (or do not have) in common with one another goes along way toward extending the thought processes of the student from the basics of leaf identification.


Appendix A: Dendrology Basics 

Appendix B: Sample Dendrology Quiz 

Appendix C: Sample Dendrology Quiz 

Appendix D: Sample Characteristics in Common Quiz


Bob Lauffer, Garden Spot High School