Identification of Playground Trees

Key Words: Opposite-leaves, Alternate-leaves, Whorled-leaves, Margins, Entire Margins, Lobed Margins, Toothed Margins; Grade Level: 4; Time Required: 50 minutes; Setting: Classroom and Playground

Subjects:  Science, Social Studies

Topics:  Tree Identification Based on Leaf Patterns


The students will use a key to correctly identify a variety of trees found bordering the school playground.


1 Summer Key for Pennsylvania Trees for each group of three/four students, pencils, science journals, (optional) clip boards, (optional) digital camera, (optional) pruning sheers, 1 vocabulary handout per student,  (optional) Electronic version of Tree Identification Handout projected on screen

State Standards: 

3.1.4.A Know that natural and human-made objects are made up of parts.

  • Identify and describe what parts make up a system.
  • Identify system parts that are natural and human-made (e.g., ball point pen, simple electrical circuits, plant anatomy).
  • Describe the purpose of analyzing systems.

3.1.4.C  Illustrate patterns that regularly occur and reoccur in nature.

  • Identify observable patterns (e.g., growth patterns in plants, crystal shapes in minerals, climate, structural patterns in bird feathers).
  • Use knowledge of natural patterns to predict next occurrences (e.g., seasons, leaf patterns, lunar phases).

3.2.4.B  Describe objects in the world using the five senses.

  • Recognize observational descriptors from each of the five senses (e.g., see-blue, feel-rough). 
  • Use observations to develop a descriptive vocabulary.

3.3.4.A  Know the similarities and differences of living things.

  • Know that some organisms have similar external characteristics (e.g., anatomical characteristics; appendages, type of covering, body segments) and that similarities and differences are related to environmental  habitat.

3.6.4.B  Know that information technologies involve encoding, transmitting, receiving, storing, retrieving and decoding.

  • Demonstrate the ability to communicate an idea by applying basic sketching and drawing techniques.


Review the vocabulary for the FOSS model thus far.  The students have already learned about vein patterns in leaves. Now they will learn how patterns found in trees can help them identify the types of trees found in Pennsylvania.  Hand out and project the Tree Identification handout.  Have the class look at the handout and think about the properties of each example.  Have the students Think, Pair, Share what they believe are the identifying structures.  Using class discussion, guide the students to the correct definitions for each vocabulary word.  The students will record these definitions in the box that contains the appropriate vocabulary word.

Divide the class into small groups of 3-4 students.  Have the students gather their equipment; science journals, pencils, clip boards, and key.  The teacher should bring the camera and pruning sheers.  Have the students gather outside at one of the trees.  Demonstrate how to use the key to identify the tree.  In the demonstration have the students follow along using their own keys.  Choose another tree.  This time have the students try together to work through the key’s questions and answers.  After a few successful tries, have the students break into their groups.  Each group is responsible for identifying at least two trees.  The students will need to sketch a branch and a leaf in their journal for each tree that they identify using the key.  Remind students that they will need to label their observations using the appropriate vocabulary words.  While the groups are at work, the teacher will rotate around to the different groups photographing the trees that they are working with and possibly providing students with a small branch to work with.  The teacher will provide support when students are having difficulty answering the questions in the key as well as encouraging students to create very detailed observations. 

When there is about 10 minutes left, have the students gather as a large group with their branches either outside, or back at the classroom with the digital camera displaying the trees that were studied.  The students will share their findings and use the appropriate vocabulary to support their findings. 


The teacher will evaluate the students’ use of the key as well as key vocabulary while groups are attempting to identify trees.  Students will also demonstrate their understanding of key vocabulary during class sharing of findings.  The students will turn in their journal observations.  Each observation should have:  large, detailed illustrations of leaves and branches, leaves should be labeled as pinnate, palmate, or parallel, leaves should also be labeled as entire, lobed, or toothed, branches should be labeled as opposite, alternate, or whorl. 

Literature/Sources Cited

Summer Key for Pennsylvania Trees:  provided by 4H through Penn State


Christina Gugliocciello, Bald Eagle, (Grade 3, 4, 6, and Reading)