Keywords: trees, identification, leaves, summer; Grade Level: eighth and ninth grade (high school); Total Time for Lesson: Two 43-minute classes; Setting: Woodworking Area and Forest Area

Concepts to Be Covered

  • Each tree has its own name.
  • You need to know how to identify trees if you want to explore each tree's individual traits and uses.
  • "Dendrology" is the science of tree identification.
  • Trees have a common name and a scientific name. We will use the common name in this lesson.
  • Leaves are the most common identifying trait of a tree.
  • Coniferous trees retain their needles (or leaves) all year, but deciduous trees drop their leaves in the fall.
  • Some trees have simple leaves. Some trees have compound leaves.
  • Some leaves have opposite branching and others have alternate branching.
  • Some leaves have serrated leaf margins and others have lobed leaf margins.
  • Some trees have single needles and others have clustered needles.
  • Identification charts called keys are used to identify unfamiliar trees.

Goals for the Lesson

  • Students will be able to explore the differences between trees.
  • Students will be able to recognize the word "dendrology."
  • Students will learn that the most common identifying trait of a tree is the leaves.
  • Students will learn that some trees have needles and some have leaves.
  • Students will see the difference between compound leaves and simple leaves.
  • Students will see the difference between opposite arrangement and alternate arrangement.
  • Students will be able to use a summer key to identify trees.

Teaching Model: Focus-Explore-Reflect-Apply

Subjects: Technology Education, Science


"Today's lesson concerns the identification of trees. We are going to learn how to use a summer key for the trees of Pennsylvania. There will be certain characteristics that you will have to recognize in order to use this key. The first part of the lesson will be in the classroom and the rest will be done outside along the nature trail."

Activity 1: Focus

This activity is adapted from Trees + Me = Forestry and Summer Key for Pennsylvania Trees.


All students will receive a handout concerning leaves and their attributes. They will contain drawings of alternate and opposite branching, compound and single leaves, and single and clustered needles.

Lectures and drawings will be used to explain the differences between the leaves. Each student will be given a copy of the pamphlet Summer Key for Pennsylvania Trees . The students will use the pamphlet to identify the trees.

During the lesson, the class will be divided into four different groups. The students in these groups will work together when the class is outside.

Activity 2: Explore

Each Person from each group will review all their handouts.

Whenever the class is outside, each of the four groups will stay separated. The students within the group can and should work together to find leaves from different trees.

The students will collect at least five different leaves from five different deciduous trees. The students should collect both a simple and a compound leaf. The students should collect one opposite arrangement leaf and one alternate arrangement leaf.

Activity 3: Explore and Reflect

This part is done inside the building. The students must mount the leaves on a piece of paper in order to show them to the class. Each group will present their leaves to the class.

Their presentations will include the name of the leaf, and how the students used the key to determine the correct name.

Activity 4: Apply

The process of identifying leaves will give the students an ongoing appreciation of variations in trees and types of lumber. Hopefully, this will spark a life long interest in trees and the environment.


The students will collect and identify the leaves and present them to the class.


Examination of leaves is one of the easiest ways to identify trees in the summer. More experienced people who have studied trees are able to identify trees through bark, buds, twigs, growing conditions. If this interests you, this may be a possibility for choosing a college course in forestry.


Hansen, Robert S., and James C. Finley (1996). Trees + Me = Forestry . University Park, Pa.: The Pennsylvania State University.

Hansen, Robert S., Sanford S. Smith, and James C. Finley (1999). Advancing in Forestry . University Park, Pa.: The Pennsylvania State University.

Smith, Sanford, and Paul Brohn (1999). Summer Key for Pennsylvania Trees . University Park, Pa.: The Pennsylvania State University.


Frank Stumpf, Moshannon Valley School District