Keywords: dendrology, simple, compound, alternate, opposite, entire, toothed, lobed, deciduous, coniferous; Lesson Plan Grade Level: ninth through twelfth grade; Total Time Required for Lesson: one class period; Setting: This lesson is meant to be a follow-up to a lesson on the basic terminology and concepts necessary for dendrology. Students should be taken to an area that has a variety of different tree species

Goals for the Lesson

  • Students should be able to work together in teams of three to four to find examples of leaves that meet the criteria determined by the instructor. For younger students these can be kept relatively simple and may include only one characteristic; for older or more advanced students the list may include multiple characteristics.

Materials Needed

  • Teacher-made list of what students are to look for (one per team)
  • pruning shears (to prevent damage to trees from students ripping off branches; one per team)
  • Optional: Common Trees of Pennsylvania or other reference material

State Standards Addressed: Renewable and Nonrenewable Resources (4.2)

Teaching Model: Experiential Learning

Dimensions of Learning: Dimension 3: Classifying; Dimension 4: Investigating and Decision Making

Subject Covered: environmental agriscience

Topics Covered: classifying and categorizing tree specimens


  • This lesson assumes a basic knowledge of leaf characteristics such as simple, compound, opposite, alternate, whorled, pinnate, palmate, entire, lobed, toothed, toothed and lobed, deciduous, coniferous, etc.
  • Instructor may review some of these concepts at the start of the lesson possibly using the kinetic learning approach to leaf arrangement discussed in another lesson. Since I utilize this as a team event, I normally keep the review to a minimum. This allows the students to work together to recall the terminology and reinforces whether they actually retained the information in a meaningful way.
  • Make sure to remind the students that they need to bring back at least three leaves whether we are dealing with a simple or compound leafed specimen. I try to warn them not to bring three leaflets from a compound leaf.
  • Note: I have taught this for 25 years and just picked up a helpful hint during the Forest Resources Institute for Teachers "FRIT" course: Teach students to look for a bud between the main stem and the petiole. There is never a bud between the petiole and a leaflet of a compound leaf.
  • Set up the parameters of the scavenger hunt. Give the students 15 minutes.
  • Hand out the scavenger hunt papers and a pair of pruning shears for each group. Remind them that they will have to be able to go down through the scavenger hunt list and show each specimen when they return. Tell them they will receive a quiz grade on this activity and that each person on the team will receive the same grade, so they need to work together. Give them some guidance on not nipping off the terminal bud on a young seedling and to use the shears to get a clean cut rather than tearing off a branch. Keep in mind that using the same area with a large number of groups that are not careful about collecting their samples can create some problems.
  • When the students return to the designate area, ask them to lay out their samples in order. Allow them to use the same sample for multiple answers as applicable, but that is up to the individual instructor.
  • Read down through the scavenger hunt list in order and ask them as a team to show each sample. Give them one point for each correct answer.


The actual scavenger hunt can be the evaluation tool or you may do a follow-up quiz on the concepts. I often do both. I normally take the samples students have collected back to school and use them in subsequent quizzes.


PA Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, Bureau of Forestry. Common Trees of Pennsylvania . 8100-BK-DCNR 1906. (Available for free through your County Service Forester.)


Appendix A: Sample Dendrology Scavenger Hunt Page

Appendix B: Sample Dendrology Scavenger Hunt Page

Appendix C: Basic Dendrology Terminology Handout

Appendix D: Sample Quiz on Leaf Arrangement


Bob Lauffer, Garden Spot High School