Tree species can be identified by looking at several different features: leaves, bark, twigs, flowers, fruit, and seeds. Even the overall shape of a tree can give clues to the tree’s identity. Students learn more about trees through these identifying features. Afterward, they can play an active game that tests their knowledge of different types of trees.
For the complete activity and more like this, purchase the Explore Your Environment: K-8 Activity Guide or the Trillions of Trees activity collection at Shop.PLT.organd/or attend aprofessional development training in your state.
Below are some supporting resources for this activity.
Expand your students’ learning and imaginations. Help students meet their reading goals, while building upon concepts learned in this activity, with the following children’s book recommendations:
- Welcome to New Zealand – A Nature Journal
Try a simple variation of this activity to engage children in the outdoors at home. Download this fun and easy-to-do family activity.
The following tools and resources may be used to enhance the activity.
- Indigenous Connections to PLT Activities
The Minnesota Department of Education includes Indigenous-based learning benchmarks in science, language arts, and social studies. Learn how the Minnesota DNR worked with tribes to adapt several PLT activities to include Ojibwe and Dakota culture and knowledge, and get some tips for teaching about Indigenous Peoples with knowledge and respect. Access the Ojibwe and Dakota PLT Lessons that connect students in grades K-8 to forests using Indigenous knowledge and perspectives.
- Video: How to Identify Trees, Part 1 and Part 2
“How to Identify Trees, Part 1 and Part 2.” Part 1 (9:08 minutes) introduces how to use bark, buds, and other clues to identify broadleaf trees in winter. Part 2 (6:54 minutes) introduces the leaf characteristics used to identify trees, such needles vs. broad-leafed, simple vs. compound, alternate vs. opposite branching, and so on, and how to use a dichotomous key. This two-part video is part of a series of BeLeaf It or Not! videos by Michigan State University Extension, which are geared for students.
- Video Demo: Looking At Leaves
In PLT’s Looking at Leaves activity, students take a closer look at leaves and find out more about leaf characteristics and how leaves can be used to identify plants.
- Watch this PLT Activity in Action: Looking At Leaves video (13 minutes). Danielle Ardrey, Colorado PLT Coordinator, demonstrates this place-based activity for families and educators to have children do in their own backyard to grow their STEM skills and environmental literacy. You can also read her tips for adapting the activity for virtual learning.
- Watch this Looking at Leaves Demonstration video (4 minutes) developed by Ashley Smith, Alabama PLT Coordinator.
- BeLEAF it or Not: How to Identify Trees
Learn about tree Identification in this “BeLEAF it or Not” video How To Identify Trees. Michigan foresters, Bill Cook and Georgia Peterson explain some identification characteristics of trees, such as bark, buds, fruits, and leaves. They also explain the Latin/two-part scientific names for living things that allow people throughout the world to communicate unambiguously about species. Intended for students in grades four through seven, the episode has an accompanying resource page.
- The Fresh Air App
Download theFresh Air – Hyperlocal Weather & NOAA Radar Map app to explore the weather around you using data from the U.S. NOAA Weather radar map. Visualize local temperature, precipitation, wind, and more with daily weather notifications.
- Desmos Graphing Calculator
Desmos creates digital math tools, such as this online graphing calculator that students can use for free. They also create activities and their Activity Builder helps teachers create digital math activities. Theonline calculator has many uses in science and math settings, from graphing functions, plotting tables of data, and evaluating equations, to exploring transformations and more. It is also available as a smartphone app. Read the Desmos blog for tips and ideas for using the calculator in the classroom.
- Go Plant a Tree!
In this short video from PBS Plum Landing, see how students work with a local arborist to plant a tree in their community. Underneath the video, you’ll find some simple conversation starting questions and additional resources to inspire your students.
- Identify Trees from Leaves
Leafsnap is a free app that uses visual recognition software to help identify tree species from leaf photographs you take in the field. Leafsnap currently focuses on tree species found in the Northeastern United States and Canada, but expansion is underway to include all U.S. regions.
- Tree Identification Guides
PLT staff like and use these Tree ID guides:
- The Science of Fall Leaves
The US National Arboretum has collectedonline resources on the science of fall foliage. Resources include “The Science of Color in Autumn Leaves,” which describes how and why leaves change color; an extensive photo gallery of trees in fall color; and a list of “Selected Plants Providing Colorful Autumn Foliage.”
- Tree Product Images
Print out pagescontaining many examples of everyday products from trees!
- Citizen Science Programs
Project BudBurst is a network of people across the United States who monitor plants as seasons change. Use Project Learning Tree activities to get your students outside, and use Project BudBurst to help them see how their seasonal observations about plants compare to those being made all across the country. In addition to collecting scientifically useful data such as first leafing, first flower, and first fruit, students will understand the impacts of changing climates on plants and their phenology. Project Learning Tree and Project BudBurst have partnered to introduce students to citizen science as the observations and data needed for Project BudBurst are an easy addition to PLT’s GreenSchools School Site Investigation, as well as many other PLT PreK-8 activities, especially “Bursting Buds,” “Looking At Leaves,” and “Signs of Fall.”
Project FeederWatch encourages students to periodically count the birds they see at feeders in their schoolyard, backyard, or other locations from November through early April and to send their counts to Project FeederWatch. Project FeederWatch is operated by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and Bird Studies Canada.
FrogWatch USA, the citizen science program of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, encourages citizens to help conserve amphibians by reporting the calls of local frogs and toads. Ongoing analyses of these data have been used to help develop practical strategies for amphibian conservation.
The USA National Phenology Network brings together citizen scientists, government agencies, non-profit groups, educators, and students to monitor the effects of climate change on plants and animals in the United States. This website includes a variety of educational materials and lesson plans.
- Parts of a Tree Activity Cards
Useful cards that describe the parts of a tree, the order to be acted out in, and the number of students needed. These cards can be printed and used as name tags during the activity.
A free app that can be downloaded onto Apple devices (SmartMeasure for Android). EasyMeasure uses the height of the camera lens and its tilt angle to calculate the distance to objects of your choice. Simply aim your mobile device at any object, and this app displays the distance towards that object on top of the camera image. Upgrades can be used to also calculate object height.
- YouTube Dendrology
Dr. Don Leopold, State University of New York’s College of Environmental Science and Forestry professor, has identified a total of 135 tree species on YouTube. These 2-minute, high definition videos briefly summarize how to identify each tree species, its ecological characteristics and importance, and communicate fun facts. While the list of native and non-native tree species is familiar to Northeastern landscapes, many western U.S. tree species are also covered. These vignettes are also all available for free on i-Tunes.
PLT’s Top 8 Socially-Distanced Activities
We’ve assembled a list of our top eight Project Learning Tree activities perfect for social distancing kids in Kindergarten through Grade 8.
Watching the seasons change can be an exciting time for students, especially if they live in a community with obvious seasonal changes! Use these lessons to foster curiosity in students wondering how some trees stay green all winter long and as a basis to learn about trees throughout the year.
Recommended Summer Reading for Forest Lovers
As the days stay sunny for longer, summer can be the perfect time for kids and adults to relax under their favorite tree and catch up on their reading lists. Explore some of our favorite all-ages books about forests and trees to connect with the natural world!
How Trees Survive Cold Winters
When temperatures drop and days get shorter, trees start to prepare for the cold of the winter. How do different kinds of trees adapt to the cold? Take a closer look at trees and get children to investigate the seasonal changes!