Resources Details

Sorting Plants by Structure and Appearance

This is a multi-activity lesson on plant classification that teaches students about the diversity of the plant world and about the many criteria on which plants can be sorted into categories. Students observe, compare, and sort plants and plant pictures, individually and in teams. An individual art activity using flowers encourages visual arts. Group plant-sorting activities and discussions stimulate students to ask questions and share their observations.

Key Concepts

Life Science, Plants, Classification


Multicultural Classroom Activities  View All »


2- 50 minute class periods




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Life Science

Resource Type

Extended Lesson Plan





You'll find additional information specific to this extended lesson plan below.

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More Info for this Extended Lesson Plan


Native American peoples historically have lived in close proximity to the natural world. Plants indigenous to tribal lands have always been significant in native cultures, as food, fuel, decorative objects and more. Because Native Americans live in greatly diverse environments, different tribes know different types of plants. Typical wild plants gathered for food included berries, roots, and tree bark. Some less-nomadic tribal groups planted and harvested food crops, particularly maize (Indian corn). Both edible and poisonous plants grow in the geographic regions occupied by the various tribes, so it was important for the food-gatherers to correctly group plants into safe and unsafe categories.

Plant and plant products are ubiquitous in our everyday lives. We eat plants, wear plant products, and use them for making paper, constructing buildings, and decorating our private and public spaces. Diversity among plant structures is impressive, from miniscule algae and mosses to stunning sequoia trees. Most of the plants familiar to us share certain structures -- that is, roots, stems, and leaves -- although appearances of these structures vary widely. Scientists sort, or classify, plants into a wide variety of official groupings based on visible and not-so-visible structures and characteristics.


The purpose of this activity is to give students an introductory understanding of the classification of plants into different groups. Students will observe plant diversity and learn about basic plant structures and how they can be used to sort plants into various groups. They will learn that there are different ways to group plants depending on the sorting criteria used. They also will learn that Native American peoples, who depended on a wide variety of wild and cultivated plants for food, needed to know which plants were edible and which should be avoided.


Ethyl Grant
Cultural Consultant - Blackfeet

My Name Is Ethyl Grant, Nickname: Sissy. I was born on the Blackfeet reservation I have lived here all my life. I am the mother of ten children and have 16 Grandchildren. I've worked in education for 19 years with Head Start. I have also worked part time as a sub in our public school system. I enjoy working with children.


Learner Outcomes

  • Recognize the great diversity of plant forms.
  • Identify basic differences in plant structures.
  • Realize that there are many ways to separate plants into categories.

Content Standards

  • Science as Inquiry Content Standard A: Abilities to do scientific inquiry
  • Life Science Content Standard C: The characteristics of organisms


  • Bouquets of mixed flowers (purchased at market; it is not recommended that students collect plants themselves as many can be poisonous)
  • Plant handouts—drawings of different plant types, each on a 1 X 2 inch piece of paper (one set per group of four children)
  • Blank sheets of paper, two per student
  • Paper paste
  • Yarn, cut into 2-foot sections and ends tied together to form circles (two per group of four children)
  • Clear contact paper, cut into 12 X 6 inch squares (two per child)
  • Glitter
  • Hand lens, optional (one per group of four students)

Lesson Procedures

  • Divide the class into groups of four students.
    • Give each group two circles of yarn and 8 to 10 flowers.
    • Instruct students to divide their flowers into two groups (categories) and place each group inside a yarn circle. Students might want to use a hand lens to look closely at the plants.
    • Have students remove flowers from the yarn circles and again divide the flowers into two groups, this time using different criteria.
    • Ask a team leader from each group to explain to the class how the group divided flowers each time. Record the student answers on the board.
  • Conduct a class discussion on the many ways you can sort flowers.
  • Give each group a set of the plant drawings.
    • Instruct students to divide the plant pictures into two groups.
    • Have a class discussion of how the pictures were divided by the student groups and whether they were divided in the same ways the groups divided the real flowers. Why or why not?
  • Give each student a set of plant pictures to sort into two categories. Tell students to paste each category onto a piece of paper, then write their name and reasons they sorted the pictures as they did on each piece of paper.
  • Divide the flowers equally among all students.
    • Ask students to divide their flowers into two categories and remove the stems.
    • Give each student two pieces of clear contact paper.
    • Tell students to peel back half of the paper backing on each piece of contact paper, so a sticky area roughly 6 x 6 inches is exposed.
    • Have students arrange their flowers on the sticky section, one category on each of the two pieces. Let students add glitter to their flowers, then remove the remaining paper backing and fold/press the other half of each contact sheet onto the flowers to create two floral "stained glass windows."
    • Tell students to write their name and how they grouped the flowers on the bottom of their floral art.
    • Tape the encased flowers to the classroom windows.


  • There are many types of plants and plant structures.
  • There are different ways to sort plants into groups/categories.


  • Student participation in class plant-sorting activity
  • Student participation in class discussions
  • Individual plant-picture sorting activity
  • Individual floral “windows”


  • Sort leaves into two categories and use them to do leaf rubs onto paper.
  • Press/dry leaves, sort them into two categories, and glue them onto separate papers.
  • Make art prints on paper using the real flowers used in the classroom sorting activity.
  • Discuss as a class what types of plants are growing in students’ homes and how the plants could be grouped into categories.


  • Classification -
  • Plant Anatomy -