Subject: Science
Topics: The four things plants need to survive
Duration: Three, 20 minute activity periods. Allow for four
weeks of plant growth for student's observations
Red Bullet Lesson Materials
Red  Bullet Student Worksheets  
Red  Bullet Full Unit Plan     
What Plants Need to Grow | Print |  E-mail


  • Students will learn about the things that plants need to grow and the plant parts associated with it.  
  • Students will match pictures to printed words about the four things plants need to grow.


  • Color cards (one sheet of blue "water"; one sheet of yellow "sun"; one sheet of white "air"; and one sheet of brown "soil". Laminate cards if possible).
  • Four cones to create boundaries
  • Watering can
  • Flats for planting seeds
  • Radish seeds
  • Toothpicks
  • Soil
  • Ruler
  • Small potted plants (to show students roots)


  • Early Fall or early Spring

Group Size

  • Whole class

California State
Content Standards

L.S. 2.e

Plants need water, air, nutrients, and sunlight to grow. The energy from sunlight is used to chemically change water and carbon dioxide (air) into sugar. This process is called photosynthesis. A waste product from photosynthesis is oxygen. Water is also essential for a healthy plant cell to function. Plants need nutrients to perform metabolic processes. They get nutrients through the soil. They are absorbed through their roots and transported through the plant’s vascular system (the xylem and the phloem).


Nutrients: things we get from the food we eat that helps our bodies grow and stay healthy. Plants also need nutrients to grow. They get their nutrients from the soil.

Attention Grabber

Introduce the idea that plants need 4 different things to grow. Show them a picture of the 4 things. Have the students say what each of those things are together as well as a hand or body motion. Review these items a few times together. Ask for a raised hand to share which of those things do people NOT need (directly) to grow- the sun!

Garden Activity

Part 1- Play the Card Game

·    Create a boundary for students to play in. It should be large enough for everyone to have space, but also small enough so that some students need to be close together.
·    Have some students help demonstrate how to play the game. You will throw the colored cards out at randomly inside the boundaries. When you say “go”, students will pick up 4 different colored cards: 1-yellow (sun); 1-blue (water); 1- brown (soil); 1 white (air)- without moving their feet. (Explain that since the students are plants, they cannot move). Ask students if they know what each color represents and have them share with the group. Record what each card represents on a board.
·    Once they’ve picked up the 4 cards, they can hold it up. If they were not able to pick up all 4 colors, they did not survive to the next round and can help you collect cards. (Make sure you have enough cards for students to survive at least the first 2 rounds).
·    Ask students to put their cards in their pocket to show you they are ready for the next round to begin. Continue playing until there is only 1 winner. 

Part 2- Help the plants grow!

Divide the students into 3 groups and have them rotate:
·    “Air”- Give plants air by blowing on their leaves.
·    “Nutrients”- Plants get their nutrients through the soil. Have students take a small handful of soil and gently place it around the base of the plant. Be sure to model this for the students so the leaves do not become covered with soil.
·    “Water”- Have a watering can available and full. Help students water a plant. Count to 5 to encourage students to give the plant enough water.
Note: It is a good idea to also mention that plants needs sunlight, although we’re not having a “sun” group because we’ll let the sun do its own work.

Part 3- Sun Experiment (Optional)

·    Have students help plant radish seeds in small flat. You will need two flats. Help students space out the seeds by having popsicle sticks, or something to mark where the last seed was placed, and a ruler to measure where the next seed will go.
·    Place one flat in a sunny place. Place the other in a dark closet
·    Have students help water both flats. Make sure they get equal amounts of water.
·    Watch each flat grow and compare. You can transplant the flat that has been in the sun with students in the garden.


Wrap Up & Assessment

·    Review with students the 4 things plants need to grow and why the plants in the closet didn’t grow (if you did the experiment).
·    Review the 4 things while doing the hand motion and noises.
·    Ask students to keep track of how many times you say the things plants need while reading the story. Have students remain seated at their desks while you read. Show students how to keep track of by keeping a tally.
·    Have students add to their Plant K-W-L chart what they learned.

What’s Next?

·    Create an experiment similar to the one above, but this time you experiment with water. Both flats will be in the sun, but only water one of the groups of plants to show students what will happen (or what won’t happen!). Have students predict what they think will happen to the different groups of plants.
·    Students can continue to apply what they’ve learned by planting a sun sensitive plant in a pot. Marigolds are a good example. Students can observe the plant growing towards the sun. Turn around the pot and watch the plant grow in the opposite direction, towards the sun.

Download Materials

Student Worksheet