Researching to Build Knowledge and Teach Others: Trees are Alive | EL Education Curriculum

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Researching to Build Knowledge and Teach Others: Trees are Alive

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In this module, students, explore the big ideas that all living things in the natural world have needs in order to survive and grow and that, through observation, we can discern patterns in the ways that living things meet their needs. Through a close study of trees and the living things that depend on them, students take on the roles of researcher and scientist to make observations of the natural world. From those observations, they determine patterns that explain how living things live and grow.

In Unit 1, students learn what makes something living or nonliving, about different types of living things, and the common needs of all living things. They develop this understanding through research reading of the text What's Alive. Students also plan and conduct investigations (during module lessons and Labs) such as closely viewing various living things, caring for seedlings and observing what happens over time, and recording their observations in a Living Things research notebook.

In Unit 2, students focus on the needs of animals as living things and how trees help to meet those needs. Through a close study of the text Be a Friend to Trees, students engage in whole group and small group research on how trees provide food for animals.

In Unit 3, students build on their understanding of the needs of living things and further develop their research skills by researching a specific tree in small groups. During their small group research, students learns about the tree, its needs, and how it supports other living things' need for food. This learning culminates in a series of Science Talks designed for them to share their research findings. They then use their learning to create an informational tree collage, which includes a collage, informative writing, and an animal puppet. They revise their writing and collage and practice presenting their work in preparation for sharing it with families and friends at the end of module celebration. This performance task centers on CCSS ELA W.K.2, W.K.5, W.K.8 and the NGSS Standard K-LS1-1.

Module 3 also lays the foundation for the work in Module 4. In Module 3, students build deep knowledge about the scientific topic of living things, and trees, specifically. In Module 4, students then apply this knowledge in order to make a meaningful contribution to their community. Module 4 focuses on "contribute to a better world," and teaches students specific habits of character (e.g., applying their learning and using their strengths to help others grow) that will help them make a difference in the world around them. Refer to the Module 4 Overview for more information.

Since Module 4 content is based on Module 3, save students' Module 3 work so they can refer to it during Module 4 as needed.

Guiding Questions and Big Ideas

  • What do all living things need to live and grow?
    • All living things need food, water, air, and the ability to move and grow.
  • What do researchers do?
    • They try to find out more about ideas and information that make them curious.
  • How do we know that something is living?
    • It eats food, drinks water, breathes air, and moves and grows.
  • How do living things depend on trees to meet their needs?
    • Living things depend on trees for food, water, air, shelter, wood, and sap.
  • What patterns can we observe in how living things meet their needs?
    • All living things need food, water, air, and the ability to move; however, different living things may meet those needs in similar or different ways.

The Four Ts

  • Topic: Trees
  • Task: Informational Collage presenting information about students' researched trees.
  • Targets (CCSS and NGSS explicitly taught and assessed): W.K.2, W.K.5, W.K.8; K-LS1-1
  • Texts: Are Trees Alive?, Be a Friend to Trees, The Tree in the Ancient Forest, What's Alive?

Content Connections

This module is designed to address English Language Arts standards and to be taught during the integrated literacy block of the school day. The module also intentionally incorporates science content that many teachers across the nation are expected to address in first grade. These intentional connections are described below. (Based on your state or district context, teachers may also choose to address additional specific social studies or science standards during other parts of the school day.)

Science (based on NGSS):

  • K-LS1-1: Use observations to describe patterns of what plants and animals (including humans) need to survive.

Habits of Character / Social Emotional Learning Focus

Central to EL Education's curriculum is a focus on "habits of character" and social-emotional learning. Students work to become effective learners, developing mindsets and skills for success in college, career, and life (e.g., initiative, responsibility, perseverance, collaboration); work to become ethical people, treating others well and standing up for what is right (e.g., empathy, integrity, respect, compassion); and work to contribute to a better world, putting their learning to use to improve communities (e.g., citizenship, service).

In this module, students work to become effective learners by showing respect for themselves and others, collaborating with classmates, and showing perseverance to finish their research and Performance Task.


Each unit in the K-2 Language Arts Curriculum has one standards-based assessment built in. The module concludes with a performance task at the end of Unit 3 to synthesize their understanding of what they accomplished through supported, standards-based writing.

Performance Task

Informational Collage: Tree Experts

In this performance task, students create an informational collage to demonstrate their expertise about a tree, its needs, and the animals it provides food for. The collage contains three distinct parts: the tree collage, an informational writing piece that describes the tree, its needs, and shares information about one animal that depends on the tree for food, and an accurately colored animal puppet that represents the animal from their writing. Students use notes from their small group research to inform their writing, as well as the tree collage. They also use peer feedback to revise their writing and collage and practice presenting their informational tree collage in preparation for sharing them with visitors at the end of module celebration. Note: It is recommended that the teacher type students' writing into a paragraph and affix it to the final collage before the celebration. This task addresses CCSS ELA W.K.2, W.K.5, W.K.8 and the NGSS Standard K-LS1-1.


Refer to each Unit Overview for a list of any unusual physical materials required (such as puppets or props) for module lessons.

As students work in small groups, each student will need to be able to work independently with texts. Until all students in the group are confident independent readers, audio versions of the texts can serve as useful scaffolding. Teachers are encouraged to provide audio recordings of these texts whenever possible.

Texts and Resources to Buy

Texts that need to be procured. Please download the Trade Book List for procurement guidance.

Text or Resource Quantity ISBNs
The Tree in the Ancient Forest
by Carol Reed-Jones
One per Classroom
ISBN: 9781883220310
What’s Alive?
by Kathleen Weidner Zoehfeld
Six per classroom
ISBN: 9780064451321
Are Trees Alive?
by Debbie Miller
One per classroom
ISBN: 9780802788016
Be a Friend to Trees
by Patricia Lauber
One per pair
ISBN: 9780064451208


Each module is approximately 6-8 weeks of instruction broken into 3 units. The "week at a glance" chart in the curriculum map gives the big picture, breaking down the module into a detailed week-by-week view. It shows how the module unfolds, the focus of each week of instruction, and where the six assessments and the performance task occur.


Labs are 1 hour of instruction per day. They are designed to promote student proficiency and growth.

There are 5 distinct Labs: Explore, Engineer, Create, Imagine, and Engineer. Each of the Labs unfolds across an entire module and takes place in four stages: Launch, Practice, Extend, and Choice and Challenge.

During their Lab time, students break up into smaller Lab groups and go to separate workstations (tables or other work spaces around the classroom). This structure creates a small collaborative atmosphere in which students will work throughout their Labs experience. It also supports the management of materials (since each workstation has its own materials).

Connections to the Labs

Labs continue to provide students with an engaging, hands-on place to build habits of character, literacy skills, and module related content understanding. There are four Labs for the third module: Create, Explore, Imagine, and Engineer. The Labs are directly connected to the content of the module and should be implemented alongside the integrated lessons.

Labs for this module focus on having students:

  • Collage different kinds of plants and plant parts
  • Explore the class garden using their senses and a variety of tools
  • Imagine themselves as different plants and animals, and represent these living things through movement
  • Practice drawing different stages of plant growth to create a storyboard that models the life of a plant
  • Build social-emotional skills through playing and collaborating with classmates
  • Reinforce vocabulary and content knowledge through exploration

Connections to the Reading Foundations Skills Block

The Reading Foundations Skills Block is an hour of instruction that teaches students how to crack the alphabetic code. This block supports reading and writing conventions necessary for student success in the Reading Block, covering all Reading Foundations Standards and the Language Standards associated with spelling. Research and Standards-based instructional practices are designed to support teachers as they teach students how to read, write, and analyze words. Built-in instructional supports and resources provide teacher guidance for differentiation in both the Whole and Small Group settings based on each students' Phase of Reading and Spelling Development. The Skills Block includes one hour of instruction: 15-20 minutes of Whole Group and 45 minutes of Differentiated Small Group instruction.

Skills Block lessons for this module focus on having students:

  • Hear and identify the medial vowel sound in CVC (consonant, vowel, consonant) words like "cat" and "mud"
  • Hear and segment (break apart) the individual sounds of single-syllable words
  • Begin to read and spell single-syllable VC (vowel, consonant) and CVC (consonant, vowel, consonant) words

Refer to each cycle overview for more detailed information regarding that cycle, including information about what to prepare in advance.


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