4-6, Unit Six, Activity 5: "Build A Tree"

Students will reinforce what they learned about the different parts of a tree and the role each part plays in the growth of a tree, using role-playing theatre.

Grades: 4 – 6
Time: 1 hour
Subjects: Life science, dramatic arts, physical education

Outdoors -- a flat clearing surrounded by trees.


  • None needed.

1. Lead the students into the clearing in a single file line, having them stop and face you. (This set-up is easiest if you choose students to play the different roles, and for the students to observe the building of the tree).
2. Tell the students they are no longer human beings and are about to turn into tree parts as they build a tree with their bodies!
3. Choose a tall student from the line to be the heartwood of the tree, having the student stand in the middle of the clearing. Explain that the heartwood is the innermost section of the trunk, giving strength and support to the rest of the tree.
4. Choose one (or more if you have a group larger than 20) student to be the taproot, having the student sit at the base of the heartwood facing outward. Tell the student to send his strong root deep into the ground, helping to anchor the tree in strong winds and storms. Point out that not all trees have tap roots, as is the case with the western red cedar.
5. Choose 3-4 students with long hair to be the lateral roots, ask them if they mind laying down on the ground, and have them lie on the ground with their feet at the taproot, spiraling out like the spokes of a wheel. Have them spread their hair out, representing the hundreds of lateral roots that spread out in all directions to soak up water from the ground. Tell them, “When I say `slurp!,’ you all make a loud slurping noise, like this. Okay, let’s practice...Slurp!”
6. Choose 3-4 students to be the sapwood layer of the tree, forming a standing circle around the heartwood and tapwood, straddling the lateral roots and facing inward towards the heartwood. The sapwood brings the water up from the roots to the branches at speeds up to 100 miles per hour! Have the sapwood students hold hands and when you say, “bring the water up!,” the students raise their held hands above their head while shouting “Wheeeee!” Practice with the sapwood until they understand their role, and test the lateral roots by saying, “let’s slurp!”
7. Choose 4-5 students to be the cambium/phloem of the tree, forming another standing circle facing inward around the sapwood layer. Have all the students repeat “cambium/phloem,” as they are the most difficult for the students to say and remember. The cambium/phloem layer helps make food for the tree during photosynthesis (green chlorophyll in the leaves uses sunlight, water and carbon dioxide to make sugar and other nutrients for the tree, and releases oxygen for us to breathe), and brings the food down to the roots of the trees. When you say, “let’s make food!,” direct the cambium/phloem students to raise their hands above their heads, and crossing the wrist of the person next to them, flutter their hands to represent leaves soaking up the sun so that photosynthesis can begin. When you say, “bring the food down!,” the students are to drop to a crouching position and go “whoooo! Practice these instructions with the cambium/phloem students, and review the roles of the sapwood and lateral roots (“bring the water up!,” and “let’s slurp!”).
8. The remaining 5+ students become the bark of the tree, forming an outward facing circle around the cambium/phloem layer. The bark protects the tree from insects, animals, disease and fire. Instruct the students to place their arms up in a football block type of position. Choose a parent, the teacher, or yourself to be a beetle, and at the directive, “get tough, bark!,” the beetle goes around to each bark student, gently “roughing them up” to try to get to the tasty cambium/phloem layer beneath the bark. The bark students use their block to prevent the beetle from penetrating to the next layer.
9. After you are sure the students understand their different roles, begin the process by giving your instructions in the following order and repeating the underlined directives at least three times: “Stand tall and strong heartwood. Send your strong root deep into the ground taproot. Let’s slurp! Let’s make food! Bring the water up! Bring the food down! Get tough, bark!”
10. Tell the students to give themselves a round of applause for being a wonderful tree!

Do a review of each tree part by describing it’s function and allowing the students to name the part. Ask them what endangers a tree’s life besides beetles... (animals such as bears clawing the bark off a tree looking for insects, fire, humans with pesticides and chain saws, lightening, storms and floods...). What do we as people get from trees? (Oxygen, food, beauty, shade, wood...)

Last updated: November 8, 2017

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