4-6, Unit Three, Activity 4: "Forest Communities"

Students will gain familiarity with local trees and learn to see them as indicators of prevailing climate, terrain, elevation, and stage of succession.

Grades: 4 – 6
Time: Two 1-hour sessions, homework project
Subjects: Life science, language arts, visual arts.

Teacher Background:
In the old days it was important for native peoples to be able to identify plant communities from a distance. Recognition of trees was a quick and usually accurate indication of the kinds of understory herbs, berries, and roots to be found in a given area. Skilled native botanists used these observations to lead their people to food sources. Today naturalists and botanists are able to tell a great deal about land, soil conditions, moisture availability, and history of natural disturbances in an area by identifying the dominant and incidental tree species.


  • Easy Field Guide To Trees Of Glacier National Park by Dick and Carol Nelson
  • Plants Of Waterton-Glacier National Parks And The Northern Rockies by Richard J. Shaw and Danny On
  • Magnifying glasses
  • Poster board
  • Marking pens
  • Scissors Glue

1. Review the background information and stories in the introduction to this unit with the students.
2. Ask the students to gather samples of conifer branches and cones, and leaves and seeds of common deciduous trees from the areas around their homes. Discuss ways to minimize damage to trees while making collections. Emphasize that they should be looking for trees that they believe to be native to the area.
3. Have the students write descriptive notes of the physical environment from which each specimen was gathered.
4. Have the students use the tree guides to identify their specimens and to research their characteristics and habitat.
5. Have the students make leaf, cone, and needle displays. Discuss where the trees they identified might occur in W-GIPP.

Variations and Extensions:
Have students, as a group project, make a field guide to tree shapes at a distance, using silhouettes.

Quiz students with unlabeled plant specimens

Last updated: November 8, 2017

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