Plants & Gardens Thematic Literature Unit

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Young children are innately drawn to explore the natural world. Their fascination with dirt, seeds, and plants offer great opportunities for hands-on learning. Garden science is also a great way to build real world skills and develop a connection to the food we eat.


This post will introduce 5 picture books handpicked for the Plants & Gardens theme. Each will highlight an active reading strategy that 'digs deeper' into each text.


It will also highlight 10 ready-to-use extension activities that integrate the read-aloud lessons with cross-curricular learning.


Lessons and activities have been differentiated for PreK (preschool, ECE) Kindergarten to Grade 1 students.


You're welcome to borrow ideas you find in this post and if you'd like to save precious time, all of the ready-to-use resources are available in my TpT store. My goal is to create materials that provide meaningful learning experiences for students and support teachers by offering inspiring, time-saving ideas.


Enjoy! And Happy Gardening!


Okay, let's see what all of this will look like in a classroom or home learning environment....


I recommend starting each week introducing the active reading strategy and story. Then using 2-3 follow up lessons to reinforce the concepts from the book by engaging students in the hands-on extension activities.


 

Brilliant Book:

Plant the Tiny Seed

by: Christie Matheson


Your students will love this interactive story that asks them to plant a seed and help it grow with a series of movements and actions. The book introduces the needs of plants and the garden environment.



Reading Strategy:

Activate Prior Knowledge

Ask questions to start a conversation.

This can be done as a class, in small groups or as a pair-share.

Record ideas as they are offered.

  • What is a seed?

  • Where have you seen seeds?

  • What do seeds and plants need to grow?

  • What small creatures can you find in the garden? How are they helpful or harmful?


Learning Extensions:

A Little Seed Poem

  • Read the poem aloud to students.

  • Review vocabulary words - sow, soil, shower.

  • Read it again as a class.

  • Write key words on post-it notes (seed, soil, sun, flower) and have students find the matching word in the poem.

  • Or use the version with missing words and fill in the blanks together.

Differentiate:

  • Students can write in the missing words on their copy of the poem.

Planting a Seed

Materials Needed:

  • A Variety of Seeds - beans, peas, watermelon, pumpkin or zucchini work well because they’re easy to handle, quick to germinate (5-10 days) and can be grown at room temperature.

  • Soil - seed starting mix works best.

  • Planting Containers - this can be almost anything that can hold 2-3 inches of soil and that you can poke holes into for drainage. (egg cartons, individual yogurt cups, paper cups)

  • Water and a Dispenser. (watering can, squeeze bottle)

  • Large Tray or Bin - to hold the seed containers and catch any water overflow.

Investigate the seeds.

  1. Pick up a few different seed packets from your grocery or hardware store. (Seeds can also be purchased from a plant nursery or seed catalogue, but there's no need to get fancy).

  2. Show students the seeds they will be planting. Give them an opportunity to examine them closely (magnifying glasses are always fun!) and compare the different varieties.

  3. Encourage students share what they notice and ask any questions they have.

  4. You may like to make it a mystery - see if students can identify the seeds based on what they know.

Prepare the containers and plant your seeds.

  1. Poke 3-4 small (pencil tip sized) holes in the bottom of each container.

  2. Fill containers with seed starting mix. No need to pack it too tightly. Label your containers with the seed type. A template is included for Avery labels size 5160.

  3. Follow the planting instructions on the back of the seed packet to determine the planting depth and germination time of each seed.

  4. Place the seeds in a warm spot and give them a drink of water, so the soil is wet but not overflowing. Warmth is important while the seeds are germinating. They don’t need light until they’ve sprouted so if it’s cold by the window, keep them away from there for now.

  5. Over the next few weeks, keep them warm and moist and observe them for changes. Planting a variety of seeds will provide an opportunity to compare the growth of different plants.


 

Brilliant Book:

Lola Plants a Garden

by: Anna McQuinn, art by: Rosalind Beardshaw


Children will relate to Lola’s excitement for planting a garden and sharing it with family and friends. Lola learns what she needs to grow her flower seeds, including a little patience.




Reading Strategy:

Make Connections

Ask questions that encourage students to connect the story to themselves, other books and the world.

  • Lola’s mom planted peas and strawberries in her garden. What other foods have you eaten that come from a garden?

  • Lola grew colorful flowers. Do you have a favorite flower?

  • Can you remember which flowers were planted in the book Plant the Tiny Seed? (zinnias)

  • Imagine your dream garden. If could plant a garden like Lola, what would you want to grow?


Learning Extensions:

Beads & Bells

“Lola makes a string of bells. She find shells and some old beads.”

Make your own garland for your garden.

Materials needed:

  • A variety of beads and bells (large openings make threading easier).

  • String with tape wrapped around one end or shoelaces work well.

  1. Anchor a bead to the end of the string by tying a knot around it.

  2. Thread your beads and bells.

  3. Knot the other end when you’re finished.

This is a great activity for developing fine motor skills.

Differentiate:

Offer students a pattern to follow or challenge them to create their own.

  • For example: bead, bead, bell, bead, bead, bell, etc.

  • Or: blue, green, yellow, blue, green, etc.


Our Flower Book

“Lola makes her own flower book while she waits.”

Like Lola, our class is going to make a flower book.

  1. We will each add our own page.

  2. Choose your favorite flower, glue it on your page and write a word to describe it. (Look at its color, shape, texture, features for ideas).

  3. Then we’ll put the pages together to create a class book.

Use the photos provided in the resource or:

  • have students find pictures in a seed catalogue or garden magazine

  • take their own photos

  • draw flowers as part of a garden study

  • press wildflowers if you’re lucky enough to access them


 

Brilliant Book:

Secrets of the Vegetable Garden

by: Carron Brown & Giordano Poloni


Full of interesting information about vegetable gardens and their animal inhabitants. Each page asks a question; the answer is revealed by shining a light behind the illustrations. Your students will love it!



Reading Strategy:

Make Predictions

This book is designed to encourage predictions (educated guesses that combine clues from the book with what students already know).

Before shining the light behind each page, ask students to make a prediction about the image that will be revealed.


For example:


Learning Extensions:

Parts of a Tomato Plant

  • Display the diagram of the tomato plant on an interactive whiteboard or printed poster.

  • Review the key vocabulary words with students: roots, stem, leaves, flower, fruit, seeds

  • Describe each plant part and have students work together to label the tomato plant.

Differentiate:

  • Students can label their own copy of the diagram by cutting out the words and gluing them in place.



Sing the Parts of a Plant

  • Display the song lyrics on an interactive whiteboard or printed poster.

  • Ask students if they’re familiar with the song: Head, shoulders, knees and toes. For this version, instead of identifying human body parts, we’re going to explore the parts of a plant.

  • Sing the song aloud to students. Slowing down to point at each part of the tomato plant as it’s named.

  • Have students sing along with you. Repeat the lyrics and try to sing a little faster each time.


Differentiate:

  • Students can follow along on their own tomato plant diagram, pointing to each plant part in the song.

 

Brilliant Book:

Tops & Bottoms

By: Janet Stevens


The tale of a clever hare who tricks a bear into letting him use his garden. It showcases vegetables that are grown above ground, those found below and those we find ‘in the middle’.



Reading Strategy:

Summarize

As a class identify the main events from the story Tops & Bottoms.

  • Use the SWBST (Somebody, Wanted, But, So, Then) outline to focus on the most important elements.

  • A sample is provided to get you started.


Learning Extensions:

Plants We Eat Mini Book

Create your own mini book about the plant parts we eat.

  • Print pages 42-43 & 44-45 double sided.

  • Fold along the center line and stack the pages together. (stapling is optional)

  • Have the class follow along in their book as you read aloud together.

  • Students can also color the pictures of the vegetables to make the illustrations stand out.



Spin a Snack

Sample vegetables that come from different parts of a plant.

Each provides unique nutrients and health benefits.

  • Make a vegetable tray that includes carrots, celery, lettuce, broccoli, cherry tomatoes and peas.

  • Create a simple spinner using the veggie wheel, a push pin, paperclip and cardboard/corkboard.

  1. Print the veggie wheel & cut around the circle.

  2. Unfold the end of a paperclip to create an extension (arm).

  3. Stick the push pin through the inside loop of the paperclip, the center of the wheel and into the corkboard. (Don’t push the pin too tight, leave a bit of space so the paperclip spins).

  • Examine the vegetables and identify the parts of the plant they come from.

  • Have your students take turns using the spinner to try different veggie snacks. Wherever the spinner arm lands is what’s on the menu.

Note: You’ll need to be aware of allergies and food preferences. This is meant to be fun and not intended to pressure students into eating vegetables. You may allow for a ‘pass’ or ‘spin again’. You can also present this activity in smaller groups so there is more time for eating and less 'pressure'.



I also understand some school jurisdictions don’t allow any food sharing (full stop) and for this I am sorry. Though it’s expected during a pandemic, normally I think eating together is a meaningful experience for students.

 

Brilliant Book:

My Garden

By: Kevin Henkes


A girl envisions a whimsical garden full of color changing flowers, chocolate bunnies and glowing strawberries. This story will inspire student’s creativity and imagination.



Reading Strategy:

Visualize

Before reading, tell students they are going to visualize or create a picture in their mind about what they hear.

  • Ask students to close their eyes.

  • Read these excerpts from the story and encourage them create an image in their mind.


“In my garden, the flowers could change color just by my thinking about it - pink, blue, green, purple. Even patterns.”


“If I planted jellybeans, I’d grow a great big jellybean bush.”


“In my garden, there would be birds and butterflies by the hundreds, so the air was humming with wings.”



Learning Extensions:

My Garden Grows

How does YOUR garden grow?

With chocolate rabbits, color changing flowers and seashells all in a row?

  • Create imaginary gardens by adding colorful shapes and objects to the flower stems.

  • Provide your students with craft materials such as:

  • crayons, markers, pencils

  • fabric, buttons, pom-poms, glue

  • stickers, foam shapes, cut paper

Differentiate:

  • Students can write a poem to describe how their garden grows, following the composition of Mary Mary Quite Contrary.


Counting in the Garden

  • Explore the 'unusual things' illustration from My Garden.

  • Count the number of buttons, umbrellas and rusty old keys found in the picture and record them on the Counting in the Garden printable.


 

I hope this post provided inspiring and helpful ideas for connecting great picture books to your Plants & Gardens theme.


The contents of this blog are the property of Reading is WonderFull and as the author, I reserve all rights. You are welcome to use these ideas in your individual classroom or home and if you'd like the ready-made materials that accompany this unit, please visit my store.


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