Reach For the Sun Teacher Guide - Plant Needs

Plant Needs

Time Required



Students will discuss the basic needs of plants and how they relate to Reach for the Sun.
Students will investigate the effects of growing plants in different environments.



Pencil3-2-1 Summary from previous lessonLab Sheet: Growing Plants in Different Environments


SandPlant fertilizerTeaspoon


12 sunflower seeds4 small potsPotting soilWaterWatering canPlastic spoon2-cup measuring cupMetric ruler


Review steps 1-4 on page 14, which outline materials necessary to the lab.
Gather materials for the lab.
Make copies of the Lab Sheet: Growing Plants in Different Environments.
Distribute 3-2-1 Summaries before the Warm Up.

Warm Up: Game Discussion

  • First, have students review and discuss any notes or questions they recorded during game play. Then, return their 3-2-1 Summaries and have students discuss these as well. Finally, call on pairs of students to share their notes, questions, and 3-2-1 Summaries with the class.
  • After students answer the questions in the Student Guide, discuss their responses as a class.

    • All plants must meet basic needs in order to survive. Based on what you know and what you learned in the game, what are the basic needs of flowering plants?
      Plants need water, nutrients, and food, or starches. Plants also need air, sunlight, and space to grow.
    • Which structures help a plant obtain these needs, or resources? How do they help?
      Plants use roots to obtain water and nutrients from the soil. They use leaves to undergo photosynthesis, which produces food.
    • What challenges in the environment might prevent a plant from obtaining these resources? Think about the challenges your plant faced in the game, as well as other challenges you may know about.
      Environmental conditions like lack of sunlight and water could prevent plants from obtaining resources. Also, leaf-eating insects could damage leaves, preventing photosynthesis.

Game Play!

Have students play Reach for the Sun with their partners for approximately 20 minutes. Students should continue where they left off with the previous game by clicking the Resume button in Classic mode.

Plant Facts Sheet: You may also hand out the Plant Facts Sheet to students while they play. Explain that this sheet provides a handy resource and includes key information about the flowers that appear in the game.

  • Remind students that knowing more about the plants in the game will help them maximize their resources.
  • Encourage students to do additional research and add their own information to the Plant Facts Sheet. Each time students play the game, they can focus on a different flower and add information about that flower to the sheet.

Pause and Think

While students play, ask them to think about and share how the experience is different from the first game play session. Have they learned any new strategies for growing their plants and successfully producing seeds?

Lab: Growing Plants in Different Environments

Divide the class into four groups. Each group will investigate one factor: soil type, amount of fertilizer, amount of sunlight, or amount of water. Have students review the introduction in the Student Guide. As they are reading, distribute the lab materials to each group. Explain to students that they will be growing plants and will make observations over the next several days. Discuss the factors that are being investigated, and assign each lab group a factor to manipulate:

  • Groups who are testing amount of sunlight should determine where to place their pots: One pot should be placed in an area that is as sunny as possible; one pot should be placed in an area that is several feet from sunlight; one pot should be placed out of the path of sunlight; the last pot should be placed in total darkness.
  • Groups studying soil type will need four types of soil mixes for the investigation, which should be prepared ahead of time: Regular potting soil; 3 parts regular potting soil mixed with 1 part sand; 2 parts regular potting soil mixed with 2 parts sand; and all sand.
  • Groups studying amount of fertilizer should use four different amounts: No fertilizer; half the recommended amount; recommended amount; and twice the recommended amount.
  • Groups studying amount of water should use four different amounts: The same amount of water used by the other groups for daily maintenance in one pot; half this amount in another pot; one-fourth this amount in a third pot; and no water in a fourth pot.

Demonstrate the proper way to plant seeds if needed, and address any questions about conducting the lab.

If the lab materials are not readily available, you may assign the lab as a Thought Lab, instead. Each group will answer the questions below, predicting the outcome based on their experiences with Reach for the Sun, and will present their findings to the class. Circulate to support students as needed.

Student Questions:

  • Write a prediction about your investigation. How do you think the factor you are investigating will affect plant growth?
    Answers will vary, but predictions should include a reference to the factor being investigated, and how changing this factor will affect plant growth.
  • What are the independent and dependent variables in your investigation? What are the controls?
    The independent variable is the factor that is being manipulated—amount of sunlight, amount of water, amount of fertilizer, or soil type. The dependent variables are plant height and general observations of growth. The controls are the type of plant, the type of pots, and growing time. For different groups, there will be additional controls such as amount of water, etc.

After students have planted their seeds, distribute the Lab Sheet: Growing Plants in Different Environments. Discuss how observations will be gathered, instructing students to measure any growth they observe using the metric ruler. Students should also record general observations of their plants each day.

Extension Activity: Growing Plants in Different Environments

Extend the lab activity by having each lab group grow an additional six plants (10 plants total) and harvest portions of them at various points throughout their growth cycle. Marigolds or nasturtiums are good options for the extension activity, as sunflowers may be too large.

Have students create a separate data chart and collect the following additional data from three of their plants at two different intervals: halfway through the lab, and at the conclusion of the lab.

  • Root : Shoot ratio
  • Number of leaves
  • Size of leaves
  • Number of flowers
  • Number of seeds

Note: Students should set aside four plants for the traditional lab data collection.

Exit Slip

Have students complete the Exit Slip activity in the Student Guide and submit the activity before leaving the classroom. Review the student responses before the next lesson.