Unit 3: Garden-Based English Language Arts & Social Studies Lessons



Unit Three Learning Objectives

Flower 2.gifUpon completion of this unit, participants will:

~Explore garden-based connections to ELA, Social Studies and Multiculturalism

~Understand Ethnobotany and it's connectiveness to school and community cultures

~Explore case studies and identify results of garden-based learning in student achievement

~Identify and reflect on teaching strategies and challenges for curriculum integration

~Identify assessment methods of garden-based learning in the ELA and Social Studies content areas

~Develop garden-based ELA and Social Studies lesson plans that fulfil educational goals and focus on garden-based learning principles and learner-centered assessment


At this point in the course, you've learned much about the theoretical roots and benefits of garden-based learning and have explored many different math, science and environmental lessons. Although we haven't focused on them yet, there are other content areas discussed in these readings, and by now you've surely made some garden-based cross-curricular connections.

In this unit, you will read and review case studies of how garden-based Language Arts, Social Studies and Ethnobotany lessons are integrated into the school curriculum, and how they relate to the diversity that exists in your school and community. You will explore, practice, and create two garden-based learning lessons that can be incorporated into Language Arts and Multicultural studies, continue to reflect, participate in group discussion, and add "tools" to your portfolio.

English Language Arts and Social Studies Lessons from the Garden

Language arts and social studies lessons seem to go hand in hand in the garden. There's a wealth of children's books on the market, both literary and fact-based, about gardening and related topics. A read-aloud or self read book can introduce the garden-based lesson, as illustrated in this excerpt of a lesson on how to recycle plants to make new ones. This science lesson is launched with a read aloud of the book "The Gardener" by Sarah Stewart, which takes place during the Great Depression (history/social studies). The story is narrated through a young girl's series of letters (literary) and is about how she plants flowers and recycles old paint cans and broken pots to brighten up her dreary situation.

"Making New Plants" through Propagation Lesson Plan (Alese Cooke, 2009).

Grade Level: 3rd grade

Overview: This activity demonstrates the different ways plants can reproduce, other than by seed.

Objective: Students will understand new methods of plant reproduction by propagating plants using methods of stem cuttings, leaf cuttings, division and air layering.

Teacher Materials: Scissors or hand pruners, watering can

Student Materials: Rooting medium or potting soil, popsicle or other sticks for labeling, recycled containers for planting cuttings, plant journal, and plants to propagate: Pothos, Jade Plant, Thanksgiving Cactus, Snake Plant, Spider Plant.

Begin with a read-aloud of the story "The Gardener" by Sarah Stewart, which leads nicely into the "Making New Plants" lesson that follows.


• Ask students about what they know about planting seeds- why do we plant seeds? (to make more plants). Today we're going to learn about other ways to "make new plants"

• Making new plants and starting plants from seed is called “Propagation.” Not all plants are easily propagated from seed, so new plants can be made from pieces of stems, leaves, roots cuttings, and by methods called division and layering.

• Explain that when cuttings are made of succulent or fleshy stems, they should callous or (in the proper technical term) "harden off". The cut end of the stem needs to dry out for a day or so to seal off the end of the stem before planting. Otherwise the stem will rot.


Stem Cuttings using Thanksgiving Cactus are propagated by taking short Y-shaped cuttings of the stem tips. To root cuttings for new plants, cut back shoots from the tips, cut at the second joint of each tip. Place cuttings in a moist rooting medium (1/2 sand ½ peat moss).

Leaf Cuttings using: Jade Plants are propagated by inserting the base of the leaf into the rooting medium. New plants develop at the base of the leaf. Snake Plants are propagated by leaf-segment cuttings. Leaves are cut crosswise into pieces 3-4 inches long and set upright in the rooting medium. Pieces must be right end up- they will not root upside down.

Division using Perennials from the garden: daylily & liriope: in the fall, around late September, early October (before the frost), certain perennial plants and be propagated through division. Plants are dug up and roots are separated into 2 or more smaller plants. Each new plant is them replanted into the soil, or into their own pots to be planted somewhere else.

Layering is done with Pothos Ivy and Spider Plants. The offshoots of these plants come off the “mother” plant, and can be set right into a pot filled with potting soil. Eventually the offshoot will root on its own, and can be separated from the “mother” plant.

Class activity: Students propagate plants by stem cuttings, will learn how to water and care for their cuttings, and record observations in their journals as roots and new leaves form.

Poinitng pepper.jpgWhat other ways can you incorporate social studies and language arts (and math?) into this lesson? Respond to this in the journal entry for this unit.


What do you really know about "Ethnobotany"?

Although Ethnobotany is defined as the "science of people's interactions with plants" the premise alone can open the gateway to studies in sustainability, diversity, multiculturalism and people-plant connections. Before we begin the assigned readings, what do you really know about "Ethnobotany"? Quiz yourself by completing this crossword puzzle (and try not to peek at the answers on the last page!). Think about the concepts of Ethnobotany as you work through this unit about garden-based language arts and social studies.

Poinitng pepper.jpg What is Ethnobotany? Media:Ethnobotanypuzzle.pdf

In these next two readings, you will explore how the school garden is a rich resource of history and cultural study. Both readings focus on the diversity that exists in the classroom, how plants play a significant role in ethnicity, and how students can learn from each other's cultural heritage.

Poinitng pepper.jpg Read this article by Amy Cutter-Mackensie on "Multicultural School Gardens: Creating Engaging Garden Spaces in Learning about Language, Culture and Environment" Media:Multicultural.pdf

Poinitng pepper.jpg Read Allan Foster's "Roots of Diversity: Growing Culturally Significant Plants in the Classroom" Media:Culturally_significant_plants.pdf

Authenic Assessment of Garden-Based ELA & Social Studies Lessons

"Considering how GBL serves as a dynamic interface for social, environmental as well as individual educational goals, what would be the best way to approach assessment of garden based learning outcomes and the effectiveness of a school gardening program?" Before we can determine how to assess garden-based learning, we need to know why assessment is needed (Subramaniam, 2003, p.9). We can assess garden-based learning activities that meet educational goals by involving students in the evaluation process. Video journals, presentations and newsletters based on reports of student-led surveys and interviews will reinforce lessons learned in the garden. In your reading of chapter 3 of "Garden-based Learning: Considering assessment from a learner-centered approach", take a good look at the components of authentic assessments in the garden that are discussed.

Group Discussion

Poinitng pepper.jpg Refer back "Garden-Based Learning: Considering Assessment from a Learner-Centered Approach" at http://www.ca4h.org/files/1314.pdf and your assigned readings for this unit to discuss:

How do you see the garden enhancing student performance in ELA and Social Studies?

What multicultural activities can be cultivated from the school garden?

What are some examples of effective learner-centered assessment?

Case Study & Reflection

What other ways can you incorporate language arts, history and social studies into the lesson plan "Making New Plants" through Propagation Lesson Plan (Alese Cooke, 2009)?

Poinitng pepper.jpgRespond to this in your journal entry for this unit.

Your Portfolio

Carrot.jpgNow, it's teacher's turn to learn!

Browse through the many garden-based lessons found in your readings and "additional resources" in this unit, and select two lessons that target ELA and Social Studies learning objectives and practice on your own. Find lessons that will engage students in real-world activities and can be connected to other content areas.

Carrot.jpgInclude in your portfolio a critique both "practice" lessons.

Next, create two new lesson plans and learner-centered assessments to your portfolio "tool box" (see below). Lessons should focus on garden-based principals that fulfill the educational objectives of your existing curriculum.

Carrot.jpgYou may use any grade level or format for your lesson plans.

1. Create one garden-based lesson plan that targets both ELA and social studies learning objectives, taking a multicultural approach that embraces the diversity that exists in your classroom and school community. Use literature that can be connected to garden-based learning activities.

2. Create one garden-based lesson plan that targets all the core content areas: Math, Science, ELA and Social Studies.

3. Design a detailed plan of learner-centered assessments for your lesson plans, following the same approaches you've read about and discussed. Include a description of your particular approach in your portfolio.

Additional Resources

University of California Agriculture and Natural Resources: Reasons to Garden: School Gardens Improve Academic Performance: http://groups.ucanr.org/victorygrower/importance/Improved_Academics.htm

DC Schoolyard Greening: a program of the DC Environmental Education Consortium: http://www.dcschoolyardgreening.org/about/mission.html

New York City Division of Teaching and Learning Office of Curriculum, Standards, and Academic Engagement: Project-Based Learning: Inspiring Middle SchoolStudents to Engage in Deep and Active Learning. Includes new and updated resources for Social Studies and Science Exit Projects. http://schools.nyc.gov/documents/teachandlearn/project_basedFinal.pdf


Alese Cooke, D. (2009). "Making New Plants" through Propagation Lesson Plan. Stony Point, NY: Cornell University Cooperative Extension of Rockland County.

Cutter-Mackensie, A . (2009). Multicultural School Gardens: Creating engaging garden spaces in learning about language, culture, and environment. Canadian Journal of Environmental Education 19, 122-135.

D.C. Environmental Education Consortium. (n.d). D.C. Schoolyard Greening. Retrieved from http://www.dcschoolyardgreening.org/about/mission.html

Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden ( 2009). Ethnobotany Crossword Puzzle. In Downloadable Teaching Modules: Ethnobotany. Retrieved from http://www.fairchildgarden.org/uploads/docs/Education/teacher%20training/ethnobotany/ethnobotany%20vocabulary%20crossword%20puzzle.pdf

Foster, A. (2001) (2001). Roots of Diversity: Growing culturally significant plants in the classroom. Green Teacher, 81, 24-28.

National Environmental Education & Training Foundation. (2000, September). Environmental-based education: Creating high performance schools and students. Retrieved from http://www.neefusa.org/resources/publications.htm#eepubs

The National Gardening Association (2010). Kids Gardening.org. Retrieved from http://www.kidsgardening.com

New York City Division of Teaching and Learning Office of Curriculum, Standards, and Academic Engagement (2000). Project-Based Learning: Inspiring Middle School Students to Engage in Deep and Active Learning. Retrieved from http://schools.nyc.gov/documents/teachandlearn/project_basedFinal.pdf

Pole, T. A (n.d.) A Handful of Seeds: Seed saving and study for educators. Retrieved from http://www.oaec.org/school-garden/handful-of-seeds

Subramanian, A. (2003, Fall). Garden-Based Learning: Considering assessment from a learner centered approach. Retrieved from http://ucanr.org/sites/UC4-H/Research/CYD/Publications/Archive/

Universtiy of California Agriculture and Natural Resources (2008). Reasons to Garden: School gardens improve academic performance. Retrieved from http://groups.ucanr.org/victorygrower/importance/Improved_Academics.htm

What to do Next

Unit 4: Project-based Learning in the Garden

Return to the Main Page here:

Garden-Based Learning Across the Curriculum