Illinois Natural History Survey - University of Illinois

Trees at Work... Just Look! Download PDF

This information is taken from the Illinois Department of Natural Resources Kids for Trees. For more information and activities about trees, check their website.

SUBJECTS: Science, Art, Language Arts, Social Studies
SKILLS: Observing, gathering information, critical thinking, communication
OBJECTIVE: Students will learn that animals, people and the environment itself depend on the invisible work of trees.

It may look like trees just stand around and do nothing. Actually, they are very busy doing a variety of jobs that are essential to animals, people and the environment.

Tree Houses. Some animals spend their entire lives in trees - many birds, for instance, as well as squirrels, raccoons, opossums and several types of insects. These animals are born in trees, live in trees, raise their young in trees and, especially when trees are close together, seldom come down to the ground. For these animals, trees provide shelter from the weather and from enemies. Trees provide food in the form of fruits, nuts, leaves, bark, and roots. Even dead trees provide shelter and food for insects such as termites and beetles.

What's a Tree Done for You Lately? Very few people actually live in trees, but many of us live in wooden houses made from trees. Many of the items inside our homes are also made from wood, including furniture, floors, toys, musical instruments, kitchen utensils and much more.

In fact, there are many other household items, because wood is not the only product that comes from trees. Every part of a tree is used to make some important product. Ground up wood is used to make paper for tablets, newspapers, candy wrappers, and cereal boxes. Sap, the liquid that flows in trees, is used to make maple syrup, chewing gum, crayons, paint, and soap. Bark is used to make dyes and medicines. Leaves and roots provide oils for cosmetics and medicines.

Just as important, trees provide jobs for people - foresters and nurserymen, for example. All of the products made from trees create many more jobs. Have you ever wondered who makes crayons or chewing gum?

Trees provide food for people too. Fruits like apples, pears, peaches and cherries come from trees. So do nuts like walnuts and hazelnuts. Trees make our world a nicer place. Image your neighborhood without trees. Parks and campgrounds would certainly not be the same without trees. Trees are just beautiful to look at.

Clean Air, Clean Water - Thank the Trees. The quality of the world around us, the air, soil and water, depends on the roles trees play in our environment. Trees help cause rain because they return moisture to the atmosphere: their roots extract it from the soil and their leaves return it to the air. Trees clean the air we breathe because they take in carbon dioxide through their leaves and give off the oxygen we need to breathe. If trees didn't breathe, neither could we. Tree roots hold soil in place to prevent erosion which not only saves soil, but also helps keep our streams and lakes cleaner. Water is much cleaner when there are lots of trees around. Trees provide shade in the summer to help keep our homes cool. They block the wind in the winter which makes it easier to warm our homes.

Have students draw or collect from magazines pictures of animals that live in or around trees, along with corresponding pictures of food they might eat. Older students could compile two matching lists of animals and tree foods. Lists could be combined on the chalkboard as the basis for a participatory classroom matching exercise.

Have each student bring in or draw in class a picture of his or her favorite product that comes from a tree. You may want to discuss some foods that students would not suspect are tree products such as cinnamon and olives. Students could also provide pictures of the food in its natural state and as part of a finished product - apple pie or peach ice cream, for example.

Make a chalkboard list, elicited from students, of items in the classroom that are made from trees. Don't overlook non-wood products such as crayons, paper, and paint. Discuss the parts of the tree that the products may have come from or the number of jobs that may have been required to product the product. Have the students copy the list and take it home to survey their home for those and other wood products.

Explain that we make products from wood because it's strong, durable and easy to work with. Discuss with students useful things they could make simply with twigs and branches they find on the ground and string. Lead the students on a twig search, then actually construct some useful item or items (pencil holder, picture frame). Students could also do this individually or in groups. Have each student describe or draw his or her favorite place where trees grow - or his or her favorite tree - or his or her favorite activity involving trees.

Have students discuss or actually plan a project with trees that could improve the environment. Discuss how even an individual student could accomplish some part of this project.

Have a tree party where everyone eats tree snacks!

Why do people plant trees in their yards? Are there any places in the world without trees? What are they like? How are they different from where you live? Would you want to live there? Why? How do people depend on trees?

Divide the class into three groups. Individuals in the first group would draw or collect pictures concerning the relationship between trees and animals. The second group would focus on trees and people. The third group would be concerned with trees and the environment. When the pictures have been collected the groups should assemble them into three poster size collages with titles of their own choice.

Have individual students, or a group of students, pick a single tree and observe it closely for a period of time - fifteen minutes, for example. Students should then draw or compile a list of all of the evidence of animal and insect activity that they found, including actual activity involving birds, squirrels, and other animals; observed nests; evidence of animals eating (holes in leaves, piles of sawdust, bare branches or empty fruit pods); etc.

Have students, as individuals or groups, create and answer their own "what if" questions. Examples might include: "What if birds didn't have trees; where would they live?" "What if we didn't have wood; what would we make chairs from?" or "What if there were no trees; what would be in parks?"

Construct a class room terrarium (see references) with small treelike plants to demonstrate how trees return moisture to their environment. Add water, seal the terrarium, then have the classroom observe how the moisture is recycled.

sap, carbon dioxide, oxygen, erosion, environment

Next lesson - Take a Closer Look


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