Plants | Lesson 2 - Foundations: Zooming into Plants

QuickTabs - Duplicate of Plants Lesson 2 new

Students “zoom into” plants, animals, and decomposers to learn about structures and functions that they all share:

  • All organisms are made of cells.
  • All the functions of organisms are done by their cells.
  • All cells are made of molecules, including large organic molecules (fats, carbohydrates, and proteins).
  • All functions of cells involve moving and changing molecules.

Guiding Question

What makes up our food?

Activities in this Lesson

Note: Activities 2.1, 2.2, and 2.3 are repeating activities:
They are the same in the three organism-scale units: Animals, Plants, and Decomposers. Activity 2.4 focuses specifically on plants. Teach Activities 2.1, 2.2 and 2.3 during the first of the organism-scale units you teach (Animals, Plants or Decomposers). These activities can be skipped when you teach subsequent organism-scale units. Activity 2.4 is different for each unit though and should be taught each time.

  • Activity 2.1: Zooming into Plants, Animals, and Decomposers (40 min)
  • Activity 2.2: Molecules Cells Are Made of (45 min)
  • Activity 2.3: Molecules in Cells Quiz (20 min)
  • Activity 2.4: Questions about Plants (20 min)

Unit Map

Plants Lesson 2 Unit Map

Target Performances


Target Performance

Lesson 2 – Foundations: Zooming into Organisms (students developing foundational knowledge and practice)

Activity 2.1: Zooming into Plants, Animals, and Decomposers

Students “zoom in” to animals, plants, and decomposers, describing how all of these organisms are made of cells with special structures and functions.

Activity 2.2: Molecules Cells Are Made of

Students use food labels to describe molecules in animal, plant, and decomposer cells: large organic molecules (carbohydrates, proteins, and fats), as well as water, vitamins, and minerals.

Activity 2.3: Molecules in Cells Quiz

Students complete a quiz to assess their understanding of the molecules in cells and how to identify which molecules store chemical energy.

Activity 2.4: Questions about Plants

Students observe their growing radish plants and pose questions about plants to prepare for their upcoming investigation.

NGSS Performance Expectations

Middle school

  • MS. Matter and its Interactions. MS-PS1-1. Develop models to describe the atomic composition of simple molecules and extended structures.

High school

  • HS. From Molecules to Organisms: Structures and Processes. HS-LS1-6. Construct and revise an explanation based on evidence for how carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen from sugar molecules may combine with other elements to form amino acids and/or other large carbon-based molecules.

Three-dimensional Learning Progression

Lesson 2 focuses on essential foundational knowledge that students will need to achieve the objectives for this unit. In this lesson students learn to read nutrition labels to identify the key materials in the foods we eat, which are also the materials in plant and animal bodies. The activities in this lesson serve as the Foundational Knowledge and Practice Phase of the instructional model, where students are introduced to key ideas and practices that they will use throughout the rest of the Plants unit.

Content Boundaries and Extensions

Talk and Writing

At this stage in the unit, the students will be learning Foundational Knowledge and Practice that is important for the rest of the unit. The table below shows specific talk and writing goals for this phase of the unit.

Talk and Writing Goals for the Foundations Phase

Teacher Talk Strategies That Support This Goal

Curriculum Components That Support This Goal

Treat this as background information.

We want to talk about a few basic practices and some basic knowledge to prepare us for the unit.


Listen for student ideas about matter and energy at different scales, and attend to wrong ideas.

What is happening to matter and energy at ______ scale? Who can explain?

Are you in the macroscopic scale or the atomic-molecular scale?

Who can explain that at a different scale?

The PPT that “Zooms into” the macroscopic subjects of the unit: a leaf, a potato, air, fossil fuels, etc.

Examine student ideas and correct them when there are problems. It’s ok to give the answers away during this phase! Help students practice using precise language to describe matter and energy at different scales.

Let’s think about what you just said: food molecules. What are food molecules?

Are you talking about matter or energy?

Remember: atoms can’t be created. So that matter must have come from somewhere. Where did it come from?

Let’s look at the molecule poster again… is carbon an atom or a molecule?

Let’s revisit our scale poster… what is happening to matter at a macroscopic scale?

Powers of Ten Poster

Molecule Poster

Three Questions Poster


Grade student ideas. 


There is a quiz during this phase of the unit to help you decide if your students are ready to move on.