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Leaf Identification Lesson Packet

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Above: from left to right: poplar, birch, and willow identification pages.

Below: from left to right: poplar, birch, and willow visuals

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Leaf identification information and terms:

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Tree Descriptions:

Aspen or Poplar: Populus tremuloides is a deciduous tree native to cooler areas of

North America, one of several species referred to by the common name aspen. It is
commonly called quaking aspen, trembling aspen, American aspen, Quakies, mountain
or golden aspen, trembling poplar, white poplar, popple, and even more names. The
trees have tall trunks, up to 25 meters (82 feet) tall, with smooth pale bark, scarred with
black. The glossy green leaves, dull beneath, become golden to yellow, rarely red, in
autumn. The species often propagates through its roots to form large groves originating
from a shared system of rhizomes.

Populus tremuloides is the most widely distributed tree in North America, being found
from Canada to central Mexico. It is the defining species of the aspen parkland biome in
the Prairie Provinces of Canada and extreme northwest Minnesota.

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Birch: Betula neoalaskana or Alaska Birch, also known as Alaska Paper Birch or Resin
Birch, is a species of birch native to Alaska and northern Canada. Its range covers most
of interior Alaska, and extends from the southern Brooks Range to the Chugach Range
in Alaska, including the Turnagain Arm and northern half of the Kenai Peninsula,
easterward from Norton Sound into western Ontario, and north to Northwest Territories
and southern Nunavut.
This tree typically grows to 15–20 m (49–66 ft) tall, occasionally up to 25 m (82 ft), and
achieves a trunk diameter of 30–50 cm (12–20 in), and sometimes to more than 60 cm
(24 in). It grows in a variety of habitats, from wetlands to ridge-tops at altitudes of 100–
1,200 m (330–3,940 ft). The mature bark ranges widely in color, from pure white to red,
yellowish, pinkish, or gray. Bark of twigs, seedlings, and saplings is dark, from reddish to
almost black, and covered with resin glands. The leaves are triangular-ovate, 3–8 cm
(1.2–3.1 in) long and 2–6 cm (0.79–2.36 in) broad, with a truncate base and an
acuminate apex, and a double-serrated margin. The fruiting catkins are 2–4 cm (0.79–

1.57 in) long and about 1 cm (0.39 in) broad. It is able to tolerate extreme cold, as low
as −48 °C (−55 °F).

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Willow: Salix alaxensis is a species of flowering plant in the willow family known by the
common names Alaska willow and feltleaf willow. It is native to northern North America,
where it occurs throughout northern Canada and Alaska. This plant is a shrub or tree up
to 9 m (30 ft) tall. The stem diameter is up to 18 cm (7.1 in). In harsher climates, it
remains much smaller. The smooth, gray bark becomes furrowed and scaly with age.
The leaves are up to 11 cm long and have woolly undersides

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Lesson Plan
Alaska Physical Education Standard C: Participate regularly in physical activity

Topic: Nature Walk

Learning Objectives: (1)Students will identify birch, poplar, and willow tree leaves, (2)
students will walk for one hour, (3) students will collect a variety of leaves and use the
plant identification handout provided by the teacher (attached to the front of this lesson
plan) 4) students will correctly identify leaves and label them appropriately on a display
of their own creation, and 5) students will write a one page reflection on this lesson.

Materials: Outdoor clothes appropriate for the season, a wheel-chair accessible

walking trail (paved), leaves (this lesson must be taught in spring or fall), construction
paper, at least one copy of Alaska Trees and Shrubs by Les Viereck, and leaf
identification handouts (between 20-30 copies, depending on class size, attached to this
lesson) detailing the description of poplar, birch, and willow trees and including images.

Introduction and “Hook”: The teacher will bring in a variety of poplar, birch, and willow
leaves and branches and will create a make-shift “forest” by standing up branches in the
center of each desk grouping. Students will be encouraged to physically explore the
leaves and branches and to discuss what trees they think they come from with their
group mates. The teacher will discuss plant identification techniques such as leaf
shape, size, texture, and color with the class. The teacher will explain the elements of a
leaf, using the Leaf identification information terms diagram included on page 2 of
the Leaf Identification Lesson Packet, and will talk to the students about ways to
enjoy nature and walking outside by incorporating elements like plant identification and
the uses of plant identification, like berry picking or harvesting edible plants.

Teaching Plan: The teacher will hand out the plant identification packet, leaf description
image, and rubric to the students and will explain the assignment to the students. The
students will be instructed that the lesson will take place outside on a paved nature trail
and will consist of a one hour walk. During the walk, students will be expected to collect
and identify examples of the three leaves discussed above (poplar, birch, and willow).
The students will bring their plant identification packets to help them identify the leaves
they encounter. The teacher will bring a copy of Alaska Trees and Shrubs by Les
Viereck to help students identify any other plants students may encounter.

Before leaving the classroom, the teacher will help the students prepare for the walk
(properly dress etc.), then the teacher will lead the class along a one hour walk through
the woods. The teacher will help and encourage students to collect leaves (every
student should collect at least one birch, one poplar, and one willow leaf) and will help
students identify leaves from their informational packet. When the class returns to the
classroom, students will paste three leaves (one of each of the trees) onto a piece of
construction paper. They will be instructed to write descriptions of each of the leaves (in

their own words) and to label the leaves with their correct identification, including
scientific names. Students will then write a one page (3-4 paragraph) journal about their
experience, including what they liked or did not like about the lesson, what they learned,
and how they might use the information from this lesson in the future. Extra credit will be
given for students who collect, correctly identify, and include on their display other kinds
of plant leaves from the nature walk.

Student Assessment: The teacher will observe the students and discuss the various
leaves students collect. The teacher will call on students and ask them to identify leaves
from birch, willow, and poplar trees during the walk. Students are expected to participate
in discussion during the walk. The teacher will assess the students’ leaf displays and
journal. The rubric on the last page of this lesson plan will determine the students
overall achievement.

Accommodations: Students with mobility issues will be able to participate in their

normal mode of transport (i.e. wheelchairs will be able to be accommodated on the
paved trail). If children with mobility issues are present in the class, an aide will be
needed to help the student collect leaves on the walk and to assist the student if
necessary in their locomotion. Other students with special needs will be able to
participate as well without accommodations, given that their needs can be met by the
assistance of aides. Students who move more quickly or who exceed the expectations
of the assignment will be instructed to collect a wider variety of leaf samples. Students
will be expected to cooperate to make the nature walk pleasant for and inclusive of all
students, regardless of physical or mental ability level. Students who are unable to finish
their journal and display during class will be given extra time and allowed to take the
projects home to finish.

Closure: The teacher will discuss the lesson with the students after the students have
completed their display and journal. The teacher will ask the students to discuss what
they liked or disliked about the lesson, what they learned, and how they might apply the
information they learned in the future. The teacher will provide the students with
feedback to questions and share his or her personal answers to the above questions.
The teacher will assess the students’ work using the rubric below and will communicate
how expectations were (or were not) met with students after grading has taken place.
Student displays will be posted in the hallway outside of the classroom.


Exceptional Satisfactory Room for


Walk Student participated in Student collected at least one Student collected at least one
discussion during walk, leaf of each kind (birch, leaf of each kind (birch,
collected at least one leaf of poplar and willow), and used poplar and willow), but did
each kind (birch, poplar and identification handout to not identify leaves in the
willow), and used identify leaves while in the field or participate in
identification handout to field. Students will be discussion. Students will be
identify leaves while in the expected to cooperate to expected to cooperate to
field. Students will be make the nature walk as make the nature walk as
expected to cooperate to pleasant and inclusive of all pleasant and inclusive of all
make the nature walk as students, regardless of students, regardless of
pleasant and inclusive of all physical or mental ability physical or mental ability
students, regardless of level. level.
physical or mental ability

Display Student created a clean, Student created a display Student created a display
attractive and orderly display containing three or more containing three or more
containing three or more leaves (including birch, leaves (including birch,
leaves (including birch, poplar, and willow varieties). poplar, and willow varieties),
poplar, and willow varieties). Leaves are correctly labeled but did not provide labels or
Leaves are correctly labeled and clear descriptions of clear descriptions in his or
and clear descriptions of leaves in the student’s own her own words.
leaves in the student’s own word are provided.
word are provided. Display
includes scientific names.

Journal The student has provided The student has provided The student has not
information about what he information about what he provided information
or she liked or did not like or she liked or did not like about what he or she liked
about the walk and about the walk and or did not like about the
lesson. Student lists what lesson. Student lists what walk and lesson. Student
he or she learned. he or she learned. does not list what he or
Student provides synopsis she learned or how this
of future use of information might be used
information from this in the future.


Alaska Trees and Shrubs. Viereck, Les. University of Alaska Press. 2007.




Image Sources (in order):

(poplar leaf identification drawing - image 1)

(birch leaf drawing - image 2)

(willow identification drawings - image 3)

(poplar leaf drawing - image 4)

(birch leaves, various colors, photograph - image 5)

(willow leaf, photograph - image 6)

(leaf terms and diagrams drawing - image 7)

(poplar leaves, photograph - image 8)

(poplar leaves on branch, photograph - image 9)

(birch leaves with penny, photograph - image 10)

(birch leaves on branch, photograph - image 11)

(willow leaves, photograph - image 12)

(willow leaves, with pussywillow buds, photograph - image 13)