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Tree identification activity

Gaines Elementary School

Rebecca Walcott
John Pickering
University of Georgia

1 May, 2007

Gaines Elementary School Students
Photograph by Rebecca Walcott

Gaines Elementary School

Updated: 1 May, 2007

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Students will learn how to identify different species of trees through recognizing basic leaf characteristics.


Each student should have a clipboard, pencil, and sheet of notebook paper. A computer with internet access is required for the identification portion of the activity.


Diversity in nature is a valuable concept to learn in elementary school, and such diversity can be found in one's own schoolyard. In and around the Gaines Elementary nature trail, thirty trees have been tagged with three-digit identification numbers and blue flagging tape [see map]. One tree, tree 937, is covered with poison ivy and labeled with yellow flagging tape. These thirty trees represent thirteen different species that can be easily identified with a simple, user-friendly online guide.


After outfitting each student with a clipboard, pencil, and sheet of notebook paper, the teacher can lead the students to the nature trail. BEFORE beginning the activity, the teacher should point out the yellow flagging tape tied around tree 937 and warn the students to avoid the poison ivy. Students can then safely explore the area and search for a blue-taped tree to identify. Once a student has chosen a tree, the student should copy the three-digit identification number onto his/her paper and obtain a sample of leaves from that specific tree. The leaf sample should include enough leaves for the student to be able to determine whether the leaves have an opposite or alternate arrangement. After every student has obtained a leaf sample and copied down the corresponding identification number, the teacher can lead the students back inside to a computer with internet access.

The students should log onto the Gaines Elementary School page from and open the tree identification guide. Three questions will appear on the first page, and after answering the questions the student should click "search" at the right-hand side of the screen. This will narrow the number of possible results on the left side of the screen. Above the list of possible results is a button labeled "simplify". The student should click the word "simplify". and answer the questions that follow. After the questions are answered, the "search" button should be clicked again. Each time a question is answered and the "search" button is clicked, the number of possible results should diminish. When only one result remains on the left side of the screen, the guide has identified the tree. The student can then copy down the name of the tree onto his/her paper. By clicking on the scientific name of the tree, a page of information pertaining to that tree appears. To verify the students' accuracy with identification, a key containing tree names and their corresponding numbers is available here.

Activity extensions

After identifying the tree, the student can draw, trace, or make an etching of his/her leaf. The students can also use the information pages to research and write facts or short reports about their trees.

Image links to slide show of
elementary school students' drawings

Illustrations by 2nd grade student participants


Poison ivy should be avoided while on the nature trail. If it contacts skin, immediate washing with soap and water is recommended. The trail also contains many thorny plants, and caution should be observed while walking to avoid scratching skin or ripping clothing.



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