by Tim Griffin, copyright 2012

There’s a great big living kingdom for the green and growing things
They live by photosynthesis, about which I will sing
This chemical reaction is my favorite one of all
It makes a lot of oxygen and helps a plant grow tall

(chorus) You know a plant needs sunlight, water, soil, and CO2
Making carbohydrate for the plant and oxygen for you
Of all the living kingdoms, I love the plants the best
My favorite part of botany is photosynthesis!

It happened in the water in the deep and distant past:
A cell evolved an organelle we call a chloroplast
The algae made our atmospheric oxygen to rise
And led to plants today, the way they photosynthesize

(repeat chorus)

They do it in the desert, in the forest and the sea
Turning CO2 and photons into food for you and me
Making air to breathe and wood to build and fiber for our clothes
So let me hear you cheer your favorite photoautotrophs!

(repeat chorus)

My favorite part of botany is photosynthesis!


Botany is a great way to get primary-grade kids to think as scientists do. My K-1 students were a little fuzzy about exactly what a plant needs, so we discussed ways to find out. Everyone agreed plants need water, but how about air or light? Do plants really need soil?

So we designed a series of experiments using small pots and fast-growing grass seed. There was a control group; and yes, of course K-1 kids can use words like “control group,” you just have to model the vocabulary. Then we had groups of several pots each for a variety of tests. Does a plant need light? Put some plants in a dark cabinet, but continue to give them everything else we think a plant needs. And yes, of course the kids can learn how to “isolate the variable.” Model that vocabulary, teacher man! Do plants need water, or will any liquid do? We tested some plants with diet soda, others with a vinegar solution; I handled the chemicals of course, and please do check the regulations for what you're allowed to bring into your classroom in this regard. Air? Put some plants in an airtight container for a few weeks and measure the results. Data were recorded, graphs were made, results were published.

My favorite experiment the kids devised was to determine whether a plant needs love. One group of potted plants received loving attention each day: kids would read them stories and say nice things such as, “Oh, I think you’re a little taller today! And such a lovely shade of green!”

Another group of plants was exposed to pictures of forests being cut down and disparaging remarks: “You are the UGLIEST plant. I’ve seen better plants growing out of cracks in the sidewalk!” For a few of my kids, this part seemed to be oddly therapeutic.

The students had fun; they learned the basics of what plants need, with the understanding that some special plants such as cacti and epiphytes may have special adaptations for their biome; but most importantly, the kids walked away with a solid understanding of how scientists think. This theme unit took about twenty minutes, three times per week for six weeks; about half of that time was spent writing and graphing results (ahoy the Common Core!) in our science journals.

Here are some standards from the NGSS, the Common Core, and the state of California addressed by this song and the experiments described above:


  • K-LS1-1. Use observations to describe patterns of what plants and animals (including humans) need to survive.
  • K-ESS3-1. Use a model to represent the relationship between the needs of different plants or animals (including humans) and the places they live.
  • MP.2. Reason abstractly and quantitatively.
  • K.MD.A.1 Describe measurable attributes of objects, such as length or weight. Describe several measurable attributes of a single object.
  • K.MD.A.2 Directly compare two objects with a measurable attribute in common, to see which object has “more of”/”less of” the attribute, and describe the difference.
  • K.MD.B.3 Classify objects into given categories; count the number of objects in each category and sort the categories by count.
  • SL.K.3 Ask and answer questions in order to seek help, get information, or clarify something that is not understood.
  • SL.K.5 Add drawings or other visual displays to descriptions as desired to provide additional detail.
  • W.K.2 Use a combination of drawing, dictating, and writing to compose informative/explanatory texts in which they name what they are writing about and supply some information about the topic.
  • W.K.7. Participate in shared research and writing projects.
  • CA.LS.K.2.a. Students know how to observe and describe similarities and differences in the appearance and behavior of plants and animals (e.g., seed-bearing plants, birds, fish, insects). CA.LS.K.2.c. Students know how to identify major structures of common plants and animals (e.g., stems, leaves, roots, arms, wings, legs).

First Grade:

  • 1-LS3-1. Make observations to construct an evidence-based account that young plants and animals are like, but not exactly like, their parents.
  • 1.MD.A.1. Order three objects by length; compare the lengths of two objects indirectly by using a third object.
  • 1.MD.A.2. Express the length of an object as a whole number of length units, by layering multiple copies of a shorter object (the length unit) end to end; understand that the length measurement of an object is the number of same-size length units that span it with no gaps or overlaps.
  • 1.MD.C.4 Organize, represent, and interpret data with up to three categories; ask and answer questions about the total number of data points, how many in each category, and
    how many more or less are in one category than in another.
  • 1.OA.A.1 Use addition and subtraction within 20 to solve word problems involving situations of adding to, taking from, putting together, taking apart, and comparing, with
    unknowns in all positions, e.g., by using objects, drawings, and equations to represent the problem.
  • MP.2. Reason abstractly and quantitatively.
  • W.1.2 Write informative/explanatory texts in which they name a topic, supply some facts about the topic, and provide some sense of closure.
  • W.1.8 With guidance and support from adults, recall information from experiences or gather information from provided sources to answer a question.
  • CA.LS.1.2.a. Students know different plants and animals inhabit different kinds of environments and have external features that help them thrive in different kinds of places.
  • CA.LS.1.2.b: Students know both plants and animals need water, animals need food, and plants need light.

Second Grade:

  • 2-LS2-1. Plan and conduct an investigation to determine if plants need sunlight and water to grow.
  • 2-LS2-2. Develop a simple model that mimics the function of an animal in dispersing seeds or pollinating plants.
  • 2-LS4-1. Make observations of plants and animals to compare the diversity of life in different habitats.
  • MP.2. Reason abstractly and quantitatively.
  • 2.MD.D.10 Draw a picture graph and a bar graph (with single-unit scale) to represent a data set with up to four categories. Solve simple put-together, take-apart, and compare
  • RI.2.3 Describe the connection between a series of historical events, scientific ideas or concepts, or steps in technical procedures in a text.
  • W.2.7 Participate in shared research and writing projects (e.g., read a number of books on a single topic to produce a report; record science observations).
  • W.2.8 Recall information from experiences or gather information from provided sources to answer a question.
  • CA.LS.2.2.a. Students know that organisms reproduce offspring of their own kind and that the offspring resemble their parents and one another.
  • CA.LS.2.2.b. Students know the sequential stages of life cycles are different for different animals, such as butterflies, frogs, and mice.
  • CA.LS.2.2.c: Students know many characteristics of an organism are inherited from the parents. Some characteristics are caused or influenced by the environment.

Third Grade:

  • 3-LS3-1. Analyze and interpret data to provide evidence that plants and animals have traits inherited from parents and that variation of these traits exists in a group of similar organisms.
  • 3-LS3-2. Use evidence to support the explanation that traits can be influenced by the environment.
  • 3-LS4-2. Use evidence to construct an explanation for how the variations in characteristics among individuals of the same species may provide advantages in surviving, finding mates, and reproducing.
  • 3-LS4-3. Construct an argument with evidence that in a particular habitat some organisms can survive well, some survive less well, and some cannot survive at all.
  • MP.2 Reason abstractly and quantitatively.
  • MP.4 Model with mathematics.
  • 3.MD.B.4 Generate measurement data by measuring lengths using rulers marked with halves and fourths of an inch. Show the data by making a line plot, where the horizontal
    scale is marked off in appropriate units—whole numbers, halves, or quarters.
  • SL.3.4 Report on a topic or text, tell a story, or recount an experience with appropriate facts and relevant, descriptive details, speaking clearly at an understandable pace.
  • CA.LS.3.3.A: Students know plants and animals have structures that serve different functions in growth, survival, and reproduction.

This song has an optional extra verse that I decided to leave out on the recording because it felt a little too didactic, but you can sing it if you want to throw in a little extra botanical vocabulary:

There are structures on a plant that every botanist should know
The stem and leaves are up above, the roots are down below
The xylem carries nutrients and water up the stem
And after photosynthesis the phloem goes down again!

E, A, B; the F#m in the chorus is optional.