UCMP Lessons  

Form and Function

Author: Sharon Janulaw

Overview: Students are asked to select a part of a plant or animal and indicate how the part supports the needs of that living thing.

Lesson Concepts:

Grade Span: K–2


Advance Preparation:

— Set up living things in stations around the classroom.
— Arrange students in compatible groups of four.

Time: One period

Grouping: Fours and whole class

Teacher Background:

Physical features and behavioral traits can often be linked to their functions. While this is not always true, students need to understand that survival is dependent on structures and their functions. It is useful to ask young students to identify structure/function, as this paves the way for understanding natural selection in later years. Structures include any parts conspicuously identifiable by the young child and functions could include food acquisition (capturing and eating), waste disposal (phrase this appropriately!), gas exchange (air/breathing), protection, reproduction (making baby plants, etc.), locomotion (running, crawling, flying).

Explore this link for additional information on the topics covered in this lesson:

Teaching Tips:

Remember the goal of the lesson: structures have functions. There are many ways to take off from this lesson, but keeping to the concept makes it more likely that students will get the message.

Vocabulary: structure, function


  1. Hold up a plant. Ask students what parts they notice. Select a part and ask how the part helps the plant live. Discuss.
  2. Tell the students that they are going to move about the room in their groups to look at living things. They are to choose a part (structure) of each living thing and talk about how that part helps the plant or animal survive.
  3. Send the groups to their starting stations and give them a few minutes to identify a part and determine how it helps the living thing survive. Circulate to reinforce the purpose of the lesson.
  4. After all groups have rotated through each station, ask each group to tell about a part and a function at their last station. Allow other groups to share what they noticed at that station.
  5. Have all groups report to the class about their final station.
  6. To review and sum up, select a few sample parts and ask the class the function of each.


  1. Conduct an experiment to find out if plants can survive without roots. Pull two similar plants out of the soil and cut off the roots of one of them. Replant both and water them. Treat both plants in an identical fashion for a number of days and compare how each looks. After a week or so, ask students what they observed and what they think is the explanation for their observations. This should establish that roots function to anchor a plant as well as supply water.
  2. Have students observe red worms (from your local pet supply or bait shop). Ask them to observe the shape of the body and how it moves about. Would long legs be a help or a hindrance in its underground habitat? Compare the worm to animals with legs. How do the legs help in surviving above ground?

Updated May 24, 2004

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