Making Photosynthesis Engaging to Upper Elementary

Photosynthesis is a difficult concept for third graders – even older grades really, depending on how in-depth you go with it. When I teach my plant unit, I always make sure that I am introducing it, but I am keeping the idea of photosynthesis to a surface level. Here is how I teach photosynthesis to my students, while still making it easy to understand AND making it engaging!

Photosynthesis is often a challenging topic to teach students, because it's hard to conceptualize and understand. Starting off your plants unit with a role playing activity about photosynthesis is the perfect way to get students engaged and to help them visualize how photosynthesis works!

First, I don’t go into all the major details. Instead, I just keep it simple by saying that plants take energy from the sun and turn it into sugars! Then, I break students up into groups and give each member in the group a card with a role – sun, plant, energy, water, oxygen, carbon dioxide, the narrator, and sugar. Each role receives a slip that tells them what they are to do when the narrator says their “name” (role).

The narrator reads about the process of photosynthesis while the actual parts of the photosynthesis sit off to the side waiting for their turn to come up in the process. Here is what the narrator reads on his or her slip:

Narrator:  You will be reading the majority of the performance. You will stand off to the side while the other people act out their roles. When you say words that are in bold in the script below, you’ll want to PAUSE so that performer can act it out. After they are done speaking, continue with where you left off. Below is what you will say:

Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls! Today, I bring to you the best performance you will ever see in all the land. Today, we are going to talk about this plant (point to the plant and PAUSE). If you will look toward the front of the room, you will see the sun (PAUSE). The sun (PAUSE) is giving off his energy (PAUSE) so that the plant (PAUSE) can go through the process of photosynthesis.

What is that, you say? Photosynthesis is the process of making food for a plant (PAUSE). Its leaves take in the carbon dioxide (PAUSE) and its roots pull up water (PAUSE) from the ground.  When these items – the energy (PAUSE), the carbon dioxide (PAUSE), and the water (PAUSE) – mix, they create sugars (PAUSE). These sugars (PAUSE) flow back through the stem and oxygen is released (PAUSE).

And that is how photosynthesis is done (PAUSE and bow).

Photosynthesis is often a challenging topic to teach students, because it's hard to conceptualize and understand. Starting off your plants unit with a role playing activity about photosynthesis is the perfect way to get students engaged and to help them visualize how photosynthesis works!
All of these photosynthesis materials and role-playing activities can be found in my plant unit.

Each of the underlined words are the “roles” being played by other students. For example, the role of sugar would read this on his or her slip:

Sugar: Begin by sitting on the floor next to the plant. When the narrator says sugar, jump up and down while saying, “We’ve got sugar! The plant now has food!”

It’s a fun way to make the photosynthesis process interactive and visual! The students always enjoy it and definitely remember it! After we have acted out the process, then we go into reading about it and looking at actual diagrams.

But, I always start with the role-playing process because it makes a HUGE difference in their understanding – and it’s just engaging!

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