Fall foliage sets the stage for some great interdisciplinary teaching. Plan a full day or sprinkle activities through the season. Grab your students’ attention with a colorful leaf chromatography experiment. Continue with some nonfiction reading. Create and analyze fall foliage maps. Explore personification in literature and film, then try some of your own. If you’re game, add a little math with factor trees. And what’s fall without a craft or two?
Science – Leaf Chromatography
This experiment is sure to wow your students. Cut up and mash red leaves and green leaves. (We use leaves from the same tree to design a fair test.) Add isopropyl alcohol. Keep the ratio of leaves to alcohol high to make a more colorful concoction. Hang a strip of coffee filter from a pen or pencil so the filter dips into the mixture. You will begin to see some colors separating on the filter within an hour. Leave it overnight or longer for more magnificent results.
Time for Me to Leaf: Tree Chlorophyll Chromatography (8:44) complements this science activity well. The MIT students who created the video are entertaining in their leaf costumes, and they try the experiment using a slightly different process.
Informational Texts & Videos – Why Leaves Change Color
You can follow up the experiment with a nonfiction reading activity. Why Leaves Change Color (North Carolina Testing Program) offers a one-page text with five comprehension questions. If you’d rather watch a video for the scientific explanation, try one of these:
- Why Leaves Change Color (Untamed Science – 3:11)
- Why Do Leaves Change Color? (Super Scienced – 2:42)
Social Studies – Fall Foliage Map
When do leaves change color? Why do they change colors at different times? What factors determine when leaves turn color? Try this dynamic map activity to find out!
Kids love these coloring sheets. They color states (or parts of states) to show when leaves change colors in each area of the country. Two levels, basic and advanced, allow you to differentiate for your group.
When students finish coloring, they compare their maps to landform or elevation maps. Analyzing patterns discloses four main factors in timing of fall foliage changes: latitude, elevation, proximity to water, and temperature (which is affected by the three other factors).
Literature & Film with Personification of Trees
Trees are often personified in literature and film. Ask your students for examples, then offer a few of your own. These ideas will get you started:
- The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein
- The Wizard of Oz – Apple Trees (1:04)
- Pocahontas – Grandmother Willow (3:03)
- Harry Potter – Whomping Willow (1:12)
Writing – Personification of a Tree
Now it’s time for the students to try some personification of their own. Click here to download this organizer.
After your students complete their masterpieces, let them illustrate with a little sponge art. (Or try this bundled Q-tip autumn tree art.) Voila!
Math – Factor Trees
Even math can tie into your special theme day. Try some prime factorization with factor trees. The folks at mathworksheetsland.com provide this complete learning cycle for free!
Get Crafty with Leave
Don’t forget a few fun crafts! Leaf rubbing/etching is easy. If you’ve never done it, check out this step-by-step guide from First Palette. Looking for more? Check out 15 Fabulous Fall Leaf Crafts from DIY & Crafts.
Enjoy teaching about fall foliage!