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STEM ready



Tree Rings


  1. Students will understand that all trees are plants but not all plants are trees.
  2. Students will be able to explain how the rings of a tree relate to changes in the environment.
  3. Students will observe data (rings) and interpret what they mean.


1.LS1.3 Analyze and interpret data from observations to describe how changes in the environment cause plants to respond in different ways.


method of dating events and environmental changes based on tree rings
relating to trees
related to time
study of
Tree rings
inside of the tree has rings that tell us how old it is and what the weather was like during each year
able to be seen
the conditions in which plants, animals, and humans live

Prior Knowledge

K.LS1.3 Explain how humans use their five senses in making scientific findings.

Related Knowledge 

1.LS1.1 Recognize the structure of plants (roots, stems, leaves, flowers, fruits) and describe the function of the parts (taking in water and air, producing food, making new plants).

1.LS2.2 Obtain and communicate information to classify plants by where they grow (water, land) and the plant’s physical characteristics.

1.LS2.3 Recognize how plants depend on their surroundings and other living things to meet their needs in the places they live.

Career Connection

  • TVA botanist

Materials Needed

  1. Lesson slide deck
  2. Story rubric


Activity One: Students make observations about tree rings and learn what dendrochronology means.

Activity Two: Students watch a video to further understand dendrochronology. Then students make observations to tell a story about a tree’s life.

Lesson Flow

Driving Question: What do tree rings tell us about the life of a tree?


Activity One (10-15 minutes)

Focus Question: What is dendrochronology?

Crosscutting Concept (CCC): Patterns

Science and Engineering Practice (SEP):  Asking Questions and Defining Problems 

Sequence of Learning:

  • Observation of tree ring images:
    • What do you notice?
    • What do you wonder?
  • Images

Tree Rings

Sample Responses :

I notice circles. I notice different colors. I notice a pattern.
I wonder why there are different colors. I wonder how many circles there are.

tree rings

Sample responses:

I notice circles. I notice different kinds of circles. I notice rough spots.
I wonder why one side looks squished. I wonder why some lines are squiggly. 

Tree Rings

Sample responses:

I notice this is not a circle shape. I notice a really dark line.
I wonder why there is a dark line. I wonder why it is shaped this way.

  • Define and pronounce dendrochronology
    • Dendro = trees
    • Chrono = time
    • Ology = study
      • Dendrochronology means studying trees to tell what happened in its environment over time.

Activity Two (30-60 Minutes)

Focus Question: How can we, as TVA botanists, tell a tree’s story?

Crosscutting Concept (CCC): Cause and Effect, Structure and Function, Stability and Change

Science and Engineering Practice (SEP): Analyzing and Interpreting Data and Obtaining, Evaluating, and Communicating Information

Sequence of Learning:

All trees are plants, but not all plants are trees. Like all plants, trees have a structure. Trees have roots, trunk, branches, and leaves. When we want to understand a tree’s life we can look inside its trunk to learn its story. Rings on a tree tell us about the environment and what the tree experienced in a year. Tree rings can tell us about weather conditions like drought and natural disasters like forest fires. Trees can share a lot of information if we observe the patterns of tree rings and determine the causes of its patterns.

  • Big question: How are trees and plants related?
    • Turn and Talk:
      • Are all trees also plants?
      • Are all plants also trees?
      • All trees are plants but not all plants are trees.
        • A pine tree is a plant.
        • A dandelion is not a tree.
  • Review the parts of the tree. Notice and name the structures and their function

Parts of a tree

  • Watch this video from SciShowKids. *Built in 3 stopping points to talk with students. Click on each slide to watch the correct section of the video.
    • What is a tree ring? (0:00-1:40)
    • What do tree rings tell us? (1:40-3:19)
    • Why do scientists study tree rings? (3:19-5:31)
  • In collaboration with the teacher, students will create a story using evidence from the International Paper’s “ Reading the Rings of a Tree” poster to answer the driving question: How can we, as TVA botanists, tell a tree’s story?
    • Guidance for co-constructing the story with shared writing - ReadWriteThink website
      • Students generate the content for the story.
      • The teacher publicly transcribes ideas into sentences on a board or large chart paper.

              Example of a tree’s story: I am an old tree because it has lots of rings. You may notice I have a black mark. I got that scar during a fire. I did not get enough food for many years so I have several skinny rings. That means I did not grow very much during those years. I grew the most when I was young. Continue to study my rings and learn more about me.

  • Here is a rubric for scoring work:

Story Rubric