ALEX Lesson Plan


What Does Life Require?

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  This lesson provided by:  
Author:Ryan Hook
System: Trussville City
School: Trussville City Board Of Education
Author:Yohna Mills
System: Birmingham City
School: Birmingham City Board Of Education
The event this resource created for:NASA
  General Lesson Information  
Lesson Plan ID: 34255


What Does Life Require?


By growing organisms in a variety of environments, students will explore different materials that living things need to survive.  

This lesson was created as part of the 2016 NASA STEM Standards of Practice Project, a collaboration between the Alabama State Department of Education and NASA Marshall Space Flight Center.

 Associated Standards and Objectives 
Content Standard(s):
SC2015 (2015)
Grade: 5
8 ) Defend the position that plants obtain materials needed for growth primarily from air and water.

Unpacked Content
Scientific And Engineering Practices:
Engaging in Argument from Evidence
Crosscutting Concepts: Energy and Matter
Disciplinary Core Idea: Ecosystems: Interactions, Energy, and Dynamics
Evidence Of Student Attainment:
  • Support an argument that plants get the materials they need for growth chiefly from air and water.
Teacher Vocabulary:
  • claim
  • evidence
  • hydroponic
Students know:
  • How plants obtain nutrients.
  • How to measure growth of a plant.
Students are able to:
  • Collect and analyze evidence about plant growth.
  • Determine whether evidence supports the claim that plants do not acquire most of the material for growth from soil.
  • Use reasoning to connect the evidence to support the claim. A chain of reasoning should include the following:
    • During plant growth in soil, the weight of the soil changes very little over time, but the weight of the plant changes a lot. Additionally, some plants grow without soil at all.
    • Because some plants don't need soil to grow, and others show increases in plant matter but not accompanying decreases in soil matter, the material from the soil must not enter the plant in sufficient quantities to be the chief contributor to plant growth.
    • Therefore, plants do not acquire most of the material fro growth from soil.
    • A plant cannot grow without water or air. Because both air and water are matter and are transported into the plant system, they can provide the materials plants need for growth.
    • Since soil cannot account for the change in weight as a plant grows and since plants take in water and air, both of which could contribute to the increase in weight during plant growth, plant growth must come chiefly from water and air.
Students understand that:
  • Matter, including air and water, is transported into, out of, and within plant systems.
AMSTI Resources:
AMSTI Module:
Dynamics of Ecosystems

Alabama Alternate Achievement Standards
AAS Standard:
SCI.AAS.5.8- Recognize that plants obtain materials needed for growth primarily from air and water.

Local/National Standards:


Primary Learning Objective(s):

Students will defend the position that their environment supported life by providing energy, nutrients, and water for growing organisms, including plants. 

Additional Learning Objective(s):

Students will create and maintain an environment. 

Students will make predictions based on a model. 

 Preparation Information 

Total Duration:

61 to 90 Minutes

Materials and Resources:

NASA Educator Guide Astrobiology in Your Classroom: Life on Earth...and elsewhere?(See Attachment section of this lesson plan)

  • What Does Life Require? Teacher Guide (pages 11-19)
  • What Does Life Require? Activity Guide for each student (pages 16 and 17)
  • What Does Life Require? Environment Cards for each class (page 15)
  • What Does Life Require: How to Tell What's Growing in Your Environment for each group (page 19)
  • What Does Life Require? Think About It for each student (page 18)
  • What Does Life Require? Presentation Rubric (see Attachment section of this lesson plan)
  • Plastic container for each group
  • Plastic wrap
  • Materials for Growing Environments:
    • seeds
    • pond water
    • apples
    • grapes
    • brine shrimp eggs from a pet store
    • yeast
    • bread
    • dried beans
    • cottage cheese or yogurt
    • lettuce
    • cornstarch
    • soil
    • hay

Technology Resources Needed:

OPTIONAL: A device that can record and/or display student responses (e.g.: document camera, tablet, interactive whiteboard, etc.)


Prior to this lesson, students should have classified organisms as living rather than non-living, which is a third grade standard.  

See the NASA Educator Guide on pages 11 and 12 for additional information on how astrobiologists determine if a planet or moon is a promising candidate for life.  


Part One:

1. Engage students by asking them to stand if they think life exists in outer space.   

2. Students will make a two-column chart in science notebooks with the headings "Living" and "Non-living" and record all they know about these words.

Students will turn-and-talk with table groups, adding to their columns as they discuss.  Lead a class discussion, reviewing the fact that all life requires water, nutrients, and energy.

3. Ask students how they would go about looking for life in the solar system.  Instead of searching for actual life forms, could we search for signs of life by searching for water, nutrients, and energy? 

4. Distribute the What Does Life Require? Activity Guide. Discuss question 1, recording class answers under the document camera while students record answers on their activity guide.

5. Explain that each table group must maintain a growing environment for the next ten days so that their organisms will have what they need to live.  Each table group should pick an Environment Card and answer questions 3-5. 

6. Review students' plans for maintaining their environment. Share tips from the Teacher Notes on the 12 Environments for Growing Organisms with table groups.

7. Provide students with the necessary materials for their environment.

Part Two:

8. Students answer questions 7 to 10. Over the next week or two, students observe their environment and identify what is growing using the How to Tell What's Growing in Your Environment key.  Students will write observations under question 11. 

9. Students present their environments to the class.  Each group must defend the claim that their environment supported life by providing energy, nutrients, and water.  Teachers may use the Presentation Rubric as a formative assessment during presentations.   

10. Have a class discussion based on students' answers to questions 9 and 10, which examine what all life requires.  Discuss how each environment provides an energy source, nutrients, and water.  

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Assessment Strategies

Teachers will use classroom discussion, students' Activity Guide answers, and the Presentation Rubric for assessment. 

Teachers can also use the What Does Life Require? Think About It (page 18) as a formal assessment.



1. Students will brainstorm the tools and instruments they would include on a robotic spacecraft that was sent to look for life on another planet in their science notebooks.  They will include drawings with labels and reasons for including each tool or instrument.  

2. Students may use everyday materials and the engineering design process to plan and create their robotic spacecraft. 


1. Teachers may use materials from Activity One in the attached Teacher Guide to further review living and non-living matter prior to the lesson.

2. To assist students who may need extra assistance, teachers may invite students to a small group. The teacher will use the Teacher Notes on the 12 Environments for Growing Organisms to identify the energy, nutrient, and water source in different growing environments.     

View the Special Education resources for instructional guidance in providing modifications and adaptations for students with significant cognitive disabilities who qualify for the Alabama Alternate Assessment.