Prairie Roots: Lesson Plans

prairie roots

Prairie roots have a story to tell!

The first step in bringing that dynamic story to life is actually seeing the massive roots that are normally hidden from view. Their sheer size is striking.

But it takes more than simply looking at a preserved root or life-sized image to truly engage in the story of how prairie roots impact and improve soil health and water quality. That’s why the Tallgrass Prairie Center has developed lesson plans to help students learn about the ecological services provided by prairie roots. Developed and aligned to Iowa Core standards for upper elementary and middle school, many of the activities can be adapted for younger and older students.

The following lesson plans were created, reviewed and field-tested by a team of formal and informal educators from across Iowa. Using an active learning approach, they provide fun, engaging activities to promote meaningful learning and enduring knowledge.

Grades 4-5 
Prairie Roadshow

Students turn a school hallway into a prairie roadside, while learning about the important services provided by prairie roots.

Grades 4-6 
Root Kerplunk

With the help of jump ropes and Nerf balls, students explore two ecosystem services provided by prairie roots: nutrient reduction and invasive weed control.

Grades 4-6 
Muddy Waters

Students play a variation on the game of Tag to learn how prairie buffers capture runoff in agricultural fields.

Grades 5-7 
Prairie and Culture: Roots that Bind

Students learn the similarities between cultural roots and prairie roots. Both provide a foundation for understanding Iowa's rich soil and how it's defined the state's cultural heritage. Click here to see a video adaption of this lesson plan. 

Grades 5-8 
Incredible Carbon Journey

Students become a carbon atom and experience the movements of carbon through the environment, including its time sequestered in prairie roots.

Grades 5-8
Routes for Infiltration

Using observations in the field, students test and compare the rates at which water infiltrates soil with difference amounts and/or kinds of roots.

Grades 5-8
Roots - Why So fine?

Using root models made of commonly available materials, students explore how the size of roots affects their ability to exchange materials with soil.

Grades 6-8
Battleship Roots

Pairs of students play a battleship-style game to show how roots explore the soil to obtain resources.

Grades 7-8
Root Community

Students use hand lenses to search for, identify and quantify invertebrates in soil samples with and without perennial roots.

Grades 7-8
School of Roots

Students learn about ecosystem services provided by prairie roots by matching them to services provided by various components of a school.