Lesson One: Exploring Plant/Pollinator Relationships – Pollinator Game

Lesson Plan Title: Exploring Plant/Pollinator Relationships

Essential Question: How do plants and pollinators depend on one another for survival?

Overview: Many plants rely on pollinators to disperse pollen, make viable seeds, and increase genetic variability in their population. In this lesson, students role play as native plant and pollinator species, acting out the process of pollination. They learn how some pollinator species have developed specialized characteristics that make them particularly efficient and/or adapted to pollinating particular native plant species. By exploring the process of pollination, students will begin to understand the relationship of native plants and pollinators and the importance of pollinators to our food supply. For urban ecosystems to be resilient to effects associated with climate change and other habitat stressors, it is essential to promote greater diversity of native plant populations in critical refuges near dense urban centers. Following this classroom visit, participating school groups will visit the Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge (JBWR) and collect native plant seeds for cleaning and cultivation in their classrooms. The plants grown in their schools will be used to create restoration garden areas to attract native pollinator species to Gateway National Recreation Area.

Grade Level (s): Fourth Grade but can be adapted to any grade from K-12

Duration: 45 minutes to 1 hour

Group Size: Up to 32 students (2 breakout groups)

Location: Classroom, Schoolyard, Gym/Cafeteria

Learning Objectives:

  • Engage in a hands-on, movement-based activity that demonstrates how pollen moves
  • Discuss why some insects are better able to pollinate certain plants than others
  • Able to define and understand lesson vocabulary

Background information for the teacher to conduct this lesson plan :

Become familiar with vocabulary terms, and understand the relationship of pollinators to host plants. Choose a familiar vegetable that is easy to cut and clean seeds from.

Major vocabulary introduced:

Pollination/pollinators, Native species (vs. exotic or invasive), Seeds, Nectar, Pollen grains


  • Native plant image “necklaces” (Enough for approximately half of the class):

For a full set classroom set, print out, double sided, one copy of the file titled “FLOWERS

Download (PDF7930385)

  • Ziploc Bags of colored balls representing pollen grains (1 per native plant) or for a full classroom set, single sided, one copy of the file titled “POLLEN

Download (PDF58208662)

  • Pollinator species image “necklaces” (Enough for approximately half of the class)

For a full set classroom set, print out, single sided, four copies of the file title “INSECTS” ;

Download (PDF381020)

  • Empty quart size ziploc bags for insects to use for pollen collection
  • Pollination diagram

Pollination Diagram

  • 3-6 yellow squash (or other type of vegetable with large seeds in the center)

I. Park Ranger Introduction (5 mins): If Ranger visits class allow them to introduce themselves, and briefly tell about what they do at the park. Allow for one or two student questions after. If a ranger is not able to visit, read Park Rangers by Katherine Follett or discuss the job responsibilities of a Park Ranger.

II. Pollination Game (10-15 mins): The intent of this game is to get students to better comprehend the relationship between plants and pollinators and how some insects are better adapted to pollinate certain plants. In this activity students will be separated into two groups- one will be the insects and the other will be the plants.

  1. Each student will receive a species necklace. The species necklaces for the plants will have an image of their plant on the front and on the back it will tell them which insects they can give pollen to, how many pollen grains they should give to each insect, and it will have a reminder of what color those grains are. Each plant will receive a ziploc bag of 12 laminated colored circles, representing pollen.
  2. The species necklaces for the insects will have an image of their insect on the front and nothing on the back. Each insect will receive an empty quart size ziploc bag to use for pollination.
  3. During Round 1, It is up to the insects to figure out which plants will give them pollen; it will be the responsibility of the plants to give out the correct number of pollen balls to each insect according to the directions on their cards (or whether that insect receives pollen balls at all). Facilitators will assist the plants at this time. Insects will be told to go to each plant, but if they are turned down then move on to the next plant. Round 1 will go on for one minute and then all insects will return to their previous positions.
  4. Questions will be asked of the insects and plants. Insects’ Questions: How many times were you turned down by a plant? Did you end up getting a little or a lot of pollen?  Plant’s Questions: Were you turning down a lot of insects? What does that mean? Do you think that means your pollen will be spread far and wide or not be spread much at all?
  5. Round 2 is where the insects go back to the plants and try giving the pollen back to the correct plants. This will be another minute and at the end the insects will again go back to their previous positions. Questions will again be asked of the students and certain connections will be made.

Note: For grade eight and above, at the end of round two students who have plant cards can notice if they have received back pollen with their same pollen color but a letter that is different than the letter on their plant card. If they have , this means they have successfully cross pollinated with another plant of their species. If you choose, you can run a round three, where only those successful cross-pollinators can continue.

A. Insects’ Questions: Why do you think it is that you were turned down by some plants and readily given pollen by others

B. Plants’ Questions: Does the insect you were giving out pollen to help determine if the pollen is spread far? Did you end up with the same amount of pollen balls that you started with? For grade eight and above: were you able to cross pollinate?

III. Cleaning Seeds (20-25 mins): The goal of this activity is to better prepare the students for their field trip in which they will be collecting and cleaning seeds. We will have the students clean seeds from various vegetables and we’ll be asking important question throughout the exercise. We will also explain how cleaning the seed is important because it is useful to know exactly how many viable and ripe seeds you are working with. If you do not properly clean the seeds you could have an expectation of having 50 seeds ready to germinate meanwhile there are only 10 seeds with the ability to germinate. To avoid disappointment and an insufficient number of plants it is best to clean the seeds to determine how many are ripe for germination.

  1. What things surrounding a seed could make it difficult for pollinators to get to the seed and pollinate it? Could the innards and gunk be a problem for the pollination? Why do you think it is important to clean the seeds before planting them?

Assessment : Science Journal writing to check for understanding of plant-pollinator relationships by reflecting on the lesson activities. Optional Writing Prompt: What did you learn about how plants and pollinator help or depend on each other by playing the “Pollinator Game”?

Park Connections : Introduce the native plant species that students will be collecting seeds at their local part and growing in their classrooms.

Extensions/ Additional resources: check Member Toolkit for Additional Resources

Applicable Subjects: Life Science, Biology

Related Parks: Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge or any park with native pollinator friendly plants

Related NPS Programs: none

NYS Education Standard(s):

  • NYS LE 6.1 a- Green Plants are producers because they provide the basic food supply for themselves and animals
  • NYS LE 6.1b- All animals depends on plants. Some animals (predators) eat other animals (prey)
  • CCSS RI.4.3: Explain events, procedures, ideas, or concepts in a historical, scientific of technical text, including what happened and why, based on specific information in the text .
  • CCSS RI.4.4: Determine the meaning of general academic and domain-specific words and phrases in a text relevant to a Grade 4 topic or subject area .
  • 2: Reason abstractly and quantitatively

NYC K-8 Scope and Sequence Connections:

  • Grade 3: Unit 4 – Plant and Animal Adaptations
  • Grade 4: Unit 1 – Animals and Plants in their Environment
  • Grade 5: Unit 1 – Nature of Science, Unit 2 – Earth Science, Unit 4 – Exploring Ecosystems
  • Grade 6: Unit 2 – Weather, Unit 3 – Diversity of Life, Unit 4 – Interdependence
  • Grade 7: Unit 1 – Geology, Unit 4 – Dynamic Equilibrium: Other Organisms
  • Grade 8: Unit 1 – Reproduction, Heredity, and Evolution; Unit 2 – Humans and their Environment