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Reading for the environment: SEEDS

February 16, 2021 by Nóra Wünsch-Nagy | 1 comments

Welcome to the second post in our ‘Reading for the environment’ series. Throughout the year we will post monthly articles complete with lesson plans and reading tips to help you focus on different aspects of the environment and raising environmental awareness in your English classes. Our Readers Blog primarily promotes the importance of reading in language education, but we also embrace the idea of caring for our environment. We also think that literacy and language development and environmental studies mutually support each other. To put it simply: the better your students’ literacy and language skills become, the more they will be able to learn about the environment and understand the urgent need to live in a sustainable fashion.

As we start thinking about preparing for Spring, we decided, for this second blog post, to focus on SEEDS. Why are they vital for our lives? What do they symbolize? What stories do we know about seeds? Why are they interesting for your English classes? First, let’s take a look at some scientific projects, and then we’ll turn to some stories about seeds for language learners.

The magic of seeds

Seeds are embryonic plants, covered in a protective shell. They carry the potential of life. Plants produce a wide variety of types of seeds and use an equally wide variety of strategies to disperse them. They are an essential step in a plant’s life cycle, which can last from one year (annual plants) through two years (biennials) to several (even hundreds) years (perennials). Plants provide oxygen, clean our water, are an essential part of the food chain and provide wood for shelter. We couldn't live without plants, or seeds.

Seeds symbolize life and renewal, and they also complete the circle of life. What’s more, a collection of seeds symbolizes diversity. Not only do they look stunningly different, but also have the potential to grow into crops, vegetables, flowers, bushes and trees. Seeds need to be treasured and protected in order to save our habitat.

One of our favourite images when we think of the power and generosity of seeds is the pomegranate fruit, which contains hundreds of seeds. This fruit is an important symbol of prosperity, ambition, fertility and good luck in many Middle-Eastern traditions.

Science projects for your English classes

The theme ‘seeds’ can be a springboard for many science-based projects both in and out of the classroom. While your students engage in these projects, they can practise different language skills and develop their vocabulary.

1 Grow your own plant project - Biology

  • Ideal for young learners and teens
  • It can be linked to a biology project. It’s a good idea to talk to the biology teacher.

This project can run all through a term or for a few months. Students will need to keep a diary of the development of a plant from seed through seedling into a fully grown plant. It’s best if the diary is handwritten in a notebook in which students can add illustrations or photos of the plant. Of course, they can also keep a log on their phones with notes and photos of the process.

They will need a container (a pot, a recycled punnet or any other plastic pot they can find in the kitchen). Remind them to make holes in the bottom of the pot. They will also need some soil (in some cases, such as watercress, cotton wool will do) and seeds. First they will need to sow seeds in the soil and then keep track of the development. Remind them to write down:

  • the type of seed and what they expect to see when it grows.
  • the date of seed sowing.
  • how often they need to water the soil.
  • where the pot is placed (somewhere easy to notice!)
  • any kind of change they notice.

This exercise prepares students for scientific observations and teaches them the basics of writing reports and procedures, two important genre families.

  • In compositional reports, students are asked to describe parts of wholes. When they describe the plant, they practise such descriptions.
  • In procedural reports, students need to recount observations and experiments. When they talk about their seed growing findings, they learn about this genre. The typical stages of such a text are Purpose - Method - Results.

If you would like to have more information about seed sowing, check out this sequence on the website of Royal Horticultural Society:

Check out the Make & Do and Play Station projects in these readers for more creative ideas:

  • Grow cress - Make and Do project in The Three Seeds by Herbert Puchta and Günter Gerngross, illustrated by Maria Sole Macchia
  • Sunflower - Play Station project in Sam and the Sunflower Seeds by Maria Cleary, illustrated by Lorenzo Sabbatini.

2 The life cycle of a plant - Biology

  • Ideal for teens
  • It can be linked to a biology project. It’s a good idea to talk to the biology teacher.

Ask students to prepare a poster or a presentation about the life cycle of a plant. To do this, they will need to consult some nature/biology websites and books. For example:

Give clear instructions to your students.

  • Recommend resources.
  • Show them an example of a well-designed poster.
  • Tell them that there should be a title, a main image (they can use a template), and explanation boxes. 
  • The text should be visible.
  • They need to add references at the bottom of the poster.
  • Recommend ideal sizes (e.g., sizes A3, A2).
  • Set the deadline for the poster presentation.

3 Seed banks - Biology, Geography

  • Ideal for teens
  • It can be linked to a biology project. It’s a good idea to talk to the biology teacher.

Seed banks are gene banks which store seeds to preserve our planet’s genetic diversity. There are some famous seed banks, like the Svalbard Global Seed Vault and the Millenium Seed Bank.

Students can prepare presentations about one of these places. Tell them to answer the following questions:

  • Where is the seed bank?
  • When was it created?
  • Why was it created? What do they preserve?
  • How large is it?
  • How many seeds does it preserve?
  • Can you visit it?

4 Seeds in space - Space

  • Ideal for higher level teens
  • It can be linked to a biology project. It’s a good idea to talk to the biology teacher.

You might remember the 2015 film The Martian, starring Matt Damon and directed by Ridley Scott, which tells the story of an astronaut-botanist who struggles to survive on Mars after an accident. Being a botanist, he plants potatoes in an attempt to secure food. This may seem to be an unlikely scenario, but there are lots of similar experiments in real life.

Ask your students to do some research into experiments involving seeds in space. Here are some examples.

And here’s an interesting article for you:

Seeds in stories

We have three stories for your language classes.

The three seeds by Herbert Puchta and Günter Gerngross, illustrated by Maria Sole Macchia

  • Level C / Cambridge Pre-A1 Starters level reader in the The Thinking Train series

Lara, Colin and Dylan live with their parents on a farm in Ireland. One day the children ask for a pony. Their dad gives them three seeds and asks them to grow a flower. The child with the most beautiful flower gets the pony. What happens when Lara’s seed doesn’t grow?

Sam and the Sunflower Seeds by Maria Cleary, illustrated by Lorenzo Sabbatini

  • Level C / Cambridge Pre-A1 Starters level reader in the Young Readers series

Sam loves visiting his grandad in the country and playing in the sunflower fields. One day, Sam's grandad gives Sam some sunflower seeds. Sam plants his seeds and he waters them carefully. But the seeds do not grow. Can Grandad help his seeds to grow?

The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett, adapted by Geraldine Sweeney, illustrated by Caterina Baldi

  • Level 2 / CEFR A1 - A2 level reader in the Helbling Readers Classics series

When Mary Lennox's parents die in India, she moves to England to live in her uncle's enormous manor. Mary is sad and lonely but one day she finds an old key to a secret garden that no one goes into and a whole new world of magic and enchantment opens up to her. Before long Mary learns to make friends for the first time. Can the garden bring back the love that is missing from their lives?

Of course stories about the vitality of seeds are present in religious and mythological texts as well, which might be ideal for upper secondary and adult learners. Do you or your students know any other stories about seeds? Share them with us!

Seeds as metaphor

The word seed is also used in everyday language as a metaphor for things of potential, something small which could develop into something bigger. Here are some interesting expressions to share with your students:

  • We sow the seeds of hope or distrust.
  • We can have seed money, seed capital and the seed of an idea.

Ask your intermediate level learners to find examples of seed used in this way. Share your ideas and make an online poster with all your seed words.

Blog Comments

Submitted by m.cleary on Wed, 03/03/2021 - 14:12
Reading for the environment
Great series of posts

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