Plant Needs – biology, chemistry and physics for 11-14 students


This collection of resources for 11-14 students uses the topic of plants to address important scientific ideas in biology, chemistry and physics.

While investigating how plants have evolved to grow and flourish in many different environments, the students can cover topics about atoms, elements and compounds, energy, and the particle model.

The resources involve a mixture of independent investigations, engaging and hands-on practicals, and activities to identify misconceptions and strengthen understanding. Teachers can opt to include as many or as few of the resources from the collection as they like.


Studying the needs of plants can bring together important scientific ideas in biology, chemistry and physics.

To grow healthily a plant needs air, water, nutrients, light and warmth. These are needed for the vast numbers of chemical reactions that happen as a plant grows.



Air, water and nutrients are the starting point for the chemical reactions that happen to ‘build’ a plant. They are all forms of matter. Matter is anything that has mass, in other words, can be weighed.



Light and warmth are about transferring energy. Light is one way that energy can be transferred from place to place. Warming and cooling are two of the effects than may happen when energy is transferred. Energy does not have mass, but it can be quantified. So we can talk about amounts of energy.


This group of activities is about what plants need to grow healthily:

  • Plants, matter and energy
  • Plant reactions
  • Plant nutrients
  • Making and testing plant nutrients
  • Homemade fertilisers

Key scientific ideas

These are summarised by statements in the National Curriculum for science in England at key stage 3:

In biology pupils should be taught about Nutrition and digestion, which includes:

  • plants making carbohydrates in their leaves by photosynthesis and gaining mineral nutrients and water from the soil via their roots


In chemistry pupils should be taught about the Particulate nature of matter and about Atoms, elements and compounds. This includes:

  • the properties of the different states of matter (solid, liquid and gas) in terms of the particle model, including gas pressure
  • changes of state in terms of the particle model
  • a simple (Dalton) atomic model
  • differences between atoms, elements and compounds


In physics pupils should be taught about Changes in systems and about the Particle model. This includes:

  • energy as a quantity that can be quantified and calculated; the total energy has the same value before and after a change
  • comparing the starting with the final conditions of a system and describing increases and decreases in the amounts of energy associated with movements, temperatures, changes in positions in a field, in elastic distortions and in chemical compositions
  • the differences in arrangements, in motion and in closeness of particles explaining changes of state, shape and density, the anomaly of ice-water transition


Tackling common misconceptions

The activities also provide an opportunity to tackle some of the common misconceptions, including

  • Particles are the same, for example, as grains of sugar and flecks of dust.
  • There is air between particles
  • Particles expand on heating
  • When ice is heated its particles melt
  • Particles in a liquid are smaller than in a solid.

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