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Expository Writing, Organisms: Life and Growth


K, 1st, 2nd


Science, Biology, English Language Arts


60 minutes

Regional Focus

North America, United States, USA - Northeast, New Jersey


Google Docs, Google Slides

Plants Without Soil?

Created By Teacher:
Last Updated:
Sep 30, 2022



This lesson introduces students to the benefits of an aquaponics system, especially in areas where clean soil and water are scarce. 


Step 1 - Inquire: Students answer questions about what plants need to grow and make predictions about what an aquaponics system is.


Step 2 - Investigate: Students learn about aquaponics systems by watching videos and having a discussion.


Step 3 - Inspire: Students set up their aquaponics system in the classroom and create journals for recording predictions and observations.

Accompanying Teaching Materials
10 minutes

  • Students think-pair-share the questions “What do you need to grow?” “What do plants need to grow?” and “Can you grow plants without soil?”

    • Teachers can encourage students to activate knowledge of a school or community garden.

    • If you do not have a school garden, share the Garden Photos with the students.

  • Students share responses as the teacher records them digitally or on chart paper to refer to during the lesson.

  • Teacher asks students, “What is an aquaponics system?” and records responses again.

20 minutes

  • Students watch the videos Kid Engineer: Growing Plants with Fish and Aquaponics - Pass the Plate.

  • Teachers can also show the video Who Needs Dirt? and read the book From the Garden State to Your Plate.

  • Students discuss the system parts and benefits.

    • Where would this system be helpful? Why?

    • What are the differences between an aquaponics system and our outdoor garden in New Jersey?

    • What are we able to grow in NJ in our outdoor garden?

    • How can using an aquaponics system help us grow plants in New Jersey? Or elsewhere in the world?

  • Students create their own definition of an aquaponics system.

  • Students add the definition of aquaponics to their Digital Journal or Paper Journal.

  • Optional activity: Teacher takes students out to the school garden with garden journals to review what is needed for plants to grow in the outdoor garden area. Plan additional time if choosing to go outside

30 minutes
  • Students help set up their aquaponics system in the classroom. The class can use a purchased system which includes a 10 gallon fish tank, grow bed, clay pebbles, a grow light, and fish. The class can also build a simple system using tanks, pipes, pumps, and clay pebbles.

  • Students continue journal work.

    • Students make predictions about what will happen when lettuce seeds are scattered in the clay pebbles in the grow bed on top of the fish tank.

    • Students draw an aquaponics system for day 1.

  • Students (with teacher support, as needed) read the factsheet How is the climate changing in New Jersey? and discuss how this connects to alternative gardening methods.

  • Teacher leads students in reflecting on the benefits of an aquaponics system.

    • How does it help the fish?

    • How does it help the seeds grow?

    • How can this help humans?

  • Students answer reflection questions.

    • Where in the world could this be helpful? Why?

    • How can this system help us in New Jersey?

Teaching Tips


  • This lesson creates a collaborative learning environment as students engage with a variety of science and engineering practices.

  • Connections are made between the school garden in NJ and other locations where gardening may be difficult for a variety of environmental reasons.

  • Project-based learning and hands-on activities promote engagement and participation from all learners.

  • This lesson features vocabulary development which broadens student understanding of the concept of aquaponics.

Additional Prerequisites

  • The lesson takes ~60 minutes, but students will continue 10-15 minutes one day a week for recording observations in their digital or paper journals.

  • Students will need a basic understanding of what seeds and plants need to grow and produce food.

  • Additionally, students would benefit from an opportunity to plant seeds in soil and observe the life cycle from seed germination to food production prior to this lesson.


  • If teaching remotely, students can have access to teacher slides and digital resources, including journals to participate from home.

  • This lesson provides opportunities for students to learn about the topic using different modalities including visual, auditory, kinesthetic, and tactile.

  • Groups of students with mixed abilities can collaborate on their journal definitions, predictions, and observations.

  • Teachers can structure the learning around explaining or solving a social or community-based issue.

  • An extension activity can be a salad party. After lettuce grows, students will have the opportunity to pick, wash, and taste their own lettuce.

Scientist Notes

This lesson demonstrates the importance of sustainable agriculture and how gardening without soil can provide positive results. This is a hands-on activity for students to engage in gardening. Aquaculture and hydroponics are discussed in good detail. All the materials featured in the lesson have been verified, and this lesson is recommended for teaching.

  • English Language Arts
    • Writing (K-12)
      • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.W.2.7 Participate in shared research and writing projects (e.g., read a number of books on a single topic to produce a report; record science observations).
      • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.W.2.8 Recall information from experiences or gather information from provided sources to answer a question.
    • Speaking & Listening (K-12)
      • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.SL.2.5 Use multimedia; add drawings or other visual displays to stories or recounts of experiences when appropriate to clarify ideas, thoughts, and feelings.
  • Science
    • LS2: Ecosystems: Interactions, Energy, and Dynamics
      • 2-LS2-1. Plan and conduct an investigation to determine if plants need sunlight and water to grow.
    • ETS1: Engineering Design
      • K-2-ETS1-1. Ask questions, make observations, and gather information about a situation people want to change to define a simple problem that can be solved through the development of a new or improved object or tool.


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