K-12 Teaching and Learning From the UNC School of Education

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a large pitcher plant in a botanical garden


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Learning outcomes

Students will develop an understanding of the plight of endangered carnivorous plants and discover that contaminants inadvertently introduced into an ecosystem can have detrimental effects.

Teacher planning

Time required for lesson

6 days


  • pictures of carnivorous plants in PowerPoint format
  • charts and markers

Technology resources

  • computer with presentation device and PowerPoint software
  • digital cameras
  • computers with internet access and word processing software


Day One

  • Use a KWL format to determine what students know about carnivorous plants. Divide class into groups of three or four. Distribute pictures of carnivorous plants or view the presentations on Venus flytraps, pitcher plants, sundew plants and the butterwort plant. Discuss methods these plants use to trap insects and have the students look for adaptations that each plant possesses to enable it to capture insects.
  • Explain that all of these plants are endangered. Have them brainstorm reasons these plants are endangered. Have them list all reasons the plants could be endangered on a chart. Also have them write any questions they may have about carnivorous plants on the chart. Post the charts around the room and create a master list of the reasons students came up with for why the plants are endangered. Accept any probable reason. If not included, be sure to list that the plants are dying out and people are collecting the few plants, which exist in the wild.
  • Tell the students the North Carolina Land and Water Conservancy has traced the problem to the use of fertilizer. Discuss the role of fertilizer in agriculture and establish that a substance beneficial to one plant can be detrimental to another (such as the pitcher plant). Have students hypothesize why the fertilizer may be harmful to the pitcher plant. Write all hypotheses on a chart.

Day Two

  • Give the students their scenario. Print it out, use a transparency, or other presentation device. Divide the class into six groups. Assign each group a different citizen concerned about the pitcher plant situation.
  • Have the students read the position of their assigned citizen and discuss the goals and concerns of that citizen. Give each team 10–20 minutes to discuss the role they have been assigned. Tell them that they need to become an expert on that citizen’s point of view although they may not agree with that position themselves. Tell them that they will share their information with the other groups. Encourage them to explore diverging points of view. At the end of the discussion time, give each group a sheet of chart paper and a marker. Have each group write their character (naturalist, farmer, chemist, mayor, medical researcher, or student) at the top of the chart. Then have them complete the chart with answers to the following questions:
    1. What is the main concern of this character?
    2. What is the primary goal of this character?
    3. What is this character’s position concerning the future of the pitcher plants?
    4. What questions might this character ask of others in the community?
  • Post the charts in six different areas of the room. Use a rotation to allow each group the opportunity to read each chart. Point out that each position can be traced to one of the following objectives:
    • economic prosperity
    • preservation of biodiversity
    • societal or political approval
    • personal satisfaction and comfort
    • health benefits
    • educational or professional achievement
  • List these goals on the board and have the students try to rank them from the most important to the least important. Have the students match each goal with the position. (Answers: economic prosperity—farmer; preservation of biodiversity—naturalist; societal or political approval—mayor; personal satisfaction and comfort—student; health benefits—medical researcher; educational or professional achievement—chemist.)

Day Three

Have the groups review their citizen’s position and their charts from the previous day. Tell them that they will research that viewpoint using internet resources. Give sufficient time for the groups to plan the focus of their research and to find information to support their position.

Day Four

  • Use a role-playing activity where the group representing each position is allowed to voice his/her perspective. Have a town meeting to decide a plan of action concerning the future of the pitcher plant. Tell the students that the needs of each position must be addressed.
  • Optional: Have each student write a summary of the pitcher plant situation, the concerns of each position, and the plan of action decided by the town meeting. Allow students to use the word processor to write their rough drafts. Edit as necessary and have students complete the final copy of their summary.

Day Five

Visit the North American Cypress Swamp area of the North Carolina Zoological Park while plants are growing (summer, early fall, late spring). Have students record their findings of carnivorous plants-especially pitcher plants-using digital cameras.

Day Six

  • Have students create PowerPoint or other multimedia presentations using their images of pitcher plants and other carnivorous plants.
  • Optional: Have the students write letters to government officials and other policy makers describing the actual pitcher plant problem. Have them express their concerns and values in regards to the pitcher plant. Also have them include any viable solutions. These could be emailed or printed out for mailing.


Supplemental information


The author thanks Glenn Gurley of Highland School of Technology, Gaston County, and Craig Smith of Randleman Middle School, Randolph County, for their invaluable contributions to this lesson.

  • North Carolina Essential Standards
    • Science (2010)
      • Grade 8

        • 8.E.1 Understand the hydrosphere and the impact of humans on local systems and the effects of the hydrosphere on humans. 8.E.1.1 Explain the structure of the hydrosphere including: Water distribution on earth Local river basins and water availability 8.E.1.2...

North Carolina curriculum alignment

English Language Arts (2004)

Grade 8

  • Goal 1: The learner will use language to express individual perspectives through analysis of personal, social, cultural, and historical issues.
    • Objective 1.03: Interact in group activities and/or seminars in which the student:
      • shares personal reactions to questions raised.
      • gives reasons and cites examples from text in support of expressed opinions.
      • clarifies, illustrates, or expands on a response when asked to do so, and asks classmates for similar expansion.
  • Goal 3: The learner will continue to refine the understanding and use of argument.
    • Objective 3.03: Evaluate and create arguments that persuade by:
      • understanding the importance of the engagement of audience by establishing a context, creating a persona, and otherwise developing interest.
      • noting and/or developing a controlling idea that makes a clear and knowledgeable judgment.
      • arranging details, reasons, and examples effectively and persuasively.
      • anticipating and addressing reader/listener concerns and counterarguments.
      • recognizing and/or creating an organizing structure appropriate to purpose, audience, and context.

Information Skills (2000)

Grade 8

  • Goal 5: The learner will COMMUNICATE reading, listening, and viewing experiences.
    • Objective 5.03: Describe, support an opinion, and/or persuade an audience using a variety of media formats (print, graphical, audio, video, multimedia).

Science (2005)

Grade 8

  • Goal 3: The learner will conduct investigations and utilize appropriate technologies and information systems to build an understanding of the hydrosphere.
    • Objective 3.07: Describe how humans affect the quality of water:
      • Point and non-point sources of water pollution in North Carolina.
      • Possible effects of excess nutrients in North Carolina waters.
      • Economic trade-offs.
      • Local water issues.
    • Objective 3.08: Recognize that the good health of environments and organisms requires:
      • Monitoring of the hydrosphere.
      • Water quality standards.
      • Methods of water treatment.
      • Maintaining safe water quality.
      • Stewardship.