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June 22, 2021 | 2 comments

How the Salina Garden Allowed Us to Integrate Project-Based Learning and Support English Language Learners

Several years ago, we were given the opportunity to receive a grant and create a school garden. I was asked by my principal to take the lead and I accepted.


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By Beth Gorman

Cultivating Young Minds

Several years ago, we were given the opportunity to receive a grant and create a school garden. I was asked by my principal, Susan Stanley, to take the lead and I accepted. I had never grown a vegetable, but I am an avid gardener and a lifelong learner. I had also seen at my school, Salina Elementary, many students’ faces light up with interest and anticipation every time hands-on learning projects, art materials and “learning by doing” opportunities were given. So, we took on the challenge.

That first year, we worked on many projects with students as we created the garden. We filled beds with soil, moved mulch and planted seeds. We planned and painted murals on the shed, made paving stones into fractions, and planted a pollinator bed to encourage bees and butterflies to join us. There were many great opportunities for children to use their five senses, ask questions and expand their knowledge base. Some students started to ask how to start gardens at home. I began gardening every morning in the spring as kids lined up outside the school. Mothers would come by for herbs, kids would come in to look, talk with me and pull weeds. The garden started to become an integral part of our school community.

To move the learning inside, our students worked on lessons prepared by the D-SHINES organization on health and nutrition. We had brain breaks, exercises, and tried new fruits and vegetables. We “ate the rainbow” and tasted and discussed different fruits and vegetables. We read books like Tops and Bottoms by Janet Stevens and discussed our vegetables in the garden. Which part did we eat? We created math arrays in the garden soil to plant seedlings. We measured the plants’ progress. We created teepees and a trellis for our beans and peas to grow on.

Our underlying message: There is much to learn to create and maintain a successful garden. We discuss, read, write, use math, plan and have duties (like weeding and watering). Sometimes, we must be patient. We must always be observers.

The more we learned, the better gardeners we became! This is the first year we tried seedlings. We will get fruit from our trees in the fall. Students take an active interest in reading about what is happening; they ask many questions. Our media specialist, Cynthia Alvarado, creates carts of books for students who want to learn and know more. Cyndi and I collaborate on future book titles and ideas to grow more literature opportunities in the garden.

There is hard work to be done almost all year. But the garden is also a place to rest, relax and read. I rarely walk down the hall in the school when a child doesn’t ask me if I need help or if I can take them out to the garden. Teachers have the flexibility to teach lessons in the garden daily and also to explore and learn.

What I have learned about our English language learners is that the garden provides these students with opportunities for hands-on learning. Everyone asks questions. Children actively participate. We can ask and answer questions with each other and with teachers. It’s OK not to know something—but there is always a way to learn an answer to a question! Students who are shy find their voice. Students who struggle with their speech or to find the English words relax and try and succeed in communicating their interest and joy. High-energy students find success moving mulch, turning soil in the spring and pulling weeds. Everyone finds a niche for success in the Salina Garden!

Help Your Students Grow More Ideas

For more ideas on engaging students in growing gardens, check out this reading list and download related resources from Colorín Colorado here.

Tops and Bottoms by Janet Stevens. Activity: Explore vegetables and identify which parts you eat. 

Soup Day by Melissa Iwai. Activity: Create and read soup recipes. Grow vegetables and herbs for making soup. Write your own soup recipe.

Spring After Spring by Stephanie Roth Sisson. Cycle of the earth and garden. How Rachel Carson inspired the environmental movement. Journals and a diary on changes in the garden throughout the year.

The Ugly Vegetables by Grace Lin. Understanding ugly vegetables. Tasting and comparing. Creating dishes. Persuasive writing: Choose Ugly Vegetables

It’s Our Gardenby George Ancona. Nonfiction text about a school garden. Gives us ideas about what we would like to try. Generates ideas for future projects.

The Backyard Bug Book by Lauren Davidson. Use magnifying glasses to look and document garden insects. Connect to pollinator lessons.

Outside Your Window by Nicola Davies. Beautiful book of poems on seasons and nature and garden topics.

About the Author

Beth Gorman has been an educator in the Dearborn Public Schools for more than 30 years. She has been a classroom teacher, Reading Recovery teacher, interventionist and now is instructional coach at Salina Elementary.

Beth Gorman

Beth Gorman has been an educator in the Dearborn PublicSchools for more than 30 years. She has been a classroom teacher, Reading Recovery teacher, interventionist and now is instructional coach at Salina Elementary.


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Lissette Barria
Lissette Barria June 24, 2021, 10:52 pm

Hello Ms. Beth: What a wonderful program! I love how your school was able to start a project like this. I myself love to garden. I am a bilingual paraprofessional at an elementary school in Hillsborough County and I have had the wonderful opportunity to share with the students how I grow my garden. I was invited by a first grade teacher to present a mini lesson during science about growing seeds. I prepared a PowerPoint and brought different leaves for students to see and touch. The types of leaves I brought were: mango leaves, and avocado leaves. The PowerPoint contained pictures of my pineapple plants and their flowers, tomato plants, green pepper plants, and a field of wild flowers with bees flying around them. I showed them how I started my compost pile and what it becomes after the little critters do their thing. They were so excited and full of questions.
I agree with you, there is a lot we can learn. It is so awesome to read about how a simple thing like gardening (although is hard work) can be incorporated into so many lessons and subjects.
Thank you for sharing your experience and I wish you, your students, and your school much success!

Beth Gorman
Beth Gorman June 25, 2021, 3:48 pm

Thank you so much! The kids are so incredibly motivated to learn and talk and draw and read about things in the garden. Even our no English students love to come out! We get newcomers almost all year long. It helps them feel welcome and builds community with them in their new school. I have found so many essential standards can be reinforced and built upon in the garden! It’s a remarkable tool.