Trees: Air Cycle Dance

Post-Visit Activity, All Grades

Adapted from Shelburne Farms Project Seasons, D. Pazella 


Students will show their understanding of the carbon dioxide/oxygen cycle through a role-playing activity. 


  • Construction paper
  • Markers
  • Yarn
  • Tape


Plants make their food through the process of photosynthesis.  Plants use sunlight energy to convert carbon dioxide (a gas in the air) and water into sugars (carbohydrates).  This occurs in chloroplasts in the plant's leaves.  A by-product of photosynthesis is oxygen, which is used by animals.  Plants release oxygen through tiny holes in the leaves called stomata.  As animals use energy, they exhale carbon dioxide, which can then be used by plants for photosynthesis. 


1.  Ask the class to think about how plants and animals rely on one another.  Children who can read may benefit from having the brainstormed ideas written on the board.  Make sure students cover the idea that plants give animals food, shelter, and oxygen.  Animals give plants fertilizer and carbon dioxide, and aid in pollination and seed dispersal.  Students will need to know air is a gas that has two parts that are important to the air cycle:  carbon dioxide and oxygen. 

Explain that the class will act out the air cycle.  The air cycle has been going on between plants and animals for millions of years. 

2.  Divide the class into half.  One half of the students will be animals, one half will be plants.  Instruct the plants to draw a plant on their construction paper and hang it around their neck.  Encourage a variety of plants (trees, cacti, bushes, grasses).  Animals should draw picture of an animal on their paper and hang these around their necks.  Encourage students to draw animals other than mammals (frogs, snakes, birds).  Explain that the air cycle is like a dance.  Tell them each group will have a starting cue and a certain sequence of movements to perform as their part of the dance.

3.  Gather the plants in a line on one side of the room and explain they will start the dance.  Ask them what four things they need to grow (air, water, soil, sun).  Explain their cue will be carbon dioxide, the kind of gas in the air they need to live. 

Tell the plants to pretend to breathe in when they hear the words carbon dioxide.  Have them reach out their arms and pull in carbon dioxide while saying, "Carbon dioxide, aaah." 

Then the plant children should drink up water and nutrients from the soil through their roots.  Have them bend down to the ground and rise up slowly while making slurping noises.  Next have them do something only plants can do, make food from sunlight.  Have them jump into the air with their arms out and shout, "Hooray, sun!"  Older students might shout, "Photosynthesis!" 

Lastly, the plants breathe out oxygen.  This is what is "leftover" from the carbon dioxide.  Have them wave their hands in front of their faces and push away while saying, "Oxygen." 

You might want to have them practice to be sure the plant children know the sequence. 

4.  Now ask the students what animals need to live (air, food, water).  Explain they receive their starting cue from the plants:  "oxygen," the gas in the air that animals need to live. 

On their side of the room, have the animals breathe the oxygen in from the plants by pulling it in with their hands while saying, "Oxygen, aaah." 

They then eat food and drink water.  Have them imitate eating and drinking. 

When they are full of energy, the animals can do something the plants can't, move around.  Have them dance and wiggle in place and use energy. 

Finally the animals breathe out carbon dioxide.  Have them exhale, by pointing their breath towards the plant side of the room and say, "Carbon dioxide." 

The cycle now continues as the plants hear their cue, "carbon dioxide." 

5.  Guide the plants and animals through the air cycle dance, first in slow motion stressing the important parts of the cycle.  Then pick up the speed.  You might have them do the dance as fast as they can, as dramatically as they can, or even as quietly as they can.  End the dance with all taking a bow.