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Growing Green on the Red Planet Emergency Lesson Mark as Favorite (2 Favorites)

LESSON PLAN in Elements, Interdisciplinary, Photosynthesis, ChemMatters Teaching Resources. Last updated February 19, 2024.


In this lesson, students will learn about elements, compounds, and chemical reactions through reading the highly rated ChemMatters article, Growing Green on the Red Planet. The lesson includes several activities to help promote literacy in the science classroom related to the reading. This lesson could be easily used as an emergency lesson plan for a substitute teacher, as most of the activities are self-guided.

Grade Level

High School

NGSS Alignment

This lesson will help prepare your students to meet the performance expectations in the following standards:

  • HS-ETS1-2: Design a solution to a complex real-world problem by breaking it down into small, more manageable problems that can be solved through engineering.
  • Scientific and Engineering Practices:
    • Constructing Explanations and Designing Solutions
    • Obtaining, Evaluating, and Communicating Information


By the end of this lesson, students should be able to:

  • Compare and contrast the environmental conditions of planet Earth and Mars, with specific reference to both human life and plant life on each planet.
  • Describe the correlation between fertilizers, nutrients, and elements.
  • Explain how scientists have been able to model the conditions of Mars while on Earth.

Chemistry Topics

This lesson supports students’ understanding of:

  • Elements
  • Compounds
  • Chemical Reactions
  • Photosynthesis


Teacher Preparation: 5 minutes
Lesson: 60-90 minutes



  • No specific safety precautions need to be observed for this activity.

Teacher Notes

  • This lesson was originally designed by the ChemMatters Teacher Guide team as a meaningful resource for teachers to use as an emergency lesson plan for a substitute teacher.
  • The lesson includes multiple components, as outlined individually below. The ChemMatters article is essential for all of the activities. Teachers can choose to do one or all of the included activities. Student handouts and corresponding answer keys are provided for each item described below:
    • Anticipation Guide: Anticipation guides help engage students by activating prior knowledge and stimulating student interest before reading. Students should read and respond to each statement before reading the article, then, while they read, students should look for evidence supporting or refuting their initial responses and again respond to each statement.
    • Graphic Organizer: This helps students locate and analyze information from the article. Students should use their own words and not copy entire sentences from the article. Encourage the use of bullet points.
    • Reading Comprehension Questions: These questions are designed to help students read the article (and graphics) carefully. They can help the teacher assess how well students understand the content and help direct the need for follow-up discussions and/or activities. You’ll find the questions ordered in increasing difficulty.
  • Teaching Strategies:
    • Conversation Starters for “Growing Green on the Red Planet” before students dive into reading the article, it may be helpful to engage students with these questions/tasks:
      • Ask students what they know about how Mars is different from Earth (class discussion or journal entry).
      • Students create a diagram (just by recall, not research) to show everything a plant needs in order to grow, then revisit this diagram after reading the article.
  • Further Exploration: After completing the provided activities, you can use the following ideas and/or links with your students to complement the concepts introduced in the article.
    • Choose from any of the missions on this page: Current Mars Missions
      • Students can be broken into groups to explore and report out.
      • Teacher can choose one relevant to something currently being studied in class.
      • This can be used as a preliminary brainstorm session of things that would need to occur on Mars in order for humans to live there.
    • Create a diagram showing how a plant on Mars could get the nutrients to grow. To increase the chemical nature of this activity, students should research what form the elements must be in for the plant to be able to uptake them.
    • Try the lesson plan, In Search of Essential Nutrients from National Agriculture in the Classroom.
    • Use the lab, Break it Down, to learn about composting, then develop a plan for how composting could help with growing plants on Mars.