Drawing of leaf with parts listed in print and braille

Leaf Structure and Function

In this activity, students with visual impairments compare the structure and function of broadleaf leaves and pine needles.

Students with visual impairment should be introduced to the natural world with real objects when at all possible.  This activity allows students to observe both real objects to represent types of leaves and tactile graphics of the leaves.

Related vocabulary:


For Students with Low Vision:  


  1. Remove the “Leaf” raised line and picture from the APH Sense of Science Plant kit 
  2. Set up the light box or Mini-lite box if working with a low vision student.


When students arrive in class, have pine needles and the tactile graphic of a large leaf from the APH Sense of Science Plants Kit for each student on the desk.

  1. Ask students: Do you recognize these types of leaves?  Discuss how the leaves are different in shape – broad and flat versus needle-like. Consider surface area.  
  2. Ask: What benefit might leaves with this needle-like structure provide for trees?
  3. Discuss: Trees with this type of leaf can survive in cold, dry climates because they can retain water better than broadleaf trees and won’t freeze as easily.  Where would you expect these types of trees to be in the world?  In the United States?
    • Coniferous trees are more suited for cold and dry climates.  Most are evergreen meaning that they don’t lose their leaves (needles) in the winter  They are in fact found in the US only in the NE of the country and are found mostly in regions of the world that are N of the United States. Use the APH Tactile and Visual Globe to describe the location of coniferous forests. 
  4. Ask: What type of tree has this needle-like leaf?
  5. Discuss: coniferous evergreen trees 
  6. Show students examples of cones.
  7. Ask: Do trees with cones have flowers? Discuss (No they don’t)
  8. Ask: Why not? Discuss cones 
  9. Discuss the function of cones: reproduction 
  10. Closure: Students will review vocab words. 


If you have coniferous trees in your area, go and find specimens prior to this activity with the students.  

NGSS Standards:

Middle School – Structure and Function

LS1.A: Structure and Function

By Laura Hospitál

Collage of lead structure and function

Return to Accessible Science main page.

One-eyed monster wearing a white shirt and tie holding a computer.

Monster: Note taking skills

A space camp student standing inside a full space suit smiles at the camera.

Space Camp: Helping students with disabilities reach new heights

Woman surrounded by and linked to images of files, documents computer, setting gears, etc. symbolizing learning management system.

Using Blackboard Ally with low vision