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Minnie Evans, A Living Tree, and a Garden Called Airlie (lesson plan)


Students will view and discuss Minnie Evans’s The Tree of Life. They will draw their own tree in Evans’s style to illustrate their understanding of the needs of plants and animals.

Created by A+ Schools of NC

Grade Levels
1st Grade
NC Standards Correlations
Visual Art
1.V.1.2, 1.V.1.3, 1.V.2.2, 1.V.3.3
1.L.1.1, 1.L.1.2
English Language Arts
W.1.5, W.1.6

Artwork Related to this Lesson

  • The Tree of Life

    The Tree of Life, by Minnie Evans

    Inspired by visions communicated from God,

    learn more

Student Learning Objectives

  1. Students can list the basic needs of plants and animals.
  2. Students can show their understanding of plant/animal needs being met in their habitat and communicate these ideas through drawing and writing.
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Investigate the Art:

  1. Project The Tree of Life for students to view. Ask students to share what they notice.
  2. Give them background information on Minnie Evans: An African-American artist from North Carolina, Evans used crayons, pencils, and colored pencils for her drawings, and they were often created on notebook paper. She worked as a gatekeeper at Airlie Gardens in Wilmington.  
  3. After learning of Evans’s work at Airlie Gardens, ask students what they see in her drawing that may have been influenced by her work there. Have students work in groups of 4 to record their responses by writing and/or drawing each idea on an individual index card. As students share their ideas, have them “refer to the text” by pointing to evidence in the drawing that supports their thinking. Post the index cards on the board.
  4. Ask students why they think the artist named her work of art “The Tree of Life.”
  5. Introduce (or review) the concept of living/non-living. Ask students to look again at the drawing. Ask students: Are there any non-living things on the board? Name some non-living things that Minnie Evans may have seen in her work at Airlie Gardens.
  6. In groups students should record their ideas on individual notecards. Have students post their index cards on the board as they share their responses.
  7. Work with students to sort the index cards into living and non-living things.

Collaborative Drawings: 

  1. Review with students the basic needs of plants and animals. 
  2. Have students name an animal that lives in NC. As a group, discuss whether the elements found in the tree of life (living/non-living) could sustain the basic needs of the animal (food, water, shelter, air). How would the drawing stay the same, and what needs to be added to the drawing in order to provide the basic needs of the animal?
  3. Assign student groups one of the 3 regions of NC and have them read and research about an animal from that region. Describe the animal’s habitat and how the habitat meets the needs of that animal. 
  4. Using information from their research, have students create a collaborative tree of life drawing in the style of Minnie Evans on large chart paper or bulletin board paper. Their tree should include the animal they chose and all elements found in that animal’s habitat that meet its needs for survival. (The tree itself should be found in the habitat but does not necessarily have to be integral to the animal’s survival, i.e. it doesn’t have to be where the animal lives or what it eats, etc.)


  • Students will self-assess their drawings by completing a checklist to determine that they have shown: their animal, its food and water source, and the animal’s source of shelter. Each group will then fill in a Venn diagram comparing/contrasting their drawing to the original. 
  • Student groups will share their drawings with the class. Following each group’s presentation, discuss what was similar to and different from the original drawing. 


Written by A+ Fellow Lisa Milliken


Teachers will assess student’s understanding of the artwork, living/non-living things, needs of living things, and habitats based on:

  • Discussion of Evans’s The Tree of Life (Could they identify the symbols, subject, and theme of the work?)
  • Index card creation and sorting discussion (Could they correctly identify and distinguish living from non-living things?)
  • Tree of life drawings (Did they clearly communicate an idea through their artwork and show an understanding that the physical location (habitat) reflects what is shown in the immediate environment? Did they include all elements of the animal’s needs? Did their drawing reflect an understanding of the informational text used during research?)
  • Student self-assessment checklist (Did they correctly identify and show all of the animal’s needs being met by its habitat?)
  • Venn diagrams 


Lesson Resources

Teacher Background: 

Teacher should familiarize themselves with Minnie Evans and her art.


The following resources provide further information:



Medium, Environment, Living, Non-living, Organism, Space, Habitat


Lesson Extensions:

  • Teacher may wish to extend the lesson by having students use their drawings as a “map” for creating a dance about their animal’s habitat. Using their drawing as a reference, students would put their animal and each of the needs of the animal on individual index cards. They would then place cards on the floor in the same layout as they appear in the drawing. Students would create a dance to show each element of the habitat by moving from index card to index card. Their pathways should reflect the types of lines used in their drawing: straight, zigzag, curvy, etc. Body shapes and locomotor vs. non-locomotor movements would reflect the element they are representing in the drawing. 
  • The student’s tree of life drawing could become the front cover of a brochure to entice other animals to move to this habitat. The brochure should describe how the habitat will provide for the basic needs of the animals.
  • Divide students into 3 groups: coastal, piedmont, and mountains based on the areas for which they created their tree of life. They will work as a group to combine elements of each of their drawings on one piece of chart paper. This group tree representing one of the 3 NC regions will serve as the inspiration for a choreographed dance of their tree of life.


Grade Extensions:

K–living and non-living things

2–animal life cycles

3–life cycle of seed plants, plant parts, and functions

4–animal adaptations/habitat change

5–interdependence of plants and animals/ecosystems



  • Large index cards
  • Tape or magnets (for posting on board)
  • Pencils
  • Crayons and/or colored pencils
  • Chart paper or bulletin board paper for drawing
  • A variety of informational text about north carolina animals for research
  • Access to technology for online research

Related Content

Partner Organization A+ Schools of NC