Breathe in, Breathe Out:  The life of a tree

Lesson Introduction

Trees are our friends. They talk to me, and maybe they talk to you too. They are transformers. 

They breathe in what our lungs exhale (carbon dioxide, or CO2), and breathe out what our lungs need (oxygen, or O2). In essence, trees are the lungs of earth and we owe our biological existence to them.  Life as we know is impossible on a planet with no oxygen. Remember, carbon dioxide is harmful for humans to breathe, but oxygen is vital to life, and trees cannot make that oxygen without carbon dioxide! 

Today we are going to think about human bodies in the same way that we think about trees and wetland plants, except for humans it is negative emotions rather than CO2, and positive emotions as the exhaled oxygen.  Because in truth, we have to accept the difficult, and through our willingness, transform it into something positive, we can create air and space for grown around us. 

So as you do this exercise, Imagine yourself tall as a tree, think of what kind of tree you are, what season it is, who is living in you. And as this tree, transform, or breathe in sad, painful, scary, yucky and transmute them to happy, connected, nurturing, heart-centered feelings. Breathing in, we acknowledge something difficult, polluting, disrespectful, or painful, and breathing out, we shift our focus to something equal, positive, healthy, compassionate and joyful.

Check out the examples then find me again on the “How to section” of this page.

I want to thank the amazing Mo Hurley of California Poets in the Schools for this wonderful launching pad.  

Mitch and Greg from ASAP Science created this song with trees as the music — ONLY TREES and their voices. Check it out!

Created by Mitchell Moffit and Gregory Brown This song is inspired by “Girls” by The Beastie Boys.

oxygen cycle
Self Quiz:
  • What is your favorite local or faraway tree?
  • Do you have a tree that you connect to every day?
  • Do you think trees are important for our future?

1. If you were a tree would you be – deciduous (lose all of your leaves for part of the year) or evergreen (never lose all leaves at once).

2. If you were a tree, how would you connect with our world? (such as Provide wood for building, Provide pulp for paper, Provide habitats (homes) for insects, birds and other animals, Provide fruit (apples, oranges, plums, pears…), Provide nuts (walnuts, chestnuts, almonds…), Provide sap (maple syrup…), Provide shade or limbs for swings.

3. What continent would you live on? [North America, South America, Europe, Africa, Asia, Australia, Antarctica

4. Where would you grow? [In the woods, In a forest, Near the ocean, Near a lake, Near a river, in a park, Near the desert, In the mountains, By a road, In the city.

Directions for Writing Your Own Poem

Things to Consider:

Think of the examples you have read and write poems using the “Breathe in, breathe out” format, breathing in difficult things and breathing out lovely things.

    • Extend your thoughts with each line so that your poems move beyond simple list poems.
    • Use the repetition of “breathe in” and “breathe out”, repeating those lines as needed to write your poem.
    • Use your T-charts as inspiration (if they wish)
    • Use colors, other adjectives, specific names of places, plants, and so on
    • Write in a “poetic” format (short lines, not paragraphs)
    • Title your poem at the end
    • And of course, have fun writing


  • I breathe in (something bad, sad, hard),
  • I breathe out (something happy, joyful, peaceful).
  • What colors would you breathe in and out?
  • What animals and plants
  • What environmental problem/solution?
  • What kinds of people?
  • What weather?
  • What sounds and smells? What types of words?
  • What emotions?
  • What family problems, solutions?


I breathe in _________________________________________
I breathe out ________________________________________

Extend your thoughts so that your poem does not become a simple list. 

Example Poem (written from the prompts above)

The Breadth of Being

Breathe in like trees do
swallow the dark, billowing plumes of progress
exhale the clear night air and owl-scattered skies

breathe in dead white rules that only serve few
breathe out dignity and respect for all beings
families living in warm houses,
drinking safe water, singing by a fire
grandparents reading to children
comfort your friend
who wonders what she will do without her husband
bare her your heart

breathe in her numb silence
breathe out a waterfall of tears
that carries her down the river back to joy
and acceptance
today, like yesterday and tomorrow
make soup and laugh like black birds

breathe out long afternoons by the sea
light slanting toward dusk

breathe in the storms, breathe out the sun,
the sea mist, the girls making sand castles
the boys scrambling on rocks

breathe in winter, breathe out summer
breath in spring, breathe out fall
climb inside every season and look around
discover where it loves you most
love it back as if your life depends on it

breathe in broken shards of story
breathe out whole pictures

Blake More

****Now It is your turn****

I can't wait to experience what you write!

The above video is an interesting look at the sound of trees! 

essential to all life

Audio & Video Inspiration

tree lungs

Wage Peace

(September 11, 2001)
by Judyth Hill

Wage peace with your breath.
Breathe in firemen and rubble,
breathe out whole buildings
and flocks of red-wing  songbirds.
Breathe in terrorists
and breathe out sleeping children
and fresh-mown fields.
Breathe in confusion
and breathe out maple trees.
Breathe in the fallen
and breathe out lifelong friendships intact.
Wage peace with your listening:
hearing sirens, pray loud.
Remember your tools:
flower seeds, clothespins, clean rivers.
Play music, memorize the words
for thank-you in three languages.
Learn to knit, and make a hat.
Think of chaos as dancing raspberries,
imagine grief 
as the outbreath of beauty 
or the gesture of fish.
Swim for the other side.
Wage peace.
Never has the world seemed
so fresh and precious:
Have a cup of tea and rejoice.
Act as if armistice has already arrived.
Celebrate today.

tree lungs

This is Life

by Emma, grade 5

I breathe in the death caused by a president,
I breathe out peace.
I breathe in hunger,
I breathe out slices of pizza for everyone.
I breathe in misunderstandings and fights,
I breathe out a playground without bullies.
I breathe in thirst,
I breathe out sweet dreams.
I breathe in the angry neighbor,
I breathe out love.

Pine, I am calling to you
Aspen, I am singing to you
Redwood, hear this song
Birch-bark, weeping willow
And Dogwood, blooming moonlight
Cedar, let it fall, fall away
Oak, you bore my body
Bay, I bade you open these vessels…
To receive your whispers
Tender breath-keepers
Givers of life to these lungs
May I open my ears and
What can you tell me
How can I tend you
How can I tend to the ones
Who pour life through these lungs…
Care for these rivers going dry
Bone and sorrow held as
Pain, drought of feeling, yet the
Rain can give us freedom, forest
Rain, but if we cut them, it goes
Away, help us
Open these vessels…
To receive your whispers
Tender breath-keepers
Givers of life to these lungs
May I open my ears and
What can you tell me
How can I tend you
How can I tend to the ones
Who pour life through these lungs…
“We, for every one of us you’ve uprooted
You can soothe it by planting another
Of the same as the kind you’ve uprooted
Every ending a beginning if you choose it…
You can soothe it…
If you choose it…”
Ayla Nereo

More info at:…

My Powerful Lungs

by India B, grade 4

I breathe in falling off my bike,
I breathe out my mom giving me a bandaid.
I breathe in my dad going to war,
I breathe out the joy of when he comes home.
I breathe in trees getting burned,
I breathe out a forest full of purple flowers.


Tree poem 

Healthy World

Breathe in masks everywhere I go 

Breathe out seeing everyone’s faces

Breathe in distance learning apart from everyone 

Breathe out going to school like before 

Breathe in stores shut down 

Breathe out people shopping freely 

Breathe in all sickness 

Breathe out a healthy world

 by Bri, grade 5

Upbeat Tunes

I breathe in the murky brown ocean

I breathe out a clean vibrant sea

I breathe in a forest made of fire

I breathe out a field of green growth 

I breathe in a guitar with broken strings

I breathe out an upbeat tune

I breathe in a tethered dog

I breathe out a litter of happy puppies

I breathe in a heated argument

I breathe out a loving family

I breathe in a kid in front of the screen all day

I breathe out a kid laughing joyfully on the sandy beach

I breathe in the blood red rage of people

I breathe out the soft blue glow of peace

By Amber B., grade 6