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National Agriculture in the Classroom

Agricultural Literacy Curriculum Matrix

Lesson Plan

A Day Without Dairy

Grade Level

3 - 5


Students create, read, and interpret graphs relating to the economic importance of the dairy industry and are challenged to understand the economic consequences of a day without dairy. Grades 3-5

Estimated Time

70 minutes

Materials Needed

For class:

  • Index cards for vocabulary review

For each group:

  • Markers
  • Scissors
  • Glue or paste

For each student:


agricultural economist: a career to collect data and analyze graphs to determine the best marketing options for farmers

Background Agricultural Connections

This lesson is part of a series called, Milk Matters: Discovering Dairy. These lessons introduce students to the history, production, nutritional value and economic significance of the dairy industry. Other related lessons include:

Milk and cream are the essential ingredients for all dairy products, a general term used to describe food and beverages made from milk. This includes everything from sweet ice cream to a glassful of nutrient-packed milk. Dairy products are a diverse group of food items. Just think of the hundreds of varieties of cheese alone! California has been the nation’s leading dairy state since 1993 when it surpassed Wisconsin in milk production.

The price of dairy products is determined by many different factors. The products go through several stages of processing that may include health testing, pasteurization, packaging and transportation. When we pay for dairy products at the grocery store, we are also paying for the cost of fuel to transport the product to the processing plant and then to the retail location. When you think about the cost of production, which could include technology, machinery, feed prices, maintenance, veterinary services, farm employees and more, the consumer quickly realizes the money he or she pays for nutritious dairy products supports many workers who help along the way.

Dairy products not consumed in the United States are exported worldwide. Exporting is sending milk, dairy products or any other commodity abroad for trade or sale. People throughout the world are enjoying dairy products from California. Many factors affect the amount of dairy products exported every year, including world weather conditions, natural disasters, market regulations and demand. For example, in recent years, exports of dairy products from the U.S. have increased due to droughts in other dairy-producing nations.

With all these facts, it’s hard to imagine a day without dairy. 

More information on the dairy industry can be found here.

  1. Place a series of dominos where your class can see. If dominoes are not available you could also stand several books up in a row.
  2. Ask your students what would happen if you knock down one of the dominoes. Your students should recognize that tipping one domino over will have a chain reaction and the remaining dominos will also be tipped over. Sometimes this is called a "domino effect." Review with your students that the dairy industry is a portion of agriculture that provides milk to our diets. Ask your students what would happen without the dairy industry.
  3. In this lesson, students will:
    • create, read and interpret graphs related to dairy’s economic impact; and
    • explore the economic consequences of a day without dairy.
Explore and Explain

Activity 1: Economy of  the Dairy Industry

  1. Take a poll of the class to determine the students’ favorite type of cheese: Mozzarella, American, Cheddar or Swiss. Create a chart on the board to record the students’ responses to the poll. Ask the students what type of graph should be used to illustrate the information. Students can work in groups or as a class to create the appropriate graph.
  2. Review with the students the purpose of graphs in displaying important information. A large part of an economist’s job is collecting data, creating graphs and interpreting those graphs to determine changes in the market. Why would it be beneficial for someone in the dairy industry (or any other agriculture industry) to be interested in the changes within the agriculture market?
  3. Explain that economists and dairy farmers alike use graphs to determine the importance of dairy product sales in the economy. In this lesson, students will create and read different graphs to better understand the role of dairy in our daily lives.
  4. It may be helpful to work with students in creating a “word wall” of vocabulary words they will read and write during the lesson. Place definitions of challenging vocabulary words on the board, depending on grade level. Pass out index cards featuring corresponding vocabulary words to each group. Have the groups take turns matching their vocabulary words to the correct definitions. Direct students to orally use the words in a sentence and/or record the definitions on a separate piece of paper.
  5. Have the students complete the A Day Without Dairy activity sheet.
  6. Discuss the economic impacts of a day without dairy. Work with the students to estimate the quantity of milk consumed daily in California (or substitute your state). For example, poll the class to determine the amount of dairy products the class consumes daily. Use multiplication to estimate the amount of dairy products consumed by the entire school, city, state, and country. Discuss with the class:
    • The amount of money lost in a day without dairy
    • The dairy industry’s impact on jobs and employment
    • The basic concept of supply and demand
    • If California stopped producing milk, how would we get dairy products? How would this affect prices at the store?
  7. Review the activity. Have the students review their learning by creating “A Day Without Dairy” milk carton. Instruct the students to decorate a milk carton depicting newly-acquired concepts on each side. If time allows, they can make their carton colorful and creative.
    • Side 1
      • Title: A Day Without Dairy, Drawing, Name
    • Side 2
      • Answer the following question, using complete sentences, on lined paper. What would a day without dairy be like? A year? Paste your response to the milk carton.
    • Side 3
      • Paste a copy of the bar graph you created illustrating exports from the United States, Canada and Russia.
    • Side 4
      • On a separate piece of paper, list all vocabulary words learned, including definitions. Paste your list to the milk carton.


  • Have the students create a chart reflecting the data graphed for cheddar cheese production in California (found on the A Day Without Dairy activity sheet). Using the chart they created, students find mean, median, mode and range.
  • Have the students work in groups to make milk carton review tools, substituting the pint-sized container with a half-gallon milk carton. Invite the students to summarize their findings in front of the class.

    This lesson investigates the economic importance of dairy. If you teach in the following states, refer to your local agricultural literacy resources about dairy:

  • Visit the Interactive Map Project website and view the Dairy Cattle Inventory map. As a class, identify the highest milk producing states and discuss the factors which could contribute to the success of dairy farms, such as climate, open space, etc. Identify where your state ranks in dairy cattle production and discuss the factors contributing to the statistic.

  • Read Issue 1 of Ag Today titled Agriculture is Everywhere! This reader can be printed or accessed digitally. It describes the connections humans make daily with agriculture from business and science to the practices of growing and selling row crops and animals to be used for food, fiber, and fuel.

  • Have the students work in groups to determine statistics they would like to discover about the dairy industry. Students should research and collect the needed information, determine the appropriate type of graph to use, and create a graph that accurately represents the information they collected. The groups will take turns presenting their findings to the class.

  • Arrange a field trip to a grocery store where the students can record the prices for commonly consumed dairy products. Have the students keep a “My Day of Dairy” food journal and determine the amount of money spent on the dairy products they personally eat each day.

  • Have the students research factors contributing to dairy product sales. What causes an increase or decrease? Use online tools, write a letter to a dairy farmer, or invite a dairy farmer to your class for sources of answers to these (and other) questions about the dairy industry.


After conducting these activities, review and summarize the following key concepts:

  • The agricultural industry is valuable to our daily life.
  • Farmers care for their animals needs by providing food, water, and shelter.
  • The dairy industry plays a part in our economy.


This lesson was funded in 2008 by the California Milk Advisory Board and the California Farm Bureau Federation. To meet the needs of California educators, Milk Matters: Discovering Dairy was created to meet the Curriculum Content Standards for California Public Schools. The unit also includes a collection of relevant resources about the dairy industry.

Executive Director: Judy Culbertson
Layout and Design: Imelda Muziom


Mandi Bottoms


California Foundation for Agriculture in the Classroom

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