Skip to main content

National Agriculture in the Classroom

Agricultural Literacy Curriculum Matrix

Lesson Plan

Growing a Nation Era 3: Prosperity and Challenges

Grade Level

9 - 12


Students will engage with the Growing a Nation timeline to explore the significant historical and agricultural events and inventions from American history during the years 1950-1969. Students will examine the cause and effect relationships of many post-war advances that took place in our country and discover how increases in science and technology changed agriculture leading to fewer farmers being necessary to provide food and fiber. Grades 9-12

Estimated Time

60 minutes

Materials Needed

Supporting Question 1:

Supporting Question 2:

Supporting Question 3: 

Supporting Question 4:

Supporting Question 5:

Supporting Question 6:

*These items are included in the Wheat Kernel Samples Kit, which is available for purchase from


technology: the application of scientific knowledge for practical purposes

Background Agricultural Connections
C3 Framework

Growing a Nation: Prosperity and Challenges uses the College, Career, and Civic Life (C3) Framework's Inquiry Arc as a blueprint to lead students through an investigation of how the events in science and technology changed agriculture in the 1950s and 60s. The Inquiry Arc consists of four dimensions of informed inquiry in social studies:

  1. Developing questions and planning inquiries;
  2. Applying disciplinary concepts and tools;
  3. Evaluating sources and using evidence;
  4. Communicating conclusions and taking informed action.

The four dimensions of the C3 Framework center on the use of questions to spark curiosity, guide instruction, deepen investigations, acquire rigorous content, and apply knowledge and ideas in real world settings to become active and engaged citizens in the 21st century.For more information about the C3 Framework, visit

Prosperity and Challenges (1950-1969) is the third story event in the Growing a Nation online interactive timeline. The timeline provides a chronological presentation of significant historical events focusing on the important role agriculture has played in America's development. Growing a Nation uses a graphic organizer (timeline) and online media resources to bring depth and meaning to historical events. The interactive timeline and lesson plans merge seamlessly with existing American history textbooks and high school history curricula.

Our country has witnessed sweeping changes—from the untamed wild times of Buffalo Bill to the technological era of Bill Gates and Elon Musk—but food has never lost its central role in our lives. Food not only sustains life, but also enriches us in many ways. It warms us on cold, dreary days, entices us with its many aromas, and provides endless variety to the everyday world.

Food is also woven into the fabric of our Nation, our culture, our institutions, and our families. Food is on the scene when we celebrate and when we mourn. We use it for camaraderie, as a gift, and as a reward. We are all aware of how food has changed. What Americans often forget, however, is the remarkable system that delivers to us the most abundant, reasonably priced, and safest food in the world. The American food system—from the farmer to the consumer—is a series of interconnected parts. The farmer produces the food, the processors work their magic, and the wholesalers and retailers deliver the products to the consumers, whose choices send market signals back through the system.


An advance in technology (the application of scientific knowledge) has had monumental effects on the way we live today, taking us from hunters and gatherers to the space age and beyond. Agriculture was adopted over hunting and gathering as it more efficiently met our basic needs of food, clothing, and shelter. Technological inventions and the understanding of more complex scientific knowledge catapulted western civilization and changed how we live today. The 1950s saw the complete mechanization of agriculture. In 1954, the number of tractors on farms exceeded the number of horses and mules for the first time. Increased numbers of automobiles also impacted American society and left a mark on how Americans consume food, namely drive-in and drive-through restaurants and the resulting “fast food.” From the farm to the fork, “new” or “modern” conveniences such as refrigeration, food processing factories, and frozen foods—including TV dinners—changed the way Americans produced, prepared, and consumed food.

Wheat Breeding

When farmers make decisions about which varieties of wheat to plant, they are thinking about genetics. Each variety of wheat has DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid) that gives it certain genetic traits. In the wheat kernel, the DNA is located in the germ, which is the embryo or sprouting section of the seed. Some varieties of wheat grow better in drought conditions while others are better at resisting certain pests. Some wheat varieties have a higher moisture content or contain higher percentages of protein. These traits are important when considering the types of products that can best be produced by the flour of different classes of wheat.

Norman Borlaug was a plant breeder who developed wheat varieties to help people get more food from their land. Borlaug's research was instrumental in the the creation of faster-growing wheat varieties and other grains that withstood disease and drought. He introduced these varieties to people all over the world and taught them how to implement farming practices. Norman Borlaug received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1970 for his work that saved over a billion people from starvation in developing countries like Mexico, India, and Pakistan. Borlaug used traditional plant selection methods in his breeding programs. He was ahead of his time in creating varieties that caused the Green Revolution. His leading research achievement was the development of Dwarf Spring Wheat. Borlaug found that plants with stalks that were short and of equal length would receive equal amounts of sunlight when they did not have to compete with taller-stalked plants. Nature favors genes for tall stalks because, in nature, plants must compete for sunlight. Borlaug's dwarf wheat uses its energy to grow valuable grain rather than to grow tall stalks with no food value. Stout, short stalks also support wheat kernels better. Tall-stalked wheat may bend over at maturity, making it difficult to harvest.


Compelling Question: How did events in science and technology in the 1950s and 60s change agriculture?

  1. Explain to students that more than 90% of America’s population farmed 200 years ago. There were about 5 million Americans then. Today less than 2% of the American population works on farms; that’s about 5 million producers. Our population of about 300 million today has plenty of food.
  2. With that information, hold a class discussion and ask students to think about the following questions:
    • How has America fed itself and much of the world?
    • What has happened in the last 200 years to reduce farm labor and increase production?
    • How has agriculture made it possible for Americans to pursue their hopes and dreams?
    • Are there benefits and potential consequences to scientific advancement and mechanization?
Explore and Explain

Supporting Question 1: What events took place in agriculture during this era?

  1. Using a projector, mobile devices, or computer lab, review the Growing a Nation: Prosperity and Challenges section of the multimedia timeline. The Growing a Nation events and sub-events are designed to be adaptable to a variety of teaching strategies. Each Main Event contains Sub-events that explore American history for a greater understanding of the time period or historical cause and effect relationships. The sub-events ask higher order questions to not only expand student knowledge, but also to increase their comprehension to the level of application, analysis, synthesis, and evaluation.
  2. After students view selected events and sub-events, assign or allow students (or student pairs) to choose a sub-event tile. Students can work off of a computer or mobile device or take a screenshot of the selected sub-event and print.
  3. Ask the students to be prepared to answer the questions on their tile by either using the Think, Pair, Share strategy or by using one of the attached Demonstration of Learning Strategies. You may want to choose a particular strategy to use with the entire class or cut the strategies into strips and ask each student to pick one or two. If the student or groups of students is allowed to pick two, ask them to choose the learning strategy they prefer and put the other one back. Keep in mind that some Demonstration of Learning Strategies will be a better fit for some of the event topics than others and that some take more time than others. Some strategies may need to be grouped depending on the available time.

Supporting Question 2: How did agricultural inventions have a cause and effect relationship with increasing production or decreasing labor?

  1. As a class, filter the Growing a Nation timeline by selecting "Population and Productivity" in each era, noting the production numbers and labor hours required to produce wheat and corn from 1830-2018.
  2. Using the data in the "Population and Productivity" tiles, engage the class in creating a cause and effect timeline. Use a strip of masking tape or crepe paper to create the timeline on one of the classroom walls. Add decade markers, spaced appropriately. Assign each student or group of students a decade between 1800 and 2000.  from the “Farm Machinery and Technology” category. (There are 15 decades, so depending on your class size you may have three students to a group.) 
  3. Filter the timeline by checking the "Science and Technology" option. Each student or group of students should identify the events in their decade and evaluate the item as a cause or effect contributing to the increase in production or decrease in labor. Ask students to create a pamphlet by folding a sheet of 8-1/2" x 11" paper in half (lengthwise). On the top front page, students should download, print, and glue or tape a picture from the Growing a Nation media gallery available on the timeline or a picture from other websites to identify the event. Below the picture, write the title of the cause or effect event. These “pamphlets” will be used on the timeline. If they have more than one event in their assigned decade, they should create a separate sheet for each.                  
  4. On the inside, students should write down whether the event is a “cause” or an “effect” related to the increase in production or the decrease in labor. If the event is a cause, ask students to find the effect; if the event is an effect, ask students to find the cause, even if they have to look in different decades. Students may also look at other categories on the timeline or in their textbook to help them determine causes or effects. For example, were other things going on in the 1950s in the other categories (Economic cycles, Land, Crop and Livestock, Transportation, Trade, Life on the Farm Organizations, Agricultural Education and Extension, or Government Programs and Policy) that had a cause or effect relationship to the event? If so, they should identify them on the inside of the pamphlet. Once the pamphlets are completed, ask students to present their event and then paste the event onto the timeline in the appropriate decade.

Supporting Question 3: How did agricultural inventions decrease labor in agriculture?

  1. Ask students to select an event or invention from the Growing a Nation timeline using the filter tool and then research the event or invention and create a PowerPoint slide show or advertisement flyer/poster about the event and present this project to the class.
  2. The presentation should include important statistics, highlights, graphs, and/or pictures. For example, students could graph the number of people fed by farmers in 1940 (19), 1950 (27), 1960, (46), 1970 (73), 1980 (115), 1990 (129), and 2006 (144). Students should be encouraged to use the internet to search for patents, advertisements/photographs, posters, etc. about the event or invention and use the appropriate Media Analysis activity sheets to guide their presentation. Students should also critically evaluate what this event/invention means in the scope of the era. If so, discuss the negative consequence(s) of the event/invention.

Supporting Question 4: What are the benefits and potential consequences of scientific advancement and mechanization?

  1. As a class, view the following films and compare and contrast what each Secretary of Agriculture is saying. The video files can be downloaded or streamed by searching the title on the Growing a Nation timeline.
    • Secretary Benson's New Year Message (4 minutes). Created by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Secretary of Agriculture, Ezra Taft Benson gives a New Year’s Day address concerning the future of agriculture.
    • War on Hunger, 1968 (3 minutes). As part of President Johnson’s “War on Hunger,” Secretary of Agriculture Orville Freeman addresses the issue of hunger and raises questions about who America could or should feed and how hunger can be ended.
  2. Have the students complete the "Motion Picture" analysis page from the Media Analysis activity sheet or note the three most significant concepts they hear. Discuss the concepts and issues raised in each film.

Supporting Question 5: What agriculture is found in [your] state?

  1. Investigate your state’s agriculture. What do you know about farming in your state? Visit the USDA's Agricultural Statistics website and learn about your state’s top agricultural products and much more. How does your state’s agriculture contribute to the state’s economy?
  2. Once the students have explored the USDA Agricultural Statistics website, have the students create a graph or pie chart showing how agriculture contributes to the overall economy of the state. For example, create a pie chart representing the total contribution of agriculture to the state's and then divide the pie chart into the different agricultural categories the students explored on the USDA website. Follow-up questions could include:
    • Did you think agriculture would have a larger or smaller impact on the economy? Why did you think that?
    • Looking at the overall economic impact of agriculture in our state, how many of you realized the ways in which agriculture impacted the economy? Are there things that surprised you? Are there any statistics that you already knew? 
    • Looking to the future, how do you think agriculture will continue to impact our state and the national economy?

Supporting Question 6: How is wheat harvested and prepared for processing and consumption?

  1. Using the instructions provided in the How To Do It! Threshing or Removing the Seed from the Plant handout, give each student the opportunity to thresh wheat by hand. When they are finished, they should have a small pile of wheat seeds, which should be put into a re-closable, clear plastic bag.
  2. Read the "Wheat Breeding" section of the Background Agricultural Connections portion of this lesson.
  3. Prepare six stations, each representing a class of wheat—Hard Red Winter, Hard Red Spring, Soft Red Winter, Soft White, Hard White, and Durum. Each station should include:
    • A wheat kernel sample or kernel images from the attached Wheat Kernel Sample Images(If using kernel images, provide one image per student for each class of wheat.)
    • Hand lenses
    • The corresponding Wheat Information Card
    • Pencils
    • Clear packing tape
    • Glue sticks
  4. Organize the students into six groups. Provide each student with one copy of the Six Classes of Wheat activity sheet and one vertical strip of images from the Products Made From Wheat images.
  5. Explain to the students that there are six different classes of wheat grown in the United States. Each class has characteristics (traits) that determine the hardness, shape, and color of their kernels, what time of year their seeds are planted and harvested, which climates they grow best in, and what wheat products can best be made from their flour. For example, spring wheat is planted in the spring and harvested in the late summer or early fall. Winter wheat is planted in the fall and harvested in the spring.
  6. Tell the students that they are going to explore each of the six classes of wheat and record information about the traits of each class on their activity sheets.
  7. Instruct the students to prepare their Six Classes of Wheat activity sheet by cutting on the dashed lines of the title page. Glue the left side of the title page (the section with the title "Six Classes of Wheat") onto the blank space on the left side of the second page. Fold back each of the six sections of the title page and crease on the solid line.
  8. Rotate the groups through the six stations. At each station, the students will complete the following steps:
    1. Read the information card.
    2. Observe the wheat kernel samples (or observe the kernel images) with the hand lenses.
    3. On the second page of the activity sheet, use clear packing tape to attach a few wheat kernels (or glue the kernel image) in the first empty box underneath the correct wheat class title strip.
    4. Record the hardness, shape, and color of the kernels.
    5. Cut out and glue the corresponding wheat product image in the second empty box. Record the products made from the wheat class.
    6. Record the US location(s) where the wheat class is grown.
  9. After the groups have completed all six stations, have the students attach their completed Six Classes of Wheat activity sheet into their interactive notebooks and meet together as a whole group to discuss the different characteristics of the six classes of wheat. Use information from the Background—Agricultural Connections and the following questions to guide the discussion:
    • Which classes of wheat are most similar and why? (Hard Red Winter and Hard Red Spring wheat have the same hardness, shape, and color.)
    • What is the difference between hard wheat and soft wheat? (Hard wheat contains a higher protein percentage than soft wheat. Protein develops gluten which gives elasticity, structure, and strength to the dough. This is important in the bread-making process.)
    • Is hard wheat or soft wheat better for making bread? (Hard wheat is better for making bread. The higher protein levels create a chewy texture.)
    • Is hard wheat or soft wheat better for making cakes? (Soft wheat is better for making cakes. The lower protein levels create a flaky texture.)
    • Which wheat is best for making dried pasta? (Due to its high protein content and gluten strength, Durum wheat is best for making dried pasta. The gluten levels make the dough firm and allow the pasta to hold its shape until it is dried.)
    • What is the difference between spring wheat and winter wheat? (Spring wheat is planted in the spring and harvested in the late summer or early fall. Winter wheat is planted in the fall and harvested in the spring.)
    • Can you identify which class of wheat you threshed at the beginning of this activity? (Note: If a Wheat Bundle was purchased from agclassroomstore, it is possible that a variety of wheat classes were mixed together. Students may or may not all have a wheat stem from the same class of wheat.)
  • Discuss advancements in wheat production by learning more about the Green Revolution.


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

  • Increases in science and technology have allowed farmers to produce more food for our population.
  • The need for fewer farmers provided a wider spectrum of work opportunities leading to more people moving to cities.
  • Science and technology is still impacting farming and our food production today. 


Growing a Nation was funded by USDA CSREES cooperative agreement #2004-38840-01819 and developed cooperatively by: USDA, Utah State University Extension, and LetterPress Software, Inc.

Activity 6: Wheat Breeding developed by Lynn Wallin for the National Center for Agricultural Literacy.


Debra Spielmaker


National Center for Agricultural Literacy

We welcome your feedback. Please take a minute to share your thoughts on this lesson.

How can we help?

Send us a message with your question or comment.