Agricultural Literacy Curriculum Matrix

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Surrounded by Plants

Grade Level(s)

9 - 12

Estimated Time

60 minutes


Students identify the importance of plants to human life by surveying their home and neighborhood for plant products used for medicine, aesthetics, fuel products, fiber, and food.

  • Teacher Material– Plants in Our World (one per teacher)
  • Handout A – Surrounded by Plants (one per student)
  • Assessment A – Surrounded by Plants (one per student)
  • Hardiness Zone Map
  • Computers with Internet access and ability to print
  • Colored pencils
  • Notebooks
  • Map of U.S. from the website
  • USDA Agricultural Census Data from USDA website
  • USDA Forest Service Database
Essential Files (maps, charts, pictures, or documents)

hardiness zone: a geographically-defined zone in which a specific category of plant life is capable of growing, as defined by temperature hardiness, or ability to withstand the minimum temperatures of the zone

crop regions: certain crops grow in specific regions of Minnesota and the United States based on influencing environmental factors (Frost free periods, mean average temperature and rainfall)

Did you know? (Ag Facts)
  • It takes about 36 apples to create one gallon of apple cider.3
  • Although there are thousands of plants, 90% of the food we eat comes from just 30 plants.
  • Bamboo is the fastest-growing woody plant in the world; it can grow 35 inches in a single day.
Background Agricultural Connections

Plants are vital to all life on Earth. They mean survival. Plants are the base of food for all humans and animals. They can harvest energy from the sun and exchange gas. (Plants use carbon dioxide from the air and convert it into oxygen.) Plants use the energy from sunlight to convert raw materials from the Earth into carbohydrates, fats, and oils. Humans depend on plant materials for food, feed for livestock, fiber, fuel, medicine, aesthetic value, and much more.

Plants are affected by environmental factors, including frost-free periods or growing season, mean average temperature or growing degree days, and rainfall. These factors create unique growing conditions across the United States and throughout the world.

Interest Approach – Engagement
  1. Ask student to think about the many times a day they touch or eat things that come from plant materials. Our world consists of an unimaginable number of products originating with plants. Students are likely touching several as they sit in a chair and take notes in their notebooks. Plants are a major part of daily life in several forms.
  2. As a class, make a list of plant products found in the classroom.
  3. Inform students that in this lesson they will:
    • Identify why plants are critical for all life on Earth.
    • List plant products found in your everyday world.
    • Explain why certain plants are grown in certain regions of the United States.
    • Compare and contrast the growing conditions in various areas of the country.

Summary of Content and Teaching Strategies

  1. Present and discuss Teacher Material- Surrounded by Plants. Have students brainstorm examples for each of the ways humans use plant material.
  2. Distribute a copy of Handout A- Surrounded by Plants to each student. Review the handout and answer any questions. Have students complete the triangle in Figure 1. In Part 2 of the activity, students will research the common growing regions for one crop from each category in Figure 1. The directions instruct students to print off a United States map from the website. Using this map, students shade growth regions using colored pencils for one crop from each use category. Use a different color for each crop and label the colors in a map legend. Students must incorporate the "TODALS" (title, orientation, date, author, legend and scale) map basics into the map they create.
    • For forestry products, the USDA Forest Service database is provided.
    • Students will need to research medicinal crops separately. The following are common medicinal crops to consider providing to students who need assistance in this category:
      • aloe
      • aspirin
      • castor bean
      • Echinacea
      • ginkgo
      • hemp
      • Saint John’s Wort
  3. Once Part 2 is completed, students access hardiness zone and precipitation websites to determine the climate correlations to the production regions shaded on their maps. This activity provides an understanding of why certain crops are grown in certain regions due to their dependence upon climate conditions.


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

  • Plants are an important part of our every day lives.
  • Plants provide food, fiber, medicines, fuel and aesthetics to our daily life.
  • The value of plants is increased when they are processed. For example, cotton is made into fabric, corn and soybeans can be processed into fuel, and various parts of plants can be harvested and processed into medicine.
  • Some plants grow naturally and others are produced on farms.
  • How could a change in climate affect agriculture and the growth of plants?

Essential Link

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Enriching Activities
  • Get a large wall chart of the United States and have each student add different crops to it in order to summarize crop-growing regions of the United States. Next have students research the social, economic, and ecological risks and benefits of changing a natural ecosystem as a result of human activity. Ask them how these changes might influence crop-growing regions in the future. Students have researched environmental factors that affect where plants grow. Take this idea a step further and investigate how carrying capacity influences the population of particular plants. After further research, ask students to describe factors that affect the carrying capacity of an ecosystem and relate these to population growth.

Suggested Companion Resources
Agricultural Literacy Outcomes

Science, Technology, Engineering & Math

  • Provide examples of how processing adds value to agricultural goods and fosters economic growth both locally and globally (T4.9-12.g)

Agriculture and the Environment

  • Evaluate the potential impacts of climate change on agriculture (T1.9-12.e)
Education Content Standards


Plant Science Systems Career Pathway

  • PS.04.01
    Evaluating, identifying and preparing plants to enhance an environment.


9-12 Geography Standard 1: How to use maps and other geographic representations, geospatial technologies, and spatial thinking to understand and communicate information

  • Objective 1
    Objective 1
    The advantages of coordinating multiple geographic representations-such as maps, globes, graphs, diagrams, aerial and other photographs, remotely sensed images, and geographic visualizations to answer geographic questions.
  • Objective 3
    Objective 3
    The appropriate and ethical uses of geospatial data and geospatial technologies in constructing geographic representations.
  • Objective 4
    Objective 4
    The uses of geographic representations and geospatial technologies to investigate and analyze geographic questions and to communicate geographic answers.

9-12 Geography Standard 5: That people create regions to interpret Earth's complexity.

  • Objective 1
    Objective 1
    Regions are defined by different sets of criteria, and places can be included in multiple regions of different types.


HS-LS1 From Molecules to Organisms: Structures and Processes

  • HS-LS1-5
    Use a model to illustrate how photosynthesis transforms light energy into stored chemical energy.

HS-LS2 Ecosystems: Interactions, Energy, and Dynamics

  • HS-LS2-5
    Develop a model to illustrate the role of photosynthesis and cellular respiration in the cycling of carbon among the biosphere, atmosphere, hydrosphere, and geosphere.
Common Core Connections

Speaking and Listening: Anchor Standards

    Prepare for and participate effectively in a range of conversations and collaborations with diverse partners, building on others’ ideas and expressing their own clearly and persuasively.

Language: Anchor Standards

    Determine or clarify the meaning of unknown and multiple-meaning words and phrases by using context clues, analyzing meaningful word parts, and consulting general and specialized reference materials, as appropriate.

Writing: Anchor Standards

    Conduct short as well as more sustained research projects based on focused questions, demonstrating understanding of the subject under investigation.
    Gather relevant information from multiple print and digital sources, assess the credibility and accuracy of each source, and integrate the information while avoiding plagiarism.


Consider submitting a lesson or companion resource to the National Agricultural Literacy Curriculum Matrix.
National Agricultural Literacy Curriculum Matrix (2013) is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.
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