National Agricultural Literacy Curriculum Matrix


Sun, to Moo, to You!

Grade Level(s)

3 - 5

Estimated Time

60 minutes


In this lesson, students will investigate the transfer of energy in the process of making milk. Students will understand that there are different forms of energy, that living things need energy to survive and that the primary source of energy is the sun.


For class:

  • Video on the process of making milk, such as Milk from Cow to Container,” found on the Dairy Council of California’s Web site (
  • Whistle
  • White board or tear sheet
  • Dry erase markers
  • Glass of hay

For each group:

  • One set of “Sun, to Moo, to You” relay cards
  • Jump rope
  • Bouncing ball, such as a basketball or kickball

For each student:

  • “Using Energyworksheet

Essential Files (maps, charts, pictures, or documents)


energy: power derived from the utilization of physical or chemical resources

kinetic energy: energy that a body possesses by virtue of being in motion

photosynthesis: the process by which green plants use sunlight to make food from carbon dioxide and water

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:

In this lesson, students will discover how the process of making milk involves energy transfer from the sun to dairy cows and, finally to the consumer. Students will understand the difference between chemical, radiant and kinetic energy and that all living things need energy to survive.

Humans and animals get their energy from nutrients produced by plants. Humans and dairy cows can both receive energy from plants in the form of fruits, vegetables or grains. All of the energy in nutrients originally comes from the sun.

Plants absorb the sun’s radiant energy and transform it into chemical energy through the process of photosynthesis. The plants use much of this energy to grow and store the remaining energy in their cells. When dairy cows eat feed, such as alfalfa, they are able to use the chemical energy stored in the plants they consume. Dairy cows use this energy to do everything from eating and digesting their food to breathing and producing milk. The milk produced by dairy cows also contains part of this energy. When we drink milk or eat products made with milk, we receive the energy that originally came from the sun. Our bodies rely on kinetic (physical) energy to do work, have fun and accomplish tasks.

More background information on the dairy industry can be found here.

Interest Approach – Engagement

  1. Ask students, "What is energy?" Allow students to offer answers using their background knowledge.  
  2. Ask students further questions to help them identify when energy is required and that it is transferred through cycles. Questions could include, "What activities require energy?" "Where do you get energy?"
  3. In this lesson, students will:
    • investigate the transfer of energy in the process of making milk;
    • demonstrate how energy can be lost during energy transfer; and
    • identify the many ways humans and cows use energy.


  1. Ask students to think of their favorite sport. How would they feel if they played in the championship game of this sport and had not had anything to eat? Students should pair and share their responses.
  2. Survey the class for different responses. How many said tired, sick or grumpy? Brainstorm with students why they might feel tired. Ask how they would feel if, after the game, you offered them a nice, cold glass of… hay?! Show students a glass full of hay or grass. Explain that dairy cows convert the feed they eat into the milk we consume on a daily basis. Energy plays an important role in this process.
  3. Show students a video on the process of making milk, such as Make Mine Milk (27 minutes) or The Journey of Milk (5 minutes). Instruct students to look for how dairy cows use and consume energy at each step of production. Discuss the video with students and work as a class to construct a production timeline on the board. Explain that in each of these steps, energy transfers. In a moment, they will go outside to see how energy moves between objects and people.
  4. Take students outside. Students form groups of four. Instruct students to pass a ball between their group members in a variety of patterns. The teacher determines the patterns and may wish to blow a whistle to get students’ attention in changing patterns. Possible pattern ideas: bounce pass-chest pass, skipping every other person, increasing the number of bounces with each pass, passing the ball clockwise vs. counter-clockwise, etc.
  5. Take students inside the classroom to debrief the activity. Ideas for discussion:
    • Use student volunteers to demonstrate how we use kinetic energy to pass the ball.
    • Use student volunteers to demonstrate how we absorb kinetic energy when we catch the ball.
    • What happens to energy when the ball bounces?
    • What happens to the ball when it is windy outside?
    • What happens if you bounce a ball on grass? A basketball court?
  6. Explain that just as we used energy to pass the ball, we use energy to do many other things in our daily lives as well. Distribute the “Using Energy” worksheet. Instruct students to first identify and label ways our bodies use energy.
  7. Next, they will identify and label how dairy cows use energy. Focus students on the energy dairy cows use to create milk. Ask students to share with a partner where the energy comes from and where it goes when cows create milk. Students share with entire class. Briefly, review the timeline created at the beginning of the lesson and review how energy moves between each step of the process.
    • To prepare for the following activity, copy the “Sun, to Moo, to You” relay cards onto 3-5 different colored sheets of cardstock. Cut each card out, creating a set of relay cards for 3-5 different teams.
  8. Divide students as equally as possible into teams of seven students. Teams without seven students will need to select one or more members to complete the relay twice. Assign each team a color based on the color of their “Sun, to Moo, to You” relay cards. Outside, students line up with their teams in single file lines. Five yards in front of each team’s starting line, place a jump rope. Several feet beyond the jump rope, spread out the team’s relay cards face down. Five yards further, place a finish line.
  9. Explain to students they are about to participate in a relay race team competition. Build up the importance of supporting each other and contributing to the goals of the team. Demonstrate how each student will individually leave his or her team’s starting line. They will run to the jump rope and jump rope five times. Next, they will pick up one of the seven relay cards and run to the finish line. Once they are at the finish line, they will yell, “Moo!” to signal the next teammate in line to begin the relay.
  10. Once the entire team has crossed the finish line, the team members will work together to put each of the relay cards in the correct order. The cards will create a sequence showing how energy moves within the process of making milk. When the team has completed the entire relay, team members must all sit quietly in a line. The first team sitting quietly on the grass wins! The winning group reviews the correct order with the class.

Concept Elaboration and Evaluation

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

  • Dairy cattle produce milk. Milk and other dairy products such as yogurt and cheese are a healthy source of protein to our diet.
  • All energy is originally derived from the sun.
  • Plants produce energy through photosynthesis, cattle eat plants such as grass, hay, and grain. Cattle convert their energy into producing milk which provides healthy foods for our diet. (From the sun, to moo, to you)


  • Students play kickball, baseball or another team sport to observe the loss and gain of kinetic energy.
  • Take students on a field trip to a dairy to see the actual process of milk production.
  • Ask a local dairyman to visit your class as a guest speaker.
  • Instead of completing the “Using Energy” worksheet, instruct students to draw a picture of themselves engaged in a daily activity.
  • Ask students to identify and label ten ways they are using energy in the picture.

We welcome your feedback! Please take a minute to tell us how to make this lesson better or to give us a few gold stars!


Enriching Activities

  • Students keep a journal tracking where they receive energy and how they use energy on a daily basis. By surveying the class, students can create graphs illustrating their personal and/or collective energy cycles.

  • Students work in groups to research a form of energy such as radiant, kinetic, thermal, sound or electrical energy. Each group draws an image that represents the concept and explains their drawing to the class.

  • Teach students about other forms of energy such as thermal or electrical energy. Bring in visual aids, like a light bulb or a candle, to demonstrate each of the different forms.

  • Students learn more about the need of radiant and chemical energy in plant growth. Create a student experiment that allows groups to run trials on plants with or without sunlight.

  • Create scenario cards for group role-plays. Cards may include eating a meal at a restaurant, running a race, growing a flower, talking on the phone, sitting in the sun, etc. Each group will perform its role-play without speaking, and the class identifies what forms of energy are present in the role-play.

Suggested Companion Resources

Agricultural Literacy Outcomes

Agriculture and the Environment

  • Explain how the interaction of the sun, soil, water, and weather in plant and animal growth impacts agricultural production (T1.3-5.b)

Education Content Standards


4-LS1: From Molecules to Organisms: Structures and Processes

  • 4-LS1-1
    Construct an argument that plants and animals have internal and external structures that function to support survival, growth, behavior, and reproduction.

5-ESS2: Earth's Systems

  • 5-ESS2-1
    Develop a model using an example to describe ways in which the geosphere, biosphere, hydrosphere, and/or atmosphere interact.

5-LS1: From Molecules to Organisms: Structures and Processes

  • 5-LS1-1
    Support an argument that plants get the materials they need for growth chiefly from air and water.

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.
    Integrate and evaluate information presented in diverse media and formats, including visually, quantitatively, and orally.
    Adapt speech to a variety of contexts and communicative tasks, demonstrating command of formal English when indicated or appropriate.

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.


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