National Agricultural Literacy Curriculum Matrix
At Home on the Range (Grades 6-8)
6 - 8
1 hour, plus ongoing observation and discussion
Students will learn about rangelands by participating in a hands-on activity to grow their own grass to represent a beef or sheep ranch.
- Jiffy 7 peat pellet pots,* 1 per student
- Plastic cups, 1 per student
- Permanent markers, 1 per group
- Grass seed,* 2–3 teaspoons per group
- Plastic spoons, 1 per group
- Trail activity sheets (laminate the sheets and provide each group with a transparency marker to save paper), 1 per group
- Transparency markers (such as Vis-a-Vis), 1 per group
*These items can be purchased in the Ranch Starter Kit from agclassroomstore.com.
- Lasso’n Lingo handout
Concept Elaboration and Evaluation
- Computer with internet access for each student
- Ridin' the Range Webquest
- Ridin' the Range Webquest Answer Key
Essential Files (maps, charts, pictures, or documents)
carrying capacity: the maximum number of animals a piece of land can support without degradation
open range: unfenced areas that can be grazed by livestock
rangelands: open land vegetated mainly by native grasses, forbs, and shrubs used by grazing wildlife and livestock
Background Agricultural Connections
Interest Approach – Engagement
- Show your students the picture located in the Background Agricultural Connections section of the lesson. This picture shows a cow grazing. Ask your students if they see anything in the picture that looks tasty to eat.
- Then, ask them if a sheep or cattle could find anything that is both tasty and nutritious to eat. No, humans do not have an adequate digestive system to obtain sufficient nutrients from grasses and other similar plants. However, cattle and sheep thrive grazing rangelands. In this lesson, students will learn how grazing can be managed to be a benefit to ranchers and to improve and maintain the health of the land.
Activity 1: Trail Blazing
- Review with your students the background information concerning rangelands, grazing, and the nature of grass.
- Divide your class into 6 groups. Each group will be taking a different “trail,” and on their way, they will start their own “ranch” with a small planting of grass. Note: Some of the "Trail" activity sheets will be most pertinent to Utah students, but the majority are generic and will be pertinent to students in any state.
- Provide each student with a peat pellet and a plastic cup to hold it.
- Provide each group with a permanent marker, 2–3 teaspoons of grass seed in a small bowl, a plastic spoon, one of the Trail activity sheets, and a transparency marker.
- Ask students to place the peat pellet into the cup. Explain that you will be pouring 1/2 cup of water into each person’s cup while each group reads their Trail activity sheet, completes the activity, and then starts their ranch (plants their grass seed) by following the instructions in the sidebar of the Trail activity sheet.
- Instruct the students to begin working on the activity but to also observe their peat pellets. When they finish the activity, the water should be absorbed and the peat pellet completely hydrated. It takes about 15 minutes for the peat pellet to hydrate and expand into a pot in which seeds can be planted.
- When each group has completed their activity and all students have planted their grass seed, ask each group to share what they learned on their trail.
Activity 2: Grass and Grazing
- Once the seeds germinate, keep the peat pots moist, and allow the grass to grow until it has reached 2–3 inches in height. Students will be applying two different grazing treatments and will leave some of the grass untreated.
- When the grass is 2–3 inches tall, ask the students to use scissors to cut half of the grass blades short (1 inch) above the soil to simulate a cow grazing.
- They should clip another quarter of the grass down to the crown—where the blades meet the roots; this part of the blade is white in color. To simulate overgrazing, ask students to clip this quarter area to the crown every couple of days.
- The last quarter section of the grass should remain unclipped.
- Observe the grass for a few weeks, and then make comparisons. What are the results of the overgrazed, grazed, and ungrazed grasses? Ask students how their grazing experiment compares to mowing their grass.
Activity 3: Lasso’n Lingo
- Review the concepts discussed in the Trail activity sheets by having students complete the Ridin' the Range Webquest.
- In order to complete this activity, students will need a computer with internet access, the link to the webquest, and an email address to send the finished webquest to (provide them your email if you would like to receive their finished work).
- Within the webquest, students will be directed to the following websites to find answers to the questions:
After conducting these activities, review and summarize the following key concepts:
- Rangelands can be public or private land. They are located in open spaces where there is grass and other grazing beneficial to livestock.
- Rangelands are generally not ideal for crop farming due to a variety of factors which can include rugged topography, limited water resources, etc.
- Rangelands are defined in part by their physical geography. Physical geography affects what plants and animals live in an area as well as what kinds of activities humans undertake in an area.
- Grazing rangelands can be beneficial to the environment if it is managed properly.
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!
Look up how many acres of rangeland your state has available. Is there a correlation between available rangelands and the quantity of livestock produced in your state? Use the Interactive Map Project website to identify the number of beef cows and sheep produced in your state. Beef cattle and sheep are the livestock species that are most commonly grazed on rangelands.
Suggested Companion Resources
- Tootsie Roll Conversation About Conservation Terms (Activity)
- Little Joe (Book)
- Google Earth on the Range Repeat Photographs (Kit)
- Ranch Starter Kit (Kit)
- Chew It Twice Poster (Poster, Map, Infographic)
- America's Heartland: A Sea of Grass (Multimedia)
- America's Heartland: Bachelor Sheep Ranch (Multimedia)
- America's Heartland: Wild & Wooly Roundup (Multimedia)
- Beef Cattle PowerPoint (Multimedia)
- Frontier House (Multimedia)
- Illustrated Accounts of Moments in Agricultural History (Multimedia)
- NMSU Field Trip: Beef (Multimedia)
- Riding the Range on a Utah Cattle Drive (Multimedia)
- Sheep - Utah's Agricultural Cornerstone (Multimedia)
- TedTalk- How to Fight Desertification and Reverse Climate Change (Multimedia)
- Utah Beefscapes (Multimedia)
Agricultural Literacy Outcomes
Agriculture and the Environment
- Describe benefits and challenges of using conservation practices for natural resources (e.g., soil, water, and forests), in agricultural systems which impact water, air, and soil quality (T1.6-8.b)
- Discuss (from multiple perspectives) land and water use by various groups (i.e., ranchers, farmers, hunters, miners, recreational users, government, etc.), and how each use carries a specific set of benefits and consequences that affect people and the environment (T1.6-8.d)
- Recognize how climate and natural resources determine the types of crops and livestock that can be grown and raised for consumption (T1.6-8.g)
- Recognize the factors of an agricultural system which determine its sustainability (T1.6-8.h)
Education Content Standards
Animal Systems Career Pathway
AS.01.02Assess and select animal production methods for use in animal systems based upon their effectiveness and impacts.
AS.01.03Analyze and apply laws and sustainable practices to animal agriculture from a global perspective.
AS.08.01Design and implement methods to reduce the effects of animal production on the environment.
MS-ESS3: Earth and Human Activity
MS-ESS3-3Apply scientific principles to design a method for monitoring and minimizing a human impact on the environment.
MS-LS1 From Molecules to Organisms: Structures and Processes
MS-LS1-5Construct a scientific explanation based on evidence for how environmental and genetic factors influence the growth of organisms.
MS-LS2 Ecosystems: Interactions, Energy, and Dynamics
Common Core Connections
Reading: Anchor Standards
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.R.1Read closely to determine what the text says explicitly and to make logical inferences from it; cite specific textual evidence when writing or speaking to support conclusions drawn from the text.
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.R.2Determine central ideas or themes of a text and analyze their development; summarize the key supporting details and ideas.
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.R.4Interpret words and phrases as they are used in a text, including determining technical, connotative, and figurative meanings, and analyze how specific word choices shape meaning or tone.
Speaking and Listening: Anchor Standards
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.SL.1Prepare 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.
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.SL.2Integrate and evaluate information presented in diverse media and formats, including visually, quantitatively, and orally.
Mathematics: Practice Standards
CCSS.MATH.PRACTICE.MP1Make sense of problems and persevere in solving them. Students start by explaining to themselves the meaning of a problem and looking for entry points to its solution. They analyze givens, constraints, relationships, and goals. They make conjectures about the form and meaning of the solution and plan a solution pathway rather than simply jumping into a solution attempt. They consider analogous problems, and try special cases and simpler forms of the original problem in order to gain insight into its solution. They monitor and evaluate their progress and change course if necessary. Students check their answers to problems using a different method, and they continually ask themselves, “Does this make sense?” They can understand the approaches of others to solving complex problems and identify correspondences between different approaches.
CCSS.MATH.PRACTICE.MP6Attend to precision. Students try to communicate precisely to others. They try to use clear definitions in discussion with others and in their own reasoning. They state the meaning of the symbols they choose, including using the equal sign consistently and appropriately. They are careful about specifying units of measure, and labeling axes to clarify the correspondence with quantities in a problem. They calculate accurately and efficiently, express numerical answers with a degree of precision appropriate for the problem context.