National Agricultural Literacy Curriculum Matrix


Agriculture Counts

Grade Level(s)

K - 2

Estimated Time

1.5 hours


Students read a story about our nation's first survey of agriculture, discuss reasons for counting things, and gain practice by sorting and counting a variety of objects related to agriculture.


Interest Approach – Engagement:

  • Soybean plants or edamame, 1 pod per student
  • Resealable plastic bag

Activity 1: Agricultural Census

  • Arthur Young and the President story
  • Arthur Young and the President PowerPoint
  • My Census of Agriculture: Crops activity sheet, 1 copy per student
  • My Census of Agriculture: Livestock activity sheet, 1 copy per student
  • Large bag of animal crackers
  • Snack mix (pretzels, peanuts, rice cereal, corn cereal, sunflower sees, raisins)
  • 8-10 paper plates

Activity 2: Sequential Order with Soybeans

  • Sandwich-sized resealable plastic bags
  • Soybeans

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


agriculture: the science or occupation of cultivating the soil, producing crops, and raising livestock

census: an official count or survey of a population, typically recording various details of individuals

counting: to check over a group of items one by one to determine the total number in all

soybeans: a widely cultivated plant of the pea family which produces edible seeds used in a variety of food and animal feed as a replacement for animal protein

Did you know? (Ag Facts)

  • The USDA conducts a Census of Agriculture to illustrate current trends among US farmers and agricultural operations.1
  • The Census of Agriculture is conducted every five years.1
  • Information from the census is used by everyone who provides services to farmers and rural communities.1

Background Agricultural Connections

Do you remember when you first learned to count? For most people, counting is one of the first things their parents taught them. If you’re like most people, you’ve been counting things almost as long as you’ve been talking.

Why do we count things? What kinds of things do we count? In ancient times, people used tokens made from clay to keep count of things. If they wanted to remember how many sheep they had, they would gather as many of the tokens as they had sheep and place them in a safe place. Over time, people began to keep count by making marks on the walls of caves to designate numbers. Some people think this was the first writing.

Why would ancient people need to remember how many sheep they had? They might need to keep track of them, so they would know if any had wandered off.

What are some of the things that you count? Maybe your mom tells you that you can have three cookies. Or maybe you know you have 25 baseball cards and want to make sure your little brother didn’t take any. Or maybe you know it costs 75 cents to buy a candy bar, and you need to know if you have enough money before you go to the store.

Counting is a very important part of all of our lives. The people who grow our food have to count very closely and keep very good records. They have to know how many acres to plant. They need to know how much seed and fertilizer to use, and they need to know how many bushels of wheat or soybeans or peanuts their fields produced during the year. Farmers keep careful records, so they can make sure they are earning enough money to pay their expenses. Those who raise animals need to know how many offspring their animals produce, so they will know how much food to buy and how many animals to sell. They need to know how much money they can expect to make, so they can plan for the coming year. Counting is a very important part of the farmer’s job.

Our government needs to keep a good count of crops and farm animals, so they know what kind of help the farmers need to make sure we have enough food to eat. The US Department of Agriculture’s National Agricultural Statistics Service is the government agency responsible for keeping count.

Interest Approach – Engagement

  1. Show a soybean plant to the class. Call your local Farm Bureau office and ask for names of farmers that could provide you with a few soybean plants before they are harvested in the fall. (Alternative: If you are unable to obtain a soybean plant with the pods, edamame can be used as an alternative. Edamame is an immature soybean harvested before it hardens. These delicious bright green soybeans have become quite popular in the American cuisine culture and can be purchased at the grocery store shelled or in the pod, fresh or frozen. They would serve as a tasty snack for students to try once the lesson plan has been delivered. Note that the variety of soybean used for edamame typically has two beans per pod. In contrast, the varieties of soybean grown commercially has three beans per pod.)2
  2. Allow each student to pick a bean pod from the plant. Explain that soybeans are one of most versatile crops grown in the world. Farmers in the United States grow more soybeans than farmers in any other country. Soybeans are used in food products, such as chocolate, breads, cooking oils, and baby foods.
  3. Have a group discussion on how the bean pod feels. Have students open their pod, take out the beans and feel them. As a class, discuss how the bean feels. Use the following questions to guide the discussion:
    • How do the beans feel compared to the pod?
    • How many beans were in the pod? (Most will answer “three” since this is the number of soybeans normally stored in a pod.)
    • Did any pod have less than three beans?
    • Did any pod have more than three beans? 
  4. Have the students place the beans, while counting them, into one resealable plastic bag at the front of the room. The first person will count “one, two, three” and the next person will count “four, five, six.” This cumulative count will continue until all students have placed their beans in the bag.
  5. Tell the students they will be counting more items to conduct their own agriculture census.


Activity 1: Agricultural Census

  1. Ask students why they count things. What kinds of things do they count? Write their answers on the chalkboard.
  2. Discuss the information in the Background Agricultural Connections, and read the story Arthur Young and the President.
  3. Show the Arthur Young and the President PowerPoint as a visual to supplement the reading of the story.
  4. Tell the students they will be conducting their own agricultural census. Divide them into groups of four or five. Provide each group with a plate of animal crackers and each student with a copy of the My Census of Agriculture: Livestock activity sheet.
  5. Show the students how to use tally marks to keep count. Explain that this is similar to the way ancient people kept count by drawing pictures on the walls of caves.
  6. Have the students draw pictures of the different animal crackers in separate columns on their activity sheets. Then have students sort the animal crackers and use the tally marks in the appropriate columns to count them.
  7. Have students translate their tally marks into numbers, and ask one person from each group to make a “livestock report” by reading aloud the number of each animal counted.
  8. Draw a classroom chart on the chalkboard, and record the data as the groups report it.
  9. Repeat the process with the snack mix and the My Census of Agriculture: Crops activity sheet. Explain to students that the different ingredients in the mix represent different crops. Show students what each ingredient represents, and have them write the names of the different crops in the “Name of Crop” column on the activity sheet. Have students sort, count, record, and report, as in steps five through seven.
  10. Provide extra snack mix and animal crackers for students to eat and discuss the results of their census.

Activity 2: Sequential Order with Soybeans

  1. Using the soybeans or the edamame from the Interest Approach – Engagement activity, prepare a set of ten bags with one bean in the first bag, two beans in the second bag, three beans in the third bag, and so on until the tenth bag has ten beans. 
  2. Repeat step one to prepare a second and third set of bags.
  3. Place a blue dot on the first set of bags,  a red dot on the second set, and a green dot on the third set.
  4. Give each student a bag. Tell them it is very important to keep their bags zipped at all times.
  5. Ask the students, "What's inside your bag?" (soybeans)
  6. Remind the students that soybeans are a major export in the United States and have many uses. Review their uses listed in the Interest Approach – Engagement activity.
  7. Have the students find all of their classmates with the same color dot on their bag and then organize themselves in a straight line in sequential order from least to greatest according to the number of soybeans they have in their bags. Allow talking the first time the class completes this activity.
  8. Collect the bags and then redistribute them.
  9. Have the students organize themselves into colored groups in a straight line, from greatest to least, using NONVERBAL communication only.
  10. Collect the bags and ask the students the following questions:
    • Which activity was the most difficult and why?
    • Why is it important to be able to count items and arrange them in sequential order? 
    • Why is it important for farmers to count things found on their farm?

Concept Elaboration and Evaluation

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

  • Farmers provide food, fiber, and other important necessities of life.
  • Soybeans are grown by farmers in the United States and have many uses.
  • It's important for farmers to keep good records. Farmers count many things, such as the seeds they plant, the acres they grow, the size of their harvest, the cost of their tractors or machinery, and much more.

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

  • Provide students with other items to sort and count—mixed seeds, mixed beans, mixed grains, variety candy mixes, crayons, bags of plastic farm animals, etc.

  • On a map of the United States, have students locate the area surveyed in the story of Arthur Young and George Washington.

  • Have students create ancient cave drawing murals showing their animal cracker census. Use the classroom chart, and assign one animal to each of the groups. Students should make simple drawings to represent the animals they counted. Use brown paper and tempera paint in earth tones to create the look of a cave drawing.

  • Use the Agricultural Counts activity sheets in the Essential Files to give students additional counting practice.

Suggested Companion Resources

Agricultural Literacy Outcomes

Culture, Society, Economy & Geography

  • Discuss what a farmer does (T5.K-2.a)
  • Explain why farming is important to communities (T5.K-2.b)

Plants and Animals for Food, Fiber & Energy

  • Identify animals involved in agricultural production and their uses (i.e., work, meat, dairy, eggs) (T2.K-2.b)
  • Identify examples of feed/food products eaten by animals and people (T2.K-2.c)

Education Content Standards


K-4 Geography Standard 1: How to use maps and other geographic representations, geospatial technologies, and spatial thinking to understand and communicate information.

  • Objective 4
    Objective 4
    The interpretation of geographic representations.

K-4 Geography Standard 3: How to analyze the spatial organization of people, places, and environments on Earth's surface.

  • Objective 3
    Objective 3
    Models are used to represent features of human and/or physical systems.


K-4 History Standard 3D: The interactions among groups throughout the history of his or her state.

  • Objective 2
    Objective 2
    Analyze the significance of major events in the state's history, their impact on people then and now, and their relationship to the history of the nation.

K-4 History Standard 3E: The ideas that were significant in the development of the state and that helped to forge its unique identify.

  • Objective 2
    Objective 2
    Analyze how the ideas of significant people affected the history of their state.

NCSS 2: Time, Continuity, and Change

  • Objective 4
    Objective 4
    Key people, events, and places associated with the history of the community, nation, and world.

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.
    Present information, findings, and supporting evidence such that listeners can follow the line of reasoning and the organization, development, and style are appropriate to task, purpose, and audience.

Mathematics: Practice Standards

    Reason abstractly and quantitatively. Students make sense of quantities and their relationships in problem situations. They bring two complementary abilities to bear on problems involving quantitative relationships: the ability to decontextualize—to abstract a given situation and represent it symbolically and manipulate the representing symbols as if they have a life of their own, without necessarily attending to their referents—and the ability to contextualize, to pause as needed during the manipulation process in order to probe into the referents for the symbols involved. Quantitative reasoning entails habits of creating a coherent representation of the problem at hand; considering the units involved; attending to the meaning of quantities, not just how to compute them; and knowing and flexibly using different properties of operations and objects.
    Model with mathematics. Students can apply the mathematics they know to solve problems arising in everyday life, society, and the workplace. Students who can apply what they know are comfortable making assumptions and approximations to simplify a complicated situation, realizing that these may need revision later. They are able to identify important quantities in a practical situation and map their relationships using such tools as diagrams, two-way tables, graphs, flowcharts and formulas. They can analyze those relationships mathematically to draw conclusions.
    Attend 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.


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