Why in the world would you use agriculture to teach Language arts? The answer is easy. Agriculture is interesting and relevant to students. They encounter it at least three times a day. Who doesn’t enjoy talking about food? Once students begin to discover that everything they eat, wear, and use comes from a plant or animal grown on a farm, they are curious to learn more and look at the food and products around them with curiosity and wonder.
There are many great books and other publications that introduce elementary students to the world of agriculture. They explore topics such the job of a farmer, where our food comes from, and how plants and animals grown on farms make their way to our table in the form of cornflakes, spaghetti, or ice cream. I frequently see these books in classrooms and school libraries, but I often wonder if they are being used to their potential by teachers and students. Why only use these great books for a plant or animal unit? I say take them off the shelf and use them in a language arts lessons! Doing so gives them a purpose beyond teaching students about plants, animals, and agriculture. Below are a few of my favorite strategies to strengthen language arts skills. I can’t take credit for developing these myself. I borrowed them from a few brilliant teachers.
Making Tracks – Also called annotation or reading with a pencil, this strategy encourages students to write as they read. They attack the page with their pencil by underlining, circling, and writing questions and thoughts in the margins or on sticky notes. Making tracks as they read encourages critical thinking and helps comprehension of difficult text. It is helpful to create an annotation key with your students which includes symbols to mark parts of text that are interesting, confusing, spark a question, etc.. Our new student magazine, Iowa Ag Today is perfect for upper elementary students to make tracks on!
Vocabulary Charades – Ask students to write new vocabulary on index cards when reading a non-fiction article or book. Divide the class into two teams and have players take turns coming to the front of the room, selecting a card at random, and acting out or role-playing the definition of the selected word. You will be amazed with the words they are able to translate (and remember) through gestures and actions. Forget flashcards. Playing charades makes learning new vocabulary fun!
Facts vs. Fiction – There are many farm-themed storybooks that combine fact and fiction. After reading a book like Otis, Hogwash, or Click, Clack, Moo: Cows that Type ask students to create a T-Chart to separate real aspects of the story from those that are make-believe. You can ask them to chart the entire book or focus on a particular animal or page of the book.
Stop and Jot – As you read a book to the class pause frequently and ask students to jot down something they visualized, wondered about, or found interesting during the reading. After the book is finished students can talk about their jots as a whole class or in small groups.
General Understandings – After reading a book, ask students to retell the story to a partner using words like first, next, and finally. From Corn to Cereal and Tops and Bottoms are perfect books to pair with this strategy.
Text Dependent Questions – Instead of asking students questions about facts they learned while reading a book, ask questions that require critical thinking and reinforce language arts concepts. Below are a few examples of text dependent questions based on the book My Family’s Farm. Check out the digital version from the Iowa Turkey Federation or order your free copy here.
- Key details– How does Adam help his dad on the turkey farm?
- Vocabulary and text structure – How did the author help us to understand what wattle means?
- Author’s purpose – Who tells the story? How do you know?
- Inferences– Do you think Adam’s dad, Bart works hard on the turkey farm? Why do you think this?
- Opinions, arguments, intertextual connections– In your opinion, is raising turkeys an important job?
- Sketch to stretch – After reading a book to young students ask them to draw what they learned from the book and then talk about their drawings.
I hope these strategies will help you to find a new use for agriculture books while adding something new to language arts lessons! Please add to our list by sharing one of your favorite language arts activities in a comment below.