Target Grade Level / Age Range:

Grades 3-5


45 minutes

Virtual Learning:

Use this document to convert the lesson into a virtual learning module for your students. Use the steps outlined to create the different elements of a Google Classroom or other online learning platform. You can also send the steps directly to students in a PDF, present them in a virtual meeting, or plug them into any other virtual learning module system.


Students will sequence photographs to tell the story of Seed to Cereal, while learning about corn production, beef production, ethanol production, and food production in general.


  • Seed to Table pictures (printed two-sided, so the back of each pictures is labeled)

Suggested Companion Resources (books and websites)

  • Accurate Ag, Corn in the Story of Agriculture by Susan Anderson and JoAnne Buggey
  • Corn by Gail Gibbons
  • Ethanol and Other Fuels by Tea Benduhn
  • From Corn to Cereal by Roberta Basel
  • Accurate Ag, Beef Cattle in the Story of Agriculture by Susan Anderson and JoAnne Buggey

Vocabulary (with definitions)

  • Transportation: the means of conveyance or travel from one place to another
  • Grain: wheat or any other cultivated cereal crop used as food
  • Husk: the dry outer covering of some fruits or seeds (including corn)
  • Ethanol: the systemic chemical name for ethyl alcohol; a renewable fuel alternative to gasoline
  • Fuel: material such as coal, gas, or oil that is burned to produce heat or power
  • Feed: the food given to livestock, such as cattle
  • Agronomist: a scientist that studies soil management and crop production
  • Combine: the machine used to harvest grain, such as corn and soybeans
  • Processing: to perform a series of mechanical or chemical operations on something in order to change or preserve it, often adding value to the original product
  • Grain elevator: sometimes used to describe a cooperative in general, the grain elevator itself uses conveyor belts or augers to elevate grain into silos or grain bins for storage
  • Cooperative: a business or organization that is owned and run jointly by its members, who share the profits or benefits

Background – Agricultural Connections (what would a teacher need to know to be able to teach this content)

  1. This lesson focuses on what happens to corn once it is harvested. It has three variations; seed to cereal, husk to hamburger, and tassel to tank. Each variation includes photos of the steps in the process of creating an end product from corn. The students will work together to sequence these photos by analyzing what is going on within them. Below, the correct order of the cards will be listed, including a brief explanation of each.
    1. Seed to Cereal:
      1. Research/Lab or Greenhouse
        1. Many kinds of seeds are created through research. Starting in about the 1920s, seed producers began working with hybrid plants. This meant they would cross two varieties of the same plant to gain hybrid vigor and combine some traits of the two. Since then, hybrids have become very popular, and scientists have discovered how to add more value to seed by adding genes that help the plant tolerate herbicides and withstand specific kinds of insects. Today, seeds can also be treated, meaning an extra coat is put on the seed to do different things, like protect the seed against disease or pests.
      2. Farmer Buys Seed
        1. Since seed production is now a fairly large industry, there are also many varieties of each crop. Farmers will buy seed that they think will work best on their farm. Depending on the environment, size of the farm, equipment available, current cropping systems, and cost of seed, there are many traits farmers could look for. These could include drought tolerance, strength of stalk (to withstand winds, hail, etc.), insect tolerance, herbicide tolerance, and yield potential. Just like the same kind of flower won’t perform the same in every flower bed, not all farmers will use the same type of seed in their field.
      3. Planting
        1. Corn planting in Iowa generally starts about the last week in April and will hopefully be done mid-May. Since this can also be a rainy season in this part of the world, farmers have to pay attention to the weather and be careful so as to not hurt their soils by going out in the field when it is too wet. If soils are too wet and tractors are driven out on them, not only can the tractor get stuck, but it can also cause severe soil compaction, which can decrease the crop yield come fall.
      4. Spraying
        1. Farmers can spray for multiple things in their field. Though more farmers are now injecting their fertilizers (like anhydrous ammonia and manure for Nitrogen needs), other things, like herbicides, pesticides, and even fungicides can be sprayed on the crops. Sprayers have multiple sized nozzles that are used to spray the material onto the field. Depending on the properties of the material being sprayed, different sized nozzles will be used to ensure coverage of the material while minimizing drift of the spray onto neighboring fields, yards, or other areas.
      5. Crop Scouting/Agronomist
        1. Agronomists are something like plant doctors. In Iowa, we have many cooperatives and agronomy services that help farmers look at their fields and analyze any problems they may be experiencing. Agronomists will go to fields and “crop scout,” by looking at plants and inspecting them for disease, pest damage, or nutrient deficiency. Agronomists can then help farmers decide what next steps they may need to take, such as fertilizer applications or pesticide applications. Agronomists can help during other times of the year, as well, by helping to analyze yield data, run soil tests, or help in choosing a variety of seed.
      6. Combine/Harvest
        1. Harvest season comes in the fall. Corn is harvested using a combine. The combine is driven through the field, and collects only the kernels of corn from the plant. Modern combines will collect huge amounts of data while harvesting, including yield maps and grain moisture. Farmers try to only harvest their grain when it is less than 15% moisture (many farmers aim for 10-13% moisture). Wet grain does not store as easily, gets a price dock at the co-op, and costs more to dry down before storage.
      7. Loading Corn
        1. Though the combine does have some room to store grain, it generally isn’t enough for the farmer’s entire field. When this storage area (called the hopper) gets full of grain, another tractor hauling a grain cart will pull alongside the combine. The combine will extend an auger that will deposit the grain from the hopper into the grain cart. Both the tractor and the combine can continue driving while this happens! When the combine has loaded the grain cart, the tractor will then drive to deposit the grain elsewhere. Many farms today will have access to a semi-truck that they will load grain into. The tractor and grain cart can drive between the semi and the combine, saving time.
      8. Transporting Grain from Field
        1. When the semi is loaded, the grain will then be taken from the field. It will either be taken directly to a cooperative or grain elevator to be sold, or the farmer can store it on their own property, if they have grain bins of their own.
      9. Grain Elevator/Storage
        1. The grain elevator or co-op will be the purchaser of the grain. Some large cooperatives are Heartland, Landus, Agriland FS, MaxYield, Key, NEW, and many, many others.
        2. If a farmer has personal access to grain bins, they may elect to store their own grain and wait to sell it. This can be one way farmers try to gain a better price when they sell – if they have the ability to say when they want to sell.
      10. Grain Transport
        1. After a cooperative has purchased the grain, they will then look for commercial buyers for the grain. This can include many industries, as the corn kernel can be broken apart and used for countless things, from carpet fiber to pop to ethanol to plastics. Once a buyer is secured, the grain will then be transported to that company’s facility for further processing.
      11. Corn Processing Plant/Cereal Factory
        1. Cold cereals are manufactured in processing plants by being ground and mixed with various additives (such as salt, water, vitamins, sweeteners, coloring agents, etc.), cooked, and dried. Then cereals will be pressed, toasted, formed, or otherwise processed into the various shapes and forms we enjoy our cereals in.
      12. Transporting Product
        1. Once the product is made and packaged within the plant, it will then be distributed to grocery stores.
      13. Grocery Store
        1. When foods arrive at the grocery store, we are able to purchase them!
      14. Breakfast for you!
  2. Husk to Hamburger:
    1. Research/Lab or Greenhouse
    2. Farmer Buys Seed
    3. Planting
    4. Spraying
    5. Crop Scouting/Agronomist
    6. Combine/Harvest
    7. Loading Corn
    8. Transporting Grain from Field
    9. Grain Elevator/Storage
    10. Grain Transport
    11. Feed Mill
      1. A feed mill is a place where feed ingredients are processed and combined to create feed rations for livestock. In the case of corn, the outer coating is very hard and makes it difficult for animals to gain access to the starches within the seed if it is not further processed. Therefore, corn used in feed is generally ground, cracked, pressed, or otherwise broken up to increase feed efficiency.
      2. Other ingredients used in cattle feed can be soybeans (a protein source), vitamins, minerals, salt, urea (a nitrogen source), or forages like silage (a fermented corn plant feedstuff), alfalfa, clover, or other hay stuffs.
    12. Feed Transport
      1. When the feed is created, it will then be transported to the farm where the livestock live!
    13. Beef Cattle Farm/Eating Feed
      1. Depending on the type of cattle farm and what age the animal is, different cattle will eat different things. However, corn remains a large component in cattle feeds, as it helps animals gain weight quickly and efficiently.
    14. Transporting Livestock
      1. When the animal is ready to be harvested, it will be taken to a meat processing plant. This stage is important, because farmers want to keep their animals as calm and stress-free as possible. Because of this, more and more farmers are adopting curved, solid chutes that allow animals to walk through calmly and without extra encouragement. For more information about animal behavior and humane treatment of livestock, visit these sources:
        1. Grandin Livestock Handling Systems: 
        2. Understanding Flight Zone and Point of Balance for Low Stress Handling of Cattle, Sheep, and Pigs by Temple Grandin:
    15. Meat Processing Plant
      1. Though not glamourous, meat processing plants are very sanitary and humane facilities. Skilled and educated people work in these facilities to maintain quality standards and practices. For more information about food safety standards, check out USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS):
    16. Transporting Product
      1. When the products have been harvested and packaged, they will be transported safely in refrigerated trucks.
    17. Hamburger
      1. Stores and restaurants will receive the products and use them to make the foods we love!
  3. Tassel to Tank:
    1. Research/Lab or Greenhouse
    2. Farmer Buys Seed
    3. Planting
    4. Spraying
    5. Crop Scouting/Agronomist
    6. Combine/Harvest
    7. Loading Corn
    8. Transporting Grain from Field
    9. Grain Elevator/Storage
    10. Grain Transport
    11. Ethanol Production Plant
      1. Ethanol production is heavy on chemistry, but essentially, the grain is broken apart, cooked, and converted to sugar. Then, it is fermented into alcohol, cleaned, and blended with gasoline (so it cannot be used as food grade grain alcohol). For more information about the chemical processes involved, check out this link:
    12. Ethanol Transport
      1. When these steps are completed, the ethanol is transported to gas stations!
    13. At the pump
      1. At the pump, you may see different blends of ethanol. E-15 is the most popular in Iowa.
    14. In your car!

Interest Approach or Motivator

Ask students how food gets to the grocery store or restaurant. Are there Cheerio gardens? What about a ketchup tree? No, many foods are processed to be the yummy foods we like to eat. But one common Iowa crop is used to make many things!


  1. Introduce the idea of corn to the class. Ask students what they already know about corn. This would be a good time to clarify that there are multiple kinds of corn. There is sweet corn, which people like to eat, popcorn, Indian corn or decorative corn, the most common, which is field corn. This lesson will talk about field corn and what it is used for.
    1. Ask students what they think field corn is used for. Students should say things like animal feed, fuel (ethanol), or foods like cereal, corn chips, or ingredients like high fructose corn syrup.
  2. Brainstorm with the class about what steps might be included in producing corn into food for people, like cereal.
    1. Write ideas on the board as they brainstorm. Help them think of things like plant breeding or research, planting, transportation, processing, etc.
    2. Wrap up discussion after a couple of minutes.
  3. Next, explain to students that they will work together as a class to sequence photos of the seed to cereal process.
    1. There are 14 photo cards for the seed to cereal process. Distribute these photo cards somewhat evenly throughout the class. If some students will need to double up in order to have a photo card, instruct them to do so. Hand out the photo cards face up, and tell the students to leave them that way until you say otherwise.
  4. Tell students that when you say, “Go!” they will need to place the photos in order on the ground at the designated area of the room. They will be able to communicate, but they will need to maintain indoor voices and be polite to each other. Tell students that on the back of each photo is a short phrase that can serve as a helpful hint if they are stuck, but to only check the hints if they are truly stuck. Also tell students that they will be timed. However, they will get 5 seconds added to their time for each incorrectly placed card, so they will need to work intelligently as well as quickly!
    1. Students will do the same activity with the Husk to Hamburger photo cards and the Tassel to Tank cards. For each round, the students will be timed. Hopefully, they will go faster each time because the first portion of each activity will be the same.
  5. Dismiss students to begin the activity. While reminding them to work quickly, be sure that students are being courteous, safe, etc.
  6. Once students are finished, have them return to their seats. Go over each of the photo cards together, and read the description on the back of the card. Ask students if they think they’re in the correct order. If they are not, help guide the students toward the suggestions they should make to reorganize them.
  7. When the cards are in the correct order, ask students what surprised them during the activity. Was is easy? Were there steps you didn’t think about or didn’t know about?
  8. Then, talk about other uses for that same corn. Corn is also used to feed livestock like cattle. Explain to students that this time, they will do the same activity, but this time to include hamburger instead of cereal.
    1. The Husk to Hamburger activity has 17 photo cards. The first ten are the same as the Seed to Cereal activity. You could either print those cards multiple times, or collect those cards and redistribute them. If multiple copies are printed, students can have all three processes laid above and below each other to compare and contrast more easily, but this could also be covered in a discussion.
  9. Dismiss students to do the activity (repeat steps 4-7).
    1. Did students take as long this round as they did the previous round? What was similar or different? What was easier or more difficult?
  10. Next, talk about the last thing you can get from corn; fuel. Ask students about what they know about ethanol. Talk about how ethanol is a renewable fuel alternative to gasoline.
  11. Hand out the Tassel to Tank picture cards (this round also has 14 cards, with the first 10 being the same).
  12. Repeat steps 4-7.
    1. How did the times compare this round? What was similar or different? How did difficulty compare to the two previous rounds?
    2. Ask students how they think corn can have many uses. Is all of the corn bought by one company? Do all companies that buy corn buy it at the same price? Talk about how many uses for one good (corn) increases its value, because there is competition to purchase it.
  13. Ask students some things they learned about corn production. Talk about all of the steps involved in all three rounds and all of the people necessary to do those jobs. Talk about careers in food science, chemistry, trucking, corn farming, beef farming, agronomy, biochemistry, and many others! Ask students if any of those careers or jobs is surprising to them.
  14. Wrap up the class period with some key takeaways from students. Touch on things like:
    1. STEM involved in each step of the process
    2. Jobs related to producing food
    3. How food is produced
    4. Many uses for corn
    5. Many steps necessary in producing food

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

Did you know? (Ag facts)

  • Iowa is the No. 1 corn producing state.
  • Iowa is the No. 1 ethanol producing state.
  • Iowa is No. 8 in beef production.

Extension Activities (how students can carry this beyond the classroom)

Ask students to check ingredient labels on foods at home to see how many have corn in them, and report back to class the next day.
Create a small research project where students can follow one use of corn from start to finish and create a chart, poster, or paper about it.



Cindy Hall and Chrissy Rhodes

Organization Affiliation

Iowa Agriculture Literacy Foundation

National Agriculture Literacy Outcomes

  • Plants and Animals for Food, Fiber & Energy Outcomes:
    • T2.3-5.b: Distinguish between renewable and non-renewable resources used in the production of food, feed fuel, fiber (fabric or clothing) and shelter
  • Food, Health, and Lifestyle Outcomes:
    • T3.3-5: Diagram the path of production for a processed product, from farm to table
    • T3.3-5.f: Identify careers in food, nutrition, and health
  • Culture, Society, Economy & Geography Outcomes:
    • T5.3-5.b: Discover that there are many jobs in agriculture

Iowa Core Standards

Social Studies:

  • SS.3.5. Construct responses to compelling questions using reasoning, examples, and relevant details.
  • SS.3.25. Explain probable causes and effects of events and developments.
  • SS.4.4. Construct responses to compelling questions using reasoning, examples, and relevant details.
  • SS.5.13. Describe how goods and services are produced and distributed domestically and globally
  • SS.5.5. With teacher direction, construct responses to compelling questions supported by reasoning and evidence


Language Arts:

  • SL.3.1: Engage effectively in a range of collaborative discussions (one-on-one, in groups, and teacher-led) with diverse partners on grade 3 topics and texts, building on others’ ideas and expressing their own clearly.
  • SL.3.4: Report on a topic or text, tell a story, or recount an experience with appropriate facts and relevant, descriptive details, speaking clearly at an understandable pace.
  • SL.3.6: Speak in complete sentences when appropriate to task and situation in order to provide requested detail or clarification.
  • SL.4.1: Engage effectively in a range of collaborative discussions (one-on-one, in groups, and teacher-led) with diverse partners on grade 4 topics and texts, building on others’ ideas and expressing their own clearly.
  • SL.4.4: Report on a topic or text, tell a story, or recount an experience in an organized manner, using appropriate facts and relevant, descriptive details to support main ideas or themes; speak clearly at an understandable pace.
  • SL.5.1: Engage effectively in a range of collaborative discussions (one-on-one, in groups, and teacher-led) with diverse partners on grade 5 topics and texts, building on others’ ideas and expressing their own clearly.
  • SL.5.4: Report on a topic or text or present an opinion, sequencing ideas logically and using appropriate facts and the relevant, descriptive details to support main ideas or themes; speak clearly at an understandable place.

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