Target Grade Level / Age Range:

1st grade


30 minutes


Students will understand that corn is a vegetable and some of the different parts of a corn plant by taking a closer look at corn plants. Students will gain language arts and science skills through analyzing this common Iowa vegetable.


Suggested Companion Resources (books and websites):

  • 1st grade Wonders Unit 3 Week 2 (How do plants change as they grow?)


  • Plant: a living thing that uses sunlight to make their own food and grow
  • Vegetable: part of a plant that you can eat and is not a nut or a sweet fruit
  • Kernel: a corn seed
  • Sprout: to begin growing
  • Tassel: the flower at the top of a corn plant that contains pollen 
  • Husk: the leaves surrounding the ear of the plant
  • Silks: the hairs that grow out of the top of the ear. Each kernel has its own silk.
  • Ear: the part of the plant on which the kernels grow
  • Stalk: the main stem of the corn plant

Background – Agricultural Connections:

  • Vegetables are divided into eight categories by the part of the vegetable that is eaten: leaf, bulb, flower bud, root, stem, fruit, and seed. Corn is considered a seed vegetable.
  • Iowa is the number one corn grower in the U.S. Most (two-thirds) of the corn is for livestock feed or corn by-products. Most of the remaining corn is processed into food people eat. Only a small amount of that is sweet corn that people eat whole (fresh, frozen, or canned).
    • 99% of the corn grown in Iowa is called yellow dent corn, or field corn. This corn is grown to be dried and used as livestock feed, ethanol, or other various products, like corn syrup.
    • The remaining 1% of corn grown in Iowa is split between sweet corn, popcorn, and ornamental corn.
      • The differences between field corn, sweet corn, and popcorn have to do with the amount of sugars and starches in the kernel, as well as when they are harvested. Cut open kernel of sweet corn, popcorn, and field corn. Take a look at the differences yourself!
      • Ornamental corn, sometimes called Indian corn, is more of a heritage crop. It is similar to field corn, but the genetic differences cause a beautiful array of colors that make it popular to use for decorating in the fall.
  • The corn lifecycle can be different than other crops’ lifecycles.
    • Generally, corn will start to be planted in the spring once the soil warms up and the rain lets up for about three days (three days post rain is when the soil is at optimum moisture. Beginning to plant too soon after a rain can be very hard on soils, and can cause compaction and degradation of soil structure.). Farmers will start getting anxious to get in the field starting mid-April, and will hopefully be done planting their corn about halfway through May. More information about planting dates can be found here:
    • If planting cannot be done soon enough (if it’s a wet or cold spring) farmers can plant later, but their yields will likely be lower. Farmers can also elect to plant more soybeans in such years, since they have a shorter growing season and are more tolerant of being planted later in spring.
    • In the fall (generally late September or early October), field corn harvest begins in Iowa. Farmers generally try to harvest their corn when the moisture content is about 15%. Cooperatives can dock pay to farmers if their grain is too wet, as it costs them money to dry it down for storage.
  • Corn is wind pollinated, meaning it needs wind to create the kernels.
    • Pollen from the tassel of the plant will fall onto the silks on the ear. Each silk is attached to one kernel, and it needs the pollen to develop. The pollen will travel through the silk to the kernel.

Interest Approach or Motivator:

How many of you have eaten corn on the cob? What other vegetables do you like to eat? Does your family or someone you know have a garden or farm?  Have you helped in the garden or on the farm? Turn and talk to a neighbor about what you know about how plants grow.


  1. Give the students the Vegetables Graphic Organizer worksheet and ask them to listen and record information as you read aloud the books Vegetables by Jacqueline Dwyer and The Vegetables We Eat by Gail Gibbons.
  2. Allow students to fill in the graphic organizer with words and/or pictures to help illustrate their understanding of the four sections.
  3. When students are wrapping up their ideas in the graphic organizer, display the diagram and close-ups of cob and kernels (Corn Photos.docx, attached document) on an interactive white board, or marker board. Tell the students that they are going to use their new knowledge of vegetables to take a closer look at corn.
  4. Read aloud Corn Up Close by Katie Franks.  As you read, ask individual students to come forward and highlight or circle the part of the plant as it is named in the text.  Be sure to point out with photographs that not all corn looks the same (e.g. color, size, shape) or is used for the same purposes (e.g. food for livestock, food for people including popcorn, for making corn products like at Cargill, decorations, etc.).
  5. When the book is finished and each of the plant parts have been circled, ask students what they learned. Did they know the names for all of these things? Did they previously know how they functioned?
  6. Wrap up with a “turn and talk” or a small group share of the chart and one other fact you learned about plants, vegetables, or corn. Students can turn to their neighbor and then share one thing they learned.

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

Did you know? (Ag facts):

  • Vegetables can be grown without soil when the water has the right nutrients.
  • Corn is called maize in other places around the world.
  • The tassel is the male reproductive part of the plant and the ear is the female reproductive part of the corn plant.
  • Every kernel of corn on a cob has one strand of silk so that there is the same number of kernels as silk strands.
  • Corn or its products can be found in many food items like cereals, peanut butter, potato chips, soups, marshmallows, ice cream, baby food, cooking oil, margarine, mayonnaise, salad dressing, and chewing gum.
  • Iowa is the #1 corn growing state in the nation.
  • Iowa leads in ethanol production.

Extension Activities:

  • Students can write a description of the life cycle of a corn plant.
  • Students can interview a farmer or gardener about how they plant and care for vegetables.
  • Students can apply their knowledge by planting and growing their own vegetables.



Denise Morris

Organization Affiliation:

Oskaloosa Elementary School

National Agriculture Literacy Outcomes:

  • Agriculture and the Environment:
    • T1.K-2.b: Describe the importance of soil and water in raising crops and livestock
  • Plants and Animals for Food, Fiber, and Energy:
    • T2.K-2.a: Explain how farmers/ranchers work with the lifecycle of plants and animals (planting/breeding) to harvest a crop
    • T2.K-2.c: Identify examples of feed/food products eaten by animals and people
  • Culture, Society, Economy, & Geography:
    • T5.K-2.d: Identify plants and animals grown or raised locally that are used for food, clothing, shelter, and landscapes

Iowa Core Standards:

  • Science:
    • 1–LS1–1: Use materials to design a solution to a human problem by mimicking how plants and/or animals use their external parts to help them survive, grow, and meet their needs.
    • 1–LS3–1: Make observations to construct an evidence-based account that young plants and animals are like, but not exactly like, their parents.
  • Language Arts:
    • Reading:
      • RI.1.4: Ask and answer questions to help determine or clarify the meaning of words and phrases in a text.
      • RI.1.9: Identify basic similarities in and differences between two texts on the same topic (e.g., in illustrations, descriptions, or procedures).
    • Writing:
      • W.1.2: Write informative/explanatory texts in which they name a topic, supply some facts about the topic, and provide some sense of closure.
      • W.1.3: Write narratives in which they recount two or more appropriately sequenced events, include some details regarding what happened, use temporal words to signal event order, and provide some sense of closure.

Creative Commons License

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