Target Grade Level / Age Range:

7th grade, 9th-12th grade (U.S. History)


2 class periods

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. 


This lesson will expose students to the history and social studies aspects of the Green Revolution and its founder while helping students gain reading and writing skills.


  • Notecards
  • Computers/tablets
  • Internet access

Suggested Companion Resources (books and websites)

Vocabulary (with definitions)

  • Green Revolution: the great increase in production of food grains (especially rice and wheat) due to the introduction of high-yielding varieties, to the use of pesticides, and to better management techniques
  • Hybrid Plant: a plant that is formed by combining two or more varieties of the same plant
  • Developing country: a poor country that is seeking to become more advanced agriculturally, economically, and socially.
  • Research scientist: someone who conducts systematic scientific research or rigid investigation in order to discover new things, prove a hypothesis, or answer a specific question.
  • Famine: a widespread lack of food
  • GMO: genetically modified organism

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

  • One key aspect of this lesson is facilitating discussion on genetically modified organisms (GMOs)
    • The term GMO can be used to describe many different things. Here, there is information about each specific technique.
      • Cross breeding : cross breeding refers to the breeding technique when different varieties of a common specie are bred together. This would be like crossing a Labrador with a poodle to get a labradoodle. Cross breeding yields hybrid plants, which often perform better than either parent. This otherwise unexplained boost in performance is called hybrid vigor, or heterosis.
        • Hybrids can take on traits from both parents, and are relatively simple to produce (comparative to other breeding systems). However, due to the random inheritance of genetics, it is nearly impossible to ensure a specific trait will be transferred, or to stop a negative trait from being transferred.
        • Hybrids became popular around World War II in the United States. This is also around the time that fertilizer use became more common. In the chart on this website ( you can see the initial uptick in yields starting at this time.
      • Genetic engineering: this is the term that most people refer to when discussing GMOs. Genetic engineering refers to altering DNA with specific traits targeted. This could mean multiple things. Sometimes, organisms will have a genetic trait that is problematic. In this case, scientists might be able to cut that piece of DNA out, or switch it off. In these cases, new DNA is not introduced, the organism’s own DNA is just altered.
        • A second possibility within genetic engineering is transgenic organisms. This is what people refer to when they talk about RoundUp Ready or Bt crops. These types of crops carry a specific gene from a different organism.
          • RoundUp Ready crops are resistant to the herbicide Glyphosate. This herbicide is referred to as a “growth inhibitor.” It inhibits the EPSPS enzyme in plants that help them to synthesize amino acids. Humans (and other animals) do not have this enzyme, because we get our amino acids from food. This resistant trait was originally discovered in a bacterium, and was implemented into soybeans and sold in 1996.
          • Bt crops vary slightly from RoundUp Ready. Where RoundUp Ready crops make it easier for farmers to use sprays, Bt crops greatly decrease the need for sprays. The name Bt comes from the bacterium their most important trait comes from (Bacillus thuringiensis). The bacterium has a protein, called Cry, that binds to the digestive system of a specific few kinds of insects. When these insects eat it, it leads to a breakdown of their digestive system, and ultimately they die. This eliminates the need for farmers to spray pesticides for insects like European corn borer or northern and western corn rootworm that can cause major yield damage.
          • Summar y of RoundUp Ready and Bt : Both have genes from bacteria to help make management of their fields easier and more efficient. These efficiencies cause better yields. RoundUp makes it easy to control weeds by providing resistance to herbicides. Bt makes it easy to control insects by providing a protein that kills the bugs that eat its stalk.
        • Genetic engineering is far more complex than cross breeding, and requires elevated education and sophisticated equipment. If those things are available, it also takes years of research to pass the requirements set by the USDA, FDA, and EPA. This requires substantial amounts of time and money, which can be prohibitive for many people and companies. However, genetic engineering is far more accurate than cross-breeding, and scientists can know exactly what traits they are working to express or turn off.
    • Another key piece of this lesson is discussing Norman Borlaug, and his work with hybrids that kick started the Green Revolution.
      • Norman Borlaug was born in Cresco, Iowa, and went to the University of Minnesota, where he studied forestry and plant pathology. He received his doctorate in the ‘40s, and went on to research wheat in Mexico. In Mexico, he found that the wheat crop had many issues, and farmers were barely producing enough to survive. Wheat was dying of disease, and was also prone to lodging (falling over). Borlaug was able to develop hybrid strains of wheat that were shorter (so they were resistant to lodging), held more wheat, and were resistant to disease. Wheat production increased dramatically.
      • This wasn’t his only research, however. Borlaug went on to study in India, Pakistan, Egypt, Tunisia, Syria, Iran, Libya, Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey, Iraq, Afghanistan, Algeria, and Saudi Arabia. He is credited with saving more lives than any other person in history, over one billion lives.
      • Borlaug won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1970, and was the first agriculturalist to receive the award. He went on to receive the Congressional Gold Medal of Honor and Presidential Medal of Freedom.
      • He later started a new “prize system” called the World Food Prize in which $250,000 is awarded each year. The purpose is to draw attention to the problem of world hunger and the role agriculture can play in solving that problem. The World Food Prize is located in Des Moines, Iowa.
      • The Green Revolution was started by Norman Borlaug in Mexico in the 1940s. His success caught the attention of the world, and soon these technologies spread, helping farmers across the globe create more calories of food per acre.
        • Some technologies in this time included fertilizer, irrigation, and the rearing of higher producing varieties.

Interest Approach or Motivator

Tell students that in Washington DC there is a hall of statues (National Statuary Hall Collection in the Capitol), in which each state has statues of two of their most influential citizens. Ask if they know who Iowa’s are. They are Samuel Jordan Kirkwood (an Iowa politician and eventual Secretary of the Interior) and Norman Borlaug.


  1. Ask students what they know about Mexico’s agriculture. Do they know any famous agriculturalists that worked in Mexico?
  2. Tell students to open their iPads or laptops.
    • If your school is not one-to-one, this lesson might work best in a computer lab or media center.
  3. Students will go to and research Norman Borlaug. Here students will gain background knowledge on Borlaug by reading the biography that’s printed down the left side of the page.
  4. Project images on the Smartboard from the pink section titled “Artifacts” along the right side of the page.  
  5. Tell students to read the biography quietly to themselves. If necessary, single paragraphs can be read aloud to help enrich the discussion later.
  6. After reading his biography, let students ask questions. They may not be familiar with hybrids, or the Green Revolution. Ask students to share what they already know about these terms.
  7. Ask for a volunteer to give a quick recap about what they have learned about Norman Borlaug and the Green Revolution.. 
  8. Finally, ask students to Explore reliable and viable websites, articles, videos, etc. to construct an essay explanation that describes how genetic research can improve agricultural production.  

Essay requirements:

  1. Include in that minimum of one-page essay outlining the main topic.
  2. Include a short summary of Norman Borlaug’s work, and what it meant for the areas in which he worked.
  3. Include at least one prediction of a problem that research scientists might be faced with in the future, based on the legacy of Norman Borlaug as well as modern and future food issues (population growth, hunger, malnutrition, etc.).


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

Did You Know? (Ag Facts)

  • Norman Borlaug was born in Cresco, Iowa.
  • Borlaug won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1970.
  • He worked for 16 years in Mexico, and was able to create a hybrid wheat plant that could not only resist fungus and disease, but have high yields as well. His genetic testing on plants started the Green Revolution.  
  • After his success in Mexico, The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization sent him to other developing countries where he taught scientists and farmers how planting new varieties of wheat could help feed the hungry in their countries.

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

  • Students could research other famous Iowans and create presentations on their impacts in the state and worldwide.


Author(s) (your name)

  • Amy Bisenius     

Organization Affiliation (your organization)

  • MVAO Middle School

National Agriculture Literacy Outcomes

  • Agriculture and the Environment:
    • T1.6-8 h: Recognize the factors of an agricultural system which determine its sustainability
  • Plants and Animals for Food, Fiber & Energy:
    • T2.6-8 b: Explain the role of ethics in the production and management of food, fiber, and energy sources
    • T2.6-8 c: Identify farm practices for plant protection (e.g., using a pesticide, integrated pest management, cultural practices) and the harvest of safe products for consumers
  • Science, Technology, Engineering & Mathematics:
    • T4.6-8 d: Discuss how technology has changed over time to help farmers/ranchers provide more food to more people
    • T4.6-8 e: Explain how and why agricultural innovation influenced modern economic systems
    • T4.6-8 h: Identify specific technologies that have reduced labor in agriculture
    • T4.6-8 i: Provide examples of science and technology used in agricultural systems (e.g., GPS, artificial insemination, biotechnology, soil testing, ethanol production, etc.); explain how they meet our basic needs; and detail their social, economic, and environmental impacts

Iowa Core Standards

  • Science:
    • MS-LS1-5. Construct a scientific explanation based on evidence for how environmental and genetic factors influence the growth of organisms.
    • MS-LS4-4. Construct an explanation based on evidence that describes how genetic variations of traits in a population increase some individuals’ probability of surviving and reproducing in a specific environment.
    • MS-LS4-5. Gather and synthesize information about the technologies that have changed the way humans influence the inheritance of desired traits in organisms.
  • Language Arts:
    • RL.7.2.   Determine the central idea of a text and analyze its development over the course of the text; provide an objective summary of the text.
    • RI.7-3.   Analyze interactions between individuals, events, and ideas in a text (e.g., how ideas influence individuals or events, or how individuals influence ideas or events)
    • IA.1: Employ the full range of research-based comprehension strategies, including making connections, determining importance, questioning, visualizing, making inferences, summarizing, and monitoring for comprehension.
    • IA.2: Read on-level text, both silently and orally, at an appropriate rate with accuracy and fluency to support comprehension.
    • W.7.2: Write informative/explanatory texts to examine a topic and convey ideas, concepts, and information through the selection, organization, and analysis of relevant content.
    • W.7.8: Gather relevant information from multiple print and digital sources, using search terms effectively; assess the credibility and accuracy of each source ; and quote or paraphrase the data and conclusions of others while avoiding plagiarism and following a standard format for citation.
  • Social Studies:
    • SS.7.24. Analyze connections among historical events and developments in contemporary global issues.
    • SS.7.25. Explain how and why perspectives on various contemporary issues have changed over time.
    • SS.7.26. Explain multiple causes and effects of various contemporary global events and developments.
    • SS.7.27. Analyze the role that Iowa plays in contemporary global issues.
    • SS-US.9-12.27. Evaluate Iowans or groups of Iowans who have influenced U.S. History.

Creative Commons License

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.


Creative Commons License

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.