Target Grade Level / Age Range:



30-40 minutes  


Students will learn the differences between living and nonliving things and classify items found on a farm accordingly. They will learn what living things need to survive, and what careers work to provide those things.  Students will become familiar with some new terms, as well as gain an understanding of life.  


  • Living or Nonliving Cards  
    • Print and cut out before class time  
  • Pocket Chart  
  • Living and Nonliving by Carol K. Lindeen  
    • Other books could be appropriate, such as Farming by Gail Gibbons (available in IALF’s Lending Library)  

Suggested Companion Resources:  

  • Living and Nonliving By: Carol K. Lindeen


  • Living: Things that are alive, such as people, plants, and animals.  Living things grow, change, and reproduce.    
  • Nonliving: Anything that is not alive, such as rocks, toys, and tools.   Nonliving things that cannot move, breathe or reproduce.   They do not need food, air and water.      
  • Soybeans: Soybeans come from a soybean plant, which are commonly grown in Iowa. Soybeans can be used for soy biodiesel, animal feed, human consumption, or a variety of other things – like seat cushions in cars!  
  • Grain Sorghum: A drought tolerant grass that produces a grain sometimes called “milo.” Milo can be fed to animals, or used to make ethanol.  
  • Feed: Food fed to farm animals.   It usually combines several ingredients to make it a healthy, well balanced meal.    
  • Wind turbines: Large, modern, windmills used to collect energy from the wind  

Background – Agricultural Connections:  

  • Living things can grow, move and change.   They need the essentials to survive: air, water, food, and sunlight.  
  • There are many things found on a farm, some living and some non-living.   Farms are different across Iowa, the US, and the world.   Some farmers raise many types of plants and animals, while other specialize in just one or two things.   The tools and buildings found on farms vary too.         
  • This lesson will help teach the differences between living and nonliving things through the lens of agriculture. Each of the items the students will be working with is somehow related to agriculture. The items in the cards are:  
    • Wheat  
    • Soybeans  
    • Cotton  
    • Tomatoes  
    • Seeds  
    • Corn  
    • Squash  
    • Cattle  
    • Sheep  
    • Turkeys  
    • Chickens  
    • Pigs  
    • Goats  
    • Barn  
    • Water  
    • Tractor  
      • Tractors can be a good way to challenge students on their understanding of life. Tractors move, make noise, and even need food (fuel)! So why aren’t they alive?  
    • Soil  
      • Soil can be a tricky one, as it is full of living things. Soil would lose much of its effectiveness without the microbial action that we cannot see. However, soil particles themselves are nonliving.  
    • Wind turbines  
      • Ask students if the wind turbines are not living, is the wind?  
    • Rocks  
    • T-shirt  
      • The cotton T-shirt may trip some students up. It is made from a living item, however T-shirts cannot grow and develop nor reproduce. Therefore, they are nonliving.  
    • Worms  
      • Ask students if they like worms?  Do they think works are good for the soil?   Worms are good for soil, and a sign of healthy soil.   Worms aerate the soil by moving through it.  The channels they create spaces for water and air, enabling both to reach plants’ roots.   Worms also help to break down organic matter, like leaves.  Earthworm castings (their poop) add valuable nutrients to the soil.        
    • Pizza  
      • Pizza is also made from living items, but it is a nonliving thing. Challenge students to look for all of the once-living parts of pizza. Wheat in the crust, tomatoes for sauce, herbs, meat, and even cheese come from living things.  
    • Grain sorghum  
      • Though grain sorghum is not commonly grown in Iowa, this is an important crop in more southern regions as it is a more drought-tolerant grain. The plant itself without the inflorescence looks a lot like a corn plant does.  
    • Truck  
    • Corn and soybean meal (feed)  
      • Farm animals like cows and pigs eat lots of grains. Farmers may process these grains by grinding, chopping, or otherwise making them more easily digestible. Then, they may add in extra goodies like vitamins and minerals. The result is the feed for the animal, and it is a nonliving thing.  

Interest Approach or Motivator:  

Ask students what makes something living. Is it movement? Is it ability to make sounds? Are living things always warm? What do living things need?



  1. Start the lesson by giving each student a picture card. Have them look at their photo, read the caption, and decide whether or not the item pictured is living.  
    1. Give them the opportunity to ask questions if they have them. Some pictures may be trickier than others.  Remember, some things on the non-living list were made from things that were once living things, but are not alive now.   Here is the key:  












Wind Turbine  










Corn and soybean meal (feed)  









Grain Sorghum  



  1. Once students have roughly decided if their item is living or nonliving, have them place their picture card in the correct side of the pocket chart.  
    1. If you do not have a pocket chart, students could tape them to the board, chart paper, or lay them on the floor under the correct heading.  
    2. Tell students to remember which card was theirs.  
  2. After the picture sort, have students turn and talk to the student next to them.   Have them talk about the pictures they had and why they placed them where they did. Ask them if there are any pictures they would move and why.  
  3. Read: Living and Nonliving  
    1. Stop at various points and ask the students why some things are living and why some are nonliving  
    2. What do you think living things need in order to survive?  
    3. Are we living or nonliving?  
    4. How do you know if something is living?  
  4. Discuss why it is important that all living things get sunlight, water, air and food  
  5. Make a chart.   What jobs deal with living things?  
    1. How do those professional make sure they are keeping their plants, animals or people alive?  
      1. Talk about farmers, agronomists (plant doctors that help farmers), veterinarians, etc. Connect these jobs to parents and doctors and what they do for kids.  
    2. If students are having trouble thinking of careers, point to various picture cards and ask students about them.  
  6. After discussion, students have to determine if they want to keep their picture card where they originally placed it or move it to the other heading and tell why. Go around the room and ask each student what they think. Use this opportunity to talk to the class about things that contain materials from once living things (like cotton T-shirts and pizza), but that are nonliving things themselves.  
  7. Wrap up class with some takeaway concepts from students.  

Essential Files:  

  • Living or Nonliving Cards  
    • Print four cards to a landscape 8.5 x 11” sheet of paper  
    • There are 25 cards total. If there are more students, some additions could be hamburgers, pork chops, ethanol, wool, or many others.  

Did you know? (Ag facts):  

  • Only 2% of the population is involved in production agriculture  
  • 97% of farms are family owned  

Extension Activities:  

  • Have students bring in a picture of something different to add to the Living vs. Nonliving sort



Ashley Westhoff  

Chrissy Rhodes  

Organization Affiliation:  

Oskaloosa Elementary School

Iowa Agriculture Literacy Foundation

National Agriculture Literacy Outcomes:  

  • T2.K-2.e Identify the importance of natural resources (e.g., sun, soil, water, mineral) in farming

Iowa Core Standards:  

  • Science:  
    • K-LS1-1. Use observations to describe patterns of what plants and animals (including humans) need to survive.  
  • Language Arts:  
    • SL.K.3: Ask and answer questions in order to seek help, get information, or clarify something that is not understood.  
  • 21 st Century Skills:  
    • 21.K-2.ES.2: Recognize different roles and responsibilities and is open to change. ()  
    • 21.K-2.ES.3: Learn leadership skills and demonstrate integrity, ethical behavior, and social responsibility.  

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