Target Grade Level / Age Range: 

Kindergarten - 2nd grade


45-60 minutes


Students will learn about simple machines and will be able to recognize them through examples of farm machinery. Students will also practice writing, speaking, and listening skills. 


  • Tractors and Farm Vehicles by Jean Coppendale
    • If this book is not available, many books about tractors and farm equipment are available through IALF’s Lending Library. Some titles include, A Tractor Goes Farming, A Year on the Farm, Big Tractor, Big Tractors, Planters and Cultivators, or Fantastic Farm Machines.
  • Sentence Starters.docx
  • Projector
  • Computer

Suggested Companion Resources:

  • Fantastic Farm Machines by Cris Peterson
  • John Deere for Kids/Learning website- can be found at
  • Johnny Tractor and His Pals by Louise Price Bell
  • See suggested alternate tractor books listed above


  • Cab- where the driver of the tractor sits
  • Harvest- to cut and gather all of the crops when they are ripe
  • Plow- a metal blade that cut through the soil
  • Furrows- small ditches that the plow makes
  • Sowing- planting seeds
  • Combine-a machine that harvests the corn

Background – Agricultural Connections:

Iowa is home to several companies that make tractors and other farm machines.  Examples include John Deere and Kenzie. Tractors and implements made by these companies are shipped across the United States and around the world.  The teacher would need to know what the farm equipment is called, what it looks like, and what it is used for. There are many kinds of farm equipment. A few pieces of equipment will be outlined here.

  • Tractors: Tractors can vary greatly. Some can have two smaller wheels and two large wheels, while others can have four large wheels. Others may even have “tracks” like you would imagine on a tank. Essentially, the purpose of a tractor is to be powerful. Tractors will mostly haul other tools that do different jobs. For example, you can hook a scoop to the front of a tractor, and it can haul things using this. You can hook planters, cultivators, grain carts, or even snow blowers to the back of tractors to help those machines do their jobs. Since there are many different uses for tractors, many different kinds of farms, and many kinds of jobs, there are many different kinds of tractors. Some farms have large, flat fields, and can use larger tractors. Other farms have narrow rows, lots of hills, and maybe don’t need as much power, so they may use smaller tractors. Today in Iowa, most newer tractors will have a few common things; they will have an enclosed cab, generally with climate controls, GPS technology, row tracking (to make sure rows are straight), and even the ability to create field maps while driving, and the ability to let the tractor drive itself (autosteer). While not every farmer has the newest kinds of tractors with the newest technology, these things become more common every year.
  • Planters: Planters are how farmers plant their seeds each year. The planter itself is pulled behind the tractor. New planters will have seed tanks that the farmer can fill with seed. The tanks then have hoses that run to each of the rows. At each row, there will be something like a “seed plate” that a vacuum will pull seeds into. There will be a seed pulled into each of the slots in the plate. The plate will rotate, and deposit one seed at a time into the soil. At the same time, there are gears called “trash wheels” that clean out an area for the planter to plant the seed in. There are also larger discs that point towards each other, and create a small furrow for the seed. Fertilizer and insecticide can also be deposited at the same time as the seed is planted. There will also be a gauge wheel and closing wheel on the planter that help determine depth, and close the furrow back up, respectively. Modern planters collect a lot of data. They can measure plant population, density, spacing, etc. They can create maps, which can be overlaid with soil testing maps, fertilizer maps, and yield maps. This can help farmers discover what their problem areas are, and work to manage them differently. This can help optimize yield overall, and increase sustainability. Here is a good explanatory video of how a planter works:
  • Sprayers: It used to be that sprayers were also something pulled behind a tractor. However, now sprayers can be the large, tall tractors that look like they could be tall enough to drive under when you’re behind them on the road. Unfortunately, they are not designed for cars to drive through them, but they are built to pass through rows of crops with their skinny wheels, and over of tall crops. Sprayers do what it sounds like they do; they spray things. There can be multiple things they can spray, however. Some common things farmers spray are herbicides to control weeds, fungicides to help prevent fungi and diseases, insecticides to help control harmful insects like aphids, and fertilizers like nitrogen. Sprayers are also very technologically advanced. If you see a sprayer driving down the road, it will have its booms folded up against its sides. When the farmer, agronomist, or spray applicator arrives at the field, they will use the machine’s hydraulics to unfold the booms. They will then lower the boom depending on the height of the crop. Also depending on what is being sprayed, there are different spray nozzles that can be used. Different nozzles will have different drop sizes. Depending on what is being sprayed, different droplet sizes may drift differently or stick to plants differently. These nozzles can be switched between fairly easily, but still need to be done manually. Here’s a good explanatory video of herbicides and a sprayer that is pulled behind a tractor:
  • Cultivators: Tillage can be done in many, many different ways. The reasons farmers might till their fields could be for seed bed preparation, “warming up” the soil, removing soil residue from previous crops, incorporating herbicides or fertilizers, or weed control. However, with the concerns of erosion and soil quality, less farmers now till their soils than used to. Farmers may also do something called reduced tillage or minimum tillage. Farmers can use different tillage equipment to gain some of the benefits of tilling, with less risk of degrading soil structure and potential erosion losses. John Deere’s steel plow is what is referred to as a moldboard plow. These tools were used as primary tillage in years past, but are used little today. While they were a great tool to start with, moldboard plows disturb the soil much more than modern farmers are comfortable with. Today, farmers might disc their fields or pull various types of cultivators. There are many shapes of blades that help with different tasks. For instance, discs can either be curved or fluted. Curved discs may be a good option for smoothing the soil, whereas fluted discs may be a good option for cutting through field residue. Field cultivators will have a curved bar that reaches down into the soil. At the end of this bar can be different shaped blades. The purpose of these is to till the subsoil without disturbing much of the topsoil. However, the topsoil is still disturbed in this method. Here is a guide from the NRCS that outlines different kinds of tillage equipment: 
  • Combines: Combines are the tool used to harvest grain. They’re called combines, because they combine many of the jobs associated with harvesting. In Iowa, we will see combines with two different main headers. The front of the machine that gathers and cuts the plant is changed for corn and for soybeans. The corn head looks like big, pointy fingers. The fingers reach in between the rows, and gather the corn plants towards the machine. At the base of the header are knives that cut down the stalk, chains that gather the ears, and an auger that brings the material inside the machine. Video: The soybean head looks more like a rotating drum. There are multiple bars (about 6 total) with rubber fingers on them. The rubber fingers point down, and the bars will rotate to pull the plants toward the combine. Once the fingers catch the plants and pull them toward the combine, the plant will be cut off by sickles. Then, the plant material will be taken towards the middle of the combine with an auger. Inside the combine, the husks will be removed from the ear of corn, the kernels will be removed from the cob (threshing/shelling), and the chaff will be deposited back onto the field. The grain collected will be held in a tank at the top of the combine, before it is deposited in a grain cart or semi-trailer using an auger. Like planters and sprayers, combines also collect a lot of data. This can be converted into yield maps, so farmers can see what areas of their field are producing lots of grain, and what areas maybe are not. This can result in more specific management techniques to help each individual area.
  • Grain carts: Grain carts simply cart grain. They can be hitched to tractors, and pulled alongside of the combine as it is harvesting the grain. The combine and cart do need to stop to unload grain from one to the other. The grain cart will also have an auger that can be used to load a semi, or deposit the grain somewhere else.
  • The teacher should also know what simple machines are, and be able to identify them in various forms. Here, we use inclined plane, lever, pulley, screw, gears, wedge, and wheel and axle. Some of these will be more obvious than others. For example, tractors have to have wheels and axles, otherwise they would not be able to move! Others, while less obvious, are prevalent, though. A few examples might be:
    • Wheels and axles on all equipment
    • Augers as screws
    • Inclined planes and pulleys within the combines to pull plant material through
    • Knives or sickles as sharpened wedges
    • Corn head as a wedge
    • And whatever others you can find!

Interest Approach or Motivator:

Ask students to name an example of something they used today that made a job easier (toothbrush, chair & desk, pencil and paper, etc.)  

Tell the students that farmers use many tools and machines to make jobs easier.  Can they one?  If not mentioned, explain that tractors are one of the most common and most helpful machines on a farm.  

Show the class the video, Tractor Power.


  1. After watching the video, read Tractors and Farm Vehicles by Jean Coppendale.
    1. If this book is not available, many books about tractors and farm equipment are available through IALF’s Lending Library. Some titles include, A Tractor Goes Farming, A Year on the Farm, Big Tractor, Big Tractors, Planters and Cultivators, or Fantastic Farm Machines.
  2. Discuss with the children what they learned about tractors and make a list on board.
    1. Ask students why are tractors important? What jobs do tractors do? Do all tractors look alike? How are they different? Are there different types of tractors? Can you name some different tractors? What are the parts of a tractor?
  3. Explain to the children that the tractors and machines found on the farm are examples of simple machines.
    1. Review with students what simple machines are and make a list on the board. The list should include: pulleys, wheel and axles, inclined plane, lever, screw, gears, and a wedge.
    2. Ask the students if they can identify any of those machines within a tractor or other farm machinery. Note some ideas students have on the board. Some ideas are listed above.
  4. Ask students about the machines that farmers attach to tractors and the things they tow. If they are behind the tractor, does the tractor pull them, or is the tractor being pushed by them? Have them think of a planter or field cultivator. How do they know the tractor pulls the equipment? What might happen if it was pushed, instead?
  5. Give each child the Sentence Starter worksheet. Have them first work on completing the sentences. If there is time, allow them to color the picture, as well.
    1. If possible, have toy tractors and tractor themed picture books available for students to explore when they complete writing activity.
  6. To conclude the activity, show the video, “TRACTOR: Tractor videos for kids. Kids Videos. Preschool & Kindergarten learning.” Link:

Essential Files:

Did you know? (Ag facts):

  • John Deere tractors are made in Iowa.
  • The first gasoline powered tractor was invented by John Froelich, who created the Waterloo Gasoline Traction Engine Company here in Iowa!
  • This later became John Deere Tractor Works.

Extension Activities:

  • Visit a farm or tractor dealer
  • Use Skype, Google Hangouts, or another video chat service to connect students to a farmer as the farmer walks through their equipment.
  • Ask students to draw a tractor and label its parts (wheels, cab, engine, hitch, etc.)
  • Identify a problem that farmers might have and design a machine to help with the identified problem or task. Working in groups, build and test the models of the machine made from Legos, Constructs, or recycled materials.   
  • Investigate what farm machines were used 25, 50, and even 100 years ago. How tractors similar and different to tractors that farmers use today?
  • Learn more about tractors and other farm machines made in Iowa. Are they only sold to Iowa farmers?  If not, where do they go?



Barb Swanson

Organization Affiliation:

Holy Cross/ St. Michael Center

National Agriculture Literacy Outcomes:

  • T4.K-2. b.  Recognize and identify examples of simple tools and machines used in agricultural settings [e.g. levers, screws, pulley, wedge, auger, grinder, gears, etc.]

Iowa Core Standards:

  • Science:
    • K-PS2-2: Analyze data to determine if a design solution works as intended to change the speed or direction of an object with a push or pull.
    • 2-PS1-3. Make observations to construct an evidence-based account of how an object made of a small set of pieces can be disassembled and made into a new object.
    • K-2-ETS1-1  Ask Questions, make observations, and gather information about a situation people want to change to define a simple problem that can be solved through the development of a new or improved object or tool.
    • K-2-ETS1-2. Develop a simple sketch, drawing, or physical model to illustrate how the shape of an object helps it function as needed to solve a given problem.
    • K-2-ETS1-3. Analyze data from tests of two objects designed to solve the same problem to compare the strengths and weaknesses of how each performs.
  • Social Studies:
    • SS.1.11. Compare the goods and services that people in the local community produce with those that are produced in other communities.
    • SS.1.12. Explain why people in one country trade goods and services with people in other countries.
    • SS.1.13. Explain why people have different jobs in the community. (21st century skills)
  • Language Arts:
    • RL.K.1. With prompting and support, ask and answer questions about key details in a text.
    • RL .K.10. Actively engage in group reading activities with purpose and understanding.
    • SL.K.2: Confirm understanding of a text read aloud or information presented orally or through other media by asking and answering questions about key details and not requesting clarification if something is not understood.
    • SL.K.1. Participate in collaborative conversations with diverse partners about kindergarten topics and text with peers and adults in small and larger groups.
    • SL.K.2. Confirm understanding of a text read aloud or information presented orally through other media by asking and answering questions about key details and requesting clarification if something is not understood.
    • W.K.2: Use a combination of drawing, dictating, and writing to compose informative/explanatory texts in which they name what they are writing about and supply some information about the topic.
    • RL.1.1. With prompting and support, ask and answer questions about key details in a text.
    • SL.1.1. Participate in collaborative conversations with diverse partners about grade 2 topics and text with peers and adults in small and larger groups.
    • SL.1.2. Ask and answer questions about key details om a text read in a text read aloud or information presented orally or through media.
    • RL.2.1.Ask and answer questions such as who, what, when, where, why, and how to demonstrate understanding of key details in a text. 
    • SL.2.1. Participate in collaborative conversations with diverse partners about grade 2 topics and text with peers and adults in small and larger groups.


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