Target Grade Level / Age Range:

4 th, 5 th & 6 th grades

Estimated Time:

Two 45 min. classes

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. 


Introduction to Barn Design Addresses core social studies standards by teaching students about the different kinds of barns used throughout history in the Midwest. This lesson will compare American barns to a German hausbarn. We will look at several styles of barns and then try to recognize if there are any local barns that match that style. We will also look at the German Hausbarn in Manning, Iowa to learn about its history since it is located directly across from our school. Students will then do a final drawing of a barn in one of the styles.

Determine the engineering value of particular designs to meet needs of use.

  • Criteria for design classification – what was the purpose of the barn or intended use
  • Pros and Cons of design – will the design work in different landscapes or climate regions?


  • Computers for research
  • Pencils
  • Erasers
  • 9 x 12 heavy weight paper for final drawing
  • Pencil colors (optional)

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

Vocabulary (with definitions and design rationale)

  • Dutch style barn – a farm building with a curved roof set over a steel, timber, or concrete frame. (Provides adequate storage of fodder within wet enviroments to protect feedstuffs and livestock in a temperate climate.)
  • Prairie style barn  - a farm building with a peaked roof that sweeps low to the ground. (Good design to reduce the impact of wind and store large quantities of fodder.)
  • Round style barn – a farm building that is octagonal, polygonal, or circular in plan (Fewer materials and greater stability with a purpose of improved flow of livestock within the system around a central work area.)
  • Bank style barn – a farm building that is built into the side of a hill, or bank and accessible on two different levels. (Good for hill country and use of geothermal to manage climate with in the barn.  Also, provided additional stability for the larger structure than a surface level barn.)
  • Crib style barn – a farm building that is composed of multiple cribs or buildings joined by a common roof and separated by a breezeway. (Often unchinked logs used to store fodder or even tobacco. Allowed for air circulation to reduce spoilage.)
  • Tobacco style barn – a farm building of wood frame construction with a gabled roof and some sort of ventilation for the drying of tobacco (Often high peaked cgables to give room for storage higher off the ground.)
  • English style barn – a farm building with doors centered on the long sides. The interior of the barns were characterized by a center driveway which acted as a threshing floor, similar to the breezeway of a crib barn. The double doors generally opened onto the center drive which divided the building into two separate areas, one for hay and grain storage and the other for livestock. (Open threshing area made the task of processing grains and storage more efficient and protected from the elements.
  • Gable - the triangular part at the top of the end wall of a building, between the two sloping sides of the roof.
  • Haymow – barn attic space used for storing hay.
  • Breezeway - a porch or roofed passageway open on the sides, for connecting two buildings, as a house and a garage.
  • German hausbarn – a farm building used in Germany that has a high-pitched thatched roof. One end of the structure housed animals, grain and hay while the other end was a living quarter for the farm family.

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

There are several styles of barns across America that were designed and used for many agricultural uses throughout history. They were once an important part of farm life and some are still used today. Many of these beautiful structures have disappeared due to the ever-changing needs in agriculture.

The design history of barns varies in different locations due to the countries of origin of the settlers that built them. The Swedes brought with them the knowledge of the log cabin. Dutch and German peoples utilized hip-gabled roofs with widely spaced rafters while the Shakers and Quakers built round barns. The Scandinavians that settled in the Midwest built hay mows and low sloping roofs.  Over the years each style has been tweaked, redesigned and modernized into the different eras.

Today’s farm buildings are being constructed mostly of steel and used to house machinery as well as animals. While they look sleek and simple in design they are just as important to our agricultural history as the romantic looking barns of the past.

The German Hausbarn in Manning is a prime example of how barns have changed over the years. Many people in this area have German heritage and it is very interesting to see the similarities of how this style of barn and architecture for that matter has influenced the Manning community. (visual examples of the influence should be shared) Hausbarn images.

The barn design was reliant on the building traditions immigrant farmer brought with them their home lands. That said, agriculture is about efficiency and adapting to the local environment. Many of the tradtions became blended over time due to the influence of people living in communities of varied backgrounds; the demands of new cropping and livestock systems; and the available resources. An example is the soddie, often a mixture of timber and /or stone and sod on the treeless lands of the Great Plains.  Also, it should be noted that the tradtions brought form other countries were not always the best fit for the torturous weather of the Great Plains and intermountain west.

Interestingly, barns built in the West were often built in a manner demanded by the lender and not the rancher’s design. A rancher in the Idaho along the Snake River Plains acquired land during the Great Depression. He had moved from dry land in Colorado and intended to clear the lava field, irrigate the land and build a dairy. The banker would not loan him the money unless he built a large Gambrel roofed barn. The rancher knew he did not have to store fodder inside, due to the dry climate. Rather than take the bank’s money, the rancher dug a basement for a house (capping it with an concrete slab) and built a single story lava rock barn for cattle and began farming with just his pay from being muster out of the army. Again, using the resources at hand…lava rock and concrete.

Interest Approach

Have students brainstorm and list as much as they know about barns. They can do this in pairs, as a group, or individually. Share.

Share this video of barns to provide historic perspective. 

Questions to Ask: Why save a barn? How do historic barn designs work in today’s agriculture systems?  Share this video with students. 


  1. Use the website provided to find the barn you choose to compare to the Hausbarn
  2. Look at the picture of the German Hausbarn. How is it different than the other barns?
  3. Research your chosen style and the Hausbarn using your computer. Find out the following:
    1. What type of materials were used in the construction.
    2. How did the barn meet the farmer’s needs?
    3. What part of the country these types of barns located?
    4. How did the barn protect the animals and/or the crops produced on the farm from the weather?
    5. What type of landscape or climate would your barn be best suited? Why?
  4. Share your results with a neighbor.
  5. Using the small practice paper sketch a barn in your chosen style (you may also sketch the Hausbarn).
  6. Complete the drawing in pencil
  7. You may wish to add details such as:
    1. Color
    2. People
    3. Animals
    4. Machinery
    5. Other buildings
    6. Foliage
    7. Hills
  8. Remember that the barn should be your main focal point or subject.
  9. On the back write the style of barn. Describe how the design helped the farmer.

Did you know?

  • The word “barn” comes from the expression “a place for barley”.
  • Red became the most famous color for barns among farmers because it was the cheapest.

Extension Activities

  • Identify the types of barns seen in your community
  • Go on a field trip and take photos of barns in your community
  • Research the history of a barn in your community
  • Create a barn quilt painting to be hung on a barn in your community
  • Restore an old barn in your community

Suggested Companion Resources



Sue Meggers

Organization Affiliation

Interstate 35 CSD

Agriculture Literacy Outcomes

  • T5 3-5.f. Understand the agricultural history of an individual’s specific community and/or state
  • T2.6-8. e. Identify strategies for housing for animal welfare and the safety of animal products (e.g., meat, milk, eggs)

Iowa Core Standards

  • Social Studies
    • SS.4.25. Analyze the impact of technological changes in Iowa, across time and place.
    • SS.4.26. Explain how Iowa’s agriculture has changed over time.
    • SS.5.24. Explain probable causes and effects of historical developments
    • SS.6.21. Explain how and why perspectives of people have changed throughout different historical eras
  • Science
    • 3-5-ETS1-1. Define a simple design problem reflecting a need or a want that includes specified criteria for success and constraints on materials, time, or cost.
    • 3-5-ETS1-2. Generate and compare multiple possible solutions to a problem based on how well each is likely to meet the criteria and constraints of the problem.
    • MS–ETS1–2  Evaluate competing design solutions using a systematic process to determine how well they meet the criteria and constraints of the problem
    • MS–ETS1–4  Develop a model to generate data for iterative testing and modification of a proposed object, tool, or process such that an optimal design can be achieved.

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.