Target Grade Level / Age Range:



45 minutes


Students will learn and review common facts about Iowa agriculture, including historical figures, scientific facts, and agriculture related careers.


  • Ag Cranium Cards
  • Ag Cranium board
  • Timer
  • Dice
  • Clay
  • Paper
  • Pencils
  • Game pieces of 4 different colors or types
  • Note: A premade crAGnium kit is available for check-out through the Iowa Agriculture Literacy Foundation’s lending library.

Suggested Companion Resources


  • Nitrates – a salt or ester of nitric acid, containing the anion NO 3 - or the group –NO 3
  • Loam – a soil with roughly equal proportions of sand, silt, and clay
  • Dent corn – Also called #2 yellow dent corn or field corn, this variety of maize has a higher starch content within the seed
  • Henry Wallace – Henry A. Wallace, a native Iowan, was the 33 rd Vice President of the United States, the Secretary of Agriculture, and the Secretary of Commerce. Wallace also founded the Hi-Bred Seed Company, which later became Pioneer.
  • Norman Borlaug – Borlaug is another native Iowan, who went on to study plant pathology. His research and applications of crossbred crops kick started the Green Revolution, and saved the lives of a billion people. Borlaug is known as the father of the Green Revolution.
  • John Deere – John Deere created the steel moldboard plow, starting his own agriculture machinery company in the mid-1800s
  • Holstein – a breed of dairy cattle that is black and white spotted in color, and has the highest milk production of any dairy breed.
  • Hereford – a breed of beef cattle that is red and white in color, and is known for being docile
  • Biodiesel – a substitute for diesel fuel made from renewable resources, such as soybeans
  • Grain elevator – a tool generally owned by a cooperative, a grain elevator uses conveyors or a bucket elevator to bring grain up and deposit it in a silo, grain bin, or other storage facility.
  • Angus – a breed of beef cattle that is black in color, and is known for superior marbling quality
  • Combine – the machinery used to harvest grain in the fall of the year
  • Dried distiller’s grains (DDGs) – DDGs are a byproduct of creating ethanol, and can be fed to livestock as a cost-effective protein feed
  • Agronomist – a scientist that specializes in crop, soil, and weed sciences, and helps farmers identify and address problems in these areas

Interest Approach or Motivator

Tell students that today they will be playing a game! Motivate them to do well by offering some kind of incentive, whether that be a paper certificate, candy, extra credit, or bragging rights.

Background – Agricultural Connections

This game includes a variety of agriculture related knowledge. It might be beneficial to review the rules and the game cards before class time.

Game cards should be relatively self-explanatory. Some ask for players to draw an object, others are True or False questions, and others yet students must spell backwards! Instruct students to read each card carefully to ensure they are following the correct instructions.

Though many of the cards’ answers are straightforward, some may be more complicated or could trigger questions from students. Below is some information about those types of answers.

  • Holstein: Holstein cattle are a breed of dairy cattle. They are known for being large, and they are black and white spotted in color. This breed of cattle has the highest milk production, and can produce 9 gallons of milk every day! Here in Iowa, most of our dairies are found in the Northeast corner of the state. Other common dairy breeds used by dairy farmers are Jersey, Brown Swiss, Guernsey, Ayrshire, or Milking Shorthorn.
  • Hay: Not to be confused with straw, hay is a feedstuff made from dried forages, like clover, alfalfa, and smooth bromegrass. Straw is similar in that it is dried plant material, but straw is much more stemmy, and is therefore much poorer feed quality. Instead, straw is used as bedding for animals.
  • Hormones are used in pork and poultry production. False:  No hormones are used in pork and poultry production. There has been concern from the general public about the use of hormones in milk and meat production. However, any product given to an animal that is used for food must have a withdrawal date on the label. This ensures that the product has enough time to break down so that it will not be found in the resulting product (either meat or milk). Though some farmers find use for hormones that help their animals grow more efficiently, faster, and using less feed, the traces of these products should not affect the quality of food coming from the animal.
  • Plants can be genetically modified to be more nutritious. True:  One common example of this is Golden Rice. Golden Rice has been created with beta-carotene, which is the precursor to vitamin A. In many parts of the world, children suffer from lack of vitamin A. This rice, which is a very common food crop and is already accepted in these parts of the world, can help provide a much needed nutrient through little to no difference in diet for these young children.
  • What is the most grown small grain in Iowa? Oats:  Though oats are not our most common crop in Iowa (those are corn and soybeans), it is our most common small grain. Small grains are defined as a cereal crop with relatively small kernels or small plant size. Other small grains include wheat, barley, rye, and rice.
  • Can avian flu spread to humans that eat poultry? No:  “The majority of human cases of A(H5N1) and A(H7N9) infection have been associated with direct or indirect contact with infected live or dead poultry. There is no evidence that the disease can be spread to people through properly cooked food.” – World Health Organization. While the virus is infectious among birds, most strains do not affect humans. Only a few strains have that capability, and are obtained through contact with the live or dead poultry.
  • Most corn grown in the U.S. is: Dent Corn:  In Iowa, 99% of the corn grown is dent corn. The remaining 1% is split between sweet corn, popcorn, and decorative or Indian corn. The main difference in dent corn, or field corn as it is commonly called, and sweet corn and popcorn is the amount of starches in the seed. Dent corn has a high starch content, that when dried, creates a dent in the kernel. Sweet corn has a higher sugar content, which makes it more palatable and easy to eat. Popcorn has a harder endosperm and a smaller kernel, with a tough seed coat.
  • Agronomist: Agronomy is one of the many fields people can go into in agriculture. Agronomy is the study of crops, soils, and weeds. These scientists generally work for grain cooperatives and help farmers identify problems in their crop and work to help them remedy those issues. Agronomists look for plant diseases, nutrient deficiencies and toxicities, insect pests, weed management, soil quality, and also things like conservation.
  • George Washington Carver: Though George Washington Carver is not a native Iowan, we still claim him! Carver was a botanist, artist, and musician. He first attended Simpson College in Indianola for art and music, before transferring to Iowa State Agricultural College to study botany. Carver famously went on to Tuskegee University and studied uses for peanuts. As peanuts are a legume and beneficial to soil quality, especially in the south where cotton can tax the soil greatly, Carver wanted to create incentives for farmers to grow peanuts. Therefore, he created the market so others would grow the product, resulting in a higher soil quality. How neat is that?
  • Henry Wallace: The Wallace family has had an immense impact on Iowa. To clarify, this game refers to the youngest famous Wallace, Henry A. Wallace.
  • The first Wallace was also Henry Wallace, but was commonly called “Uncle Henry.” Uncle Henry was in the news industry, and founded the newspaper called Wallaces’ Farmer. This paper is still in production in Des Moines. He found it satisfying to write about common farm issues, and help farmers solve them. He was a well-known and respected member of Iowa’s community. Uncle Henry then left the newspaper to his son, Henry C. Wallace. He attended Iowa State College to learn more of the sciences of agriculture, and eventually was appointed as Secretary of Agriculture under President Harding in 1921. When he was appointed to this position, he left the newspaper to his son, Henry A. Wallace. Henry A. Wallace may be the most famous of all. His learning started at a young age, as he followed his father around Iowa State while he was studying there. There, Henry A. Wallace (or “Young Henry”) met George Washington Carver and enjoyed discussing plant pathology together. Young Henry also attended Iowa State, and became one of the leaders in understanding genetics and hybridization. He then founded the Hi-Bred Corn Company, which later became Pioneer. DuPont Pioneer is still headquartered in Johnston. Young Henry also went on to become Secretary of Agriculture in 1933, then went further to become Vice President under Franklin D. Roosevelt. He also served as Secretary of Commerce, and ran for president in 1948! Henry A. Wallace was named “Most Influential Iowan of the 20 th Century” by the Des Moines Register in 1999. More information on the Wallace family:
  • Norman Borlaug: Norman Borlaug is another famous Iowan, and is credited with saving more lives than any other person in history. Borlaug was a plant pathologist from Cresco, IA. He went on to the University of Minnesota to study plant pathology and genetics. These skills helped him as he traveled the world breeding plants with disease resistance and higher-yields. One of his most famous feats is that of the disease-resistant semi-dwarf wheat in Mexico that turned Mexico into a wheat exporter after having struggled with yields for many years. Borlaug went on to work in several other countries, and was awarded with the Nobel Peace Prize in 1970. He also received the Presidential Medal of Freedom (1977), and the Congressional Gold Medal (2006).
  • John Deere: John Deere is not only a brand of tractors! The inventor first became famous for creating a moldboard plow that didn’t allow the thick, prairie sod to stick to it. Previous moldboard plows were made from cast iron, and farmers had to stop mid-field to clean the plow before they could continue. Deere found ways to remedy this problem, and created his agriculture implement company shortly after.
  • Hereford: Hereford is a breed of beef cattle. This breed is mostly red with a white belly and face, generally. Herefords are known for their calm disposition as well as their high-quality meat.
  • Biodiesel: Biodiesel is a diesel substitute made from renewable resources. Here in Iowa, most of our biodiesel is made from soybeans.
  • Alfalfa: This alfalfa is not referring to the character from Little Rascals . Alfalfa is a leguminous perennial crop used as a feed source for ruminant animals. Alfalfa can be baled as hay, or planted in a pasture.
  • Grain elevator: A grain elevator is a piece of equipment generally found at a cooperative. Essentially, it carries the grain to other structures, like silos or grain bins, to deposit it for storage. This can be done with conveyor belts or other means.
  • Precision agriculture: Precision agriculture is more of a broad term used to describe how farmers can calculate the needs of their land and crops with great detail. For instance, farmers can run soil tests to find the precise amount of fertilizer needed in each part of the field. Farmers can also generate maps of soil types, fertilizer applications, seeding rates, and yield rates, so they can plan for optimum input usage in all regions of the field.
  • Angus: Angus is a breed of beef cattle that is black in color. This breed is known for superior marbling quality, or the placement of intramuscular fat. This type of fat gives meat its flavor and juiciness.
  • DDG. Dried distiller’s grains:  DDGs are a byproduct of the ethanol refining process. DDGs are used as grain substitutes in livestock feed rations, because they have lots of protein, and are relatively cost effective.
  • GMO. Genetically modified organism:  GMO is a term that has been used for many things. There are many ways in which an organism’s genetic code can be modified, and not all forms are viewed as equal. Some are: Crossbreeding or hybridization: breeding two variations of the same specie together to hopefully obtain benefits of both varieties. Genetic engineering: manipulating specific parts of the genetic code, generally in a lab-type setting. This can include “turning off” problematic genes, like one in potatoes that makes them susceptible to bruising. Transgenic: denoting an organism that contains genetic material from an organism of a different specie. An example would be soybeans with a trait from a soil bacterium that makes the stalk toxic to certain types of caterpillars.
  • Ethanol: Ethanol is the common name for ethyl alcohol, which is essentially grain alcohol. Ethanol is a renewable gasoline replacement that can be made from a variety of crops. In Iowa, the most common ethanol crop is corn. Iowa produces more ethanol than any other state (Nebraska, Illinois, and Minnesota follow, respectively).


  1. Break students into 2-4 teams with at least 2 people per team. Assign each team a game piece.
  2. Shuffle and set the four colored cards (creative calf, word corn, data pig and star soybean) in their color coordinated corner.
  3. All game pieces should start at the START brain on the game board. Each team should roll the dice to determine which team plays first. The team with the highest number rolled will begin.
  4. On your first turn, and any time you land on a purple brain space, your team can choose from any one of the four character card boxes.
  5. The team to your right will draw the card from the character box you selected and read the instructions aloud. When you’re ready, start the timer and complete the activity before the time runs out.
    1. If you complete the activity, roll the colored dice and move to the next closest space of that color. But, you must stop at every purple brain you come across even if your roll would otherwise take you past it. Now your turn is over. Play passes to your left.
    2. If you do not complete the activity, don’t roll or move. Your turn is over and play passes to your left.
  6. If your team rolls any other colored space but purple, the team to your right will draw a card from that color character and read it to you. You must complete that activity. If you do, you may roll the dice and move to the colored space indicated. If you do not, play passes to your left.
  7. The first team to make it around the board and back to the start brain wins the game.

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

Did you know? (Ag facts)

  • Iowa’s main crops are corn and soybeans, and main livestock are hogs and chickens. Iowa ranks #1 in the production of corn, pork, eggs, ethanol, and biodiesel. Iowa is the #2 state in the U.S. for farm receipts.
  • There are over 300 different careers in agriculture! Agriculture isn’t just farming; careers in agriculture range from food service to agriculture communications to farm management. There are an expected 50,000 job openings in agriculture and natural resources fields in the coming years.
  • Technology has become a huge part of agriculture, with farmers taking advantage of GPS, precision agriculture and biotechnology to improve conservation practices and maintain sustainable farms. Biotechnology, or the creation of transgenic (GMO) crops, can be used to make crops that protect yield though pest, herbicide, virus or drought resistance or improve the nutritional value of the crop.

Extension Activities

  • Have groups keep a list of incorrect answers and research them later or use digital devices to look up incorrect answers as they play. \
  • Have students develop new cards related to agriculture topics they are studying.


Adapted from Will Fett


Kelsey Faivre, Will Fett IALF

Organization Affiliation

Iowa Agriculture Literacy Foundation

Agriculture Literacy Outcomes

  • Theme 5, Culture, Society, Economy & Geography
    • Describe essential agricultural careers related to production, consumption, and regulation
    • Evaluate and discuss the impact of major agricultural events and agricultural inventions that influenced world and U.S. history

Common Core Connections

  • Language Arts:
    • SL. 6-8,1 (DOK 1,2,3): Engage Effectively in a range of collaborative discussions (one-on-one, in groups, and teacher-led) with diverse partners on grade (6, 7, 8) topics, texts, and issues, building on others’ ideas and expressing their own clearly.
    • SL. 6-8.2 (DOK 1,2,3):
      • 6 th grade: Interpret of information presented in diverse media and formats (e.g., visually, quantitatively, orally) and explain how it contributes to a topic, text, or issue under study
      • 7 th Grade: Analyze the main ideas and supporting details presented in diverse media and formats (e.g., visually, quantitatively, orally) and explain how it contributes to a topic, text, or issue under study
      • 8 th grade: Analyze the purpose of information presented in diverse media and formats (e.g., visually, quantitatively, orally) and explain how it contributes to a topic, text, or issue under study
    • L.6-8.4 (DOK 1,2): Determine or clarify the meaning of unknown and multiple-meaning words and phrases based on grade (6, 7, 8) reading and content, choosing flexibly from a range of strategies.
    • L6-8.6 (DOK 1,2): Acquire and use accurately grade-appropriate general academic and domain-specific words and phrases; gather vocabulary knowledge when considering a word or phrase important to comprehension or expression.

Creative Commons License

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