Veronica is a fourth grade teacher in Ceres, CA. Last year, she taught fifth grade and created a unique, immersive, thematic corn unit to accompany Benchmark Advance Unit 3: Cultivating Natural Resources.
Ahhh, Unit three Cultivating Natural Resources, the infamous corn unit. It’s really not as terrible as it sounds, and it is possible to get your kids excited about corn. Though I moved down to 4th grade, I find myself yearning for my 5th grade corn unit because my 5th graders and I had a blast learning about corn together!
My best friend had a genius idea to bring in a corn stalk. She trekked to a local farm and asked a farmer if she could cut down a few stalks. He happily let her take a few stalks for both of our classrooms. My kids were ecstatic to come in to find a corn stalk attached to our focus wall. We began with our reading of “The Structure of a Corn Plant” and my students had a real life example right in front of them. I referred to the stalk in our room as we read about it. I took off a few of the ears of corns attached and passed it around the room so students could identify and feel all of the components listed in their pages. It stayed up the entire unit and the kids were able to see it physically change throughout the unit.
After moving on to “The Past and Future of a Crop” we took a few afternoons to learn about the nitrogen cycle to help inform students better about the sustainability and practicality of using corn as fuel.
When it came to “A Short History of a Special Plant” there is no nice way to pretty that text up. It’s long and arduous no matter which way you spin it. I did pair some simple activities with it to enhance the fun. I went back to the same farmer my friend cut us a stalk of corn down from. I purchased several types of dried corn from it, students had to do a quick corn kernel count. I gave each learning group a piece of corn and gave them each 2-3 minutes to count every single corn on the cob. This paired well with our multi-digit multiplication review. It took students about half of their time to realize if they counted each row they couldn’t accomplish it. If they counted approximately how many in each row, and how many rows they could get close to the number of kernels on their cob. They worked together to do the math and be the first group to guess the kernels on their corn. My winners won a bag of candy corn.
As we learned more about corn and it’s uses I wanted to let my students explore just how versatile corn was. I challenged them to do a corn scavenger hunt. I gave them a week to either search for corn used in products while grocery shopping with family, searching their pantries, medicine cabinets, or through researching online. Their job was to make a list of the strangest items they found traces of corn, or corn products.
At the end of the week, I had my students compile their lists into a chart paper. They included visuals of common, strange, and surprising items they found. We posted all the charts on the board and looked for commonalities in our lists. A few students challenged surprising items, and searched online to verify whether a product used corn or not. It sparked a great discussion to just how useful corn can be. It helped students discuss and connect to the text when learning just how much corn was produced, and helped them understand why farmers would move to growing only corn.
To artsy up the class we did an oil paint and watercolor Corn Still Life Art project. I put my dried corns (They were all sorts of different colors, with a few pumpkins/gourds mixed in) in a cornucopia that I had at home. I sat it on a stool in the middle of the room and we all faced it. I modeled drawing a simple component at a time on my whiteboard, then had students draw from their perspective. I sent these home (just in time for Thanksgiving!) in dollar store frames with an “I’m Thankful” letter my students wrote for their parents.
The last little bit of corn themed fun we had was a few popcorn read in days. I popped bags of popcorn and let students do their research or read around the room and enjoy the fruits of their learning.
We paired some science (Photosynthesis, Nitrogen Cycle, and Agricultural Run-Off) from The Science Penguin, along with our learning and it took it one notch up and just really enhanced our learning!
My students and I had a blast learning about corn and I hope you will, too!
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