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Food for Thought Lesson Plans

Where in the United States is Wheat?

Grade Level

Grades 9-12


To provide students with the opportunity to analyze data regarding the distribution of wheat production in Minnesota and the United States. While analyzing maps, students will look for the patterns that exist regarding production, any connection that exists between environmental conditions and wheat production as well as any changes that have occurred in the production of wheat over the past 50 years.


Two to Three 60-minute class periods

Interest Approach
  • Access and images from wheat focused websites
    • Types of Grain
    • Wheat Facts
Activity 1
Activity 2
Enriching Activities
Background—Agricultural Connections

In order to be successful, farmers need to understand that the environment significantly impacts the types of crops they produce. From the amount of precipitation, soil type, climate, vegetation, and length of growing season all impact the types of crops farmers produce. Today, with the growth in population in the United States and around the world, farmers are now producing more product on less amounts of land due to changes made to the types of seeds used as well as the farming techniques used. However, the environment still has the greatest impact on what crops are grown where. For example, wheat and rice require different amounts of water and different types of soil in order to be produced. The landscape also needs to fit the farming technique used to produce these products. Rice requires rice paddies and lots of precipitation. Wheat on the other hand grows better on flat areas of land and requires a significant amount of water in order to be productive but does not need to be grown in a water field. Regardless of where in the world they are farming, farmers need to understand these aspects in order to have a productive farm and produce the most from their land. Farmers in Minnesota need to do this as well. In this lesson students will analyze the characteristics that farmers have had to understand in order to determine where to produce various agricultural products in Minnesota.

Interest Approach - Engagement

Post pictures of different products that are made from wheat (items that students commonly use). Teachers may want to use websites listed in the Materials section of this lesson. Ask students to identify what these products have in common. (Hopefully students will identify they are all made from wheat. If not, inform the students that these items are all made with or from wheat.) Another engagement option is to have students brainstorm as many things as they can think of that are made with wheat. You can challenge students to think about which products might be made in Minnesota.

Inform the students that wheat is one of the leading agricultural products produced in Minnesota. Ask students to hypothesize where wheat is grown in Minnesota (project a blank map of Minnesota on the board or hand out a blank map of Minnesota to each student) and share their answers with a partner. Have each pair share their answers with the class and while the students are sharing their answers, the teacher will mark on the map projected on the board which areas of Minnesota that students think wheat is grown in (north, south, east, west).

Activity 1: Minnesota
  1. Provide each student with a copy of Handout 1: Wheat Background Information to read and gather information about wheat.
  2. Ask students to refer back to the map they created during the Interest Approach – What changes might they make with the new information from Handout 1?
  3. Provide each student with a copy of Map 41: Minnesota Counties map (named) and Map 2: Wheat in MN Counties 2017. (Note: Teachers may also display the digital copies of these maps using their SMARTBoards and projector.) Have the students, on their blank counties map of Minnesota, shade in counties that are in the highest wheat percentage category (31% – 41%). Additional information about the frequency of wheat planted in Minnesota can be found within the layers of the interactive Crop Frequency and Climate Map. A video tutorial is available to assist students and teachers in using this map and its layers.
  4. Provide each student with copies of Handout 3: Chart A: Wheat in Minnesota and the following maps: Map 34: MN Native Vegetation, Map 35: Landforms of MN, Map 36: MN Annual Precipitation, and Map 37: MN Annual Frost-Free Days. Have students, individually or in pairs, analyze the Map 35: Landforms of MN to fill in the Chart A column about landforms. Students should repeat this task using the vegetation, precipitation, and frost-free days to complete the remaining columns. After the students have analyzed the maps and completed their chart, have the students share their analysis with other pairs of students and with the rest of the class. (Answers: Landforms: primarily plains – generally level terrain; Native Vegetation: prairie or mixed forest and prairie; Precipitation: less than 23 inches; Frost-Free Days: 170 days or less for most of the counties.)
  5. Show the students Map 4: Corn for Grain in MN Counties 2017 on the SMARTBoard. In pairs, have students analyze the Food for Thought Color Student Desk Map (color corn map) and Map 4: Corn for Grain in MN Counties (2017) to draw conclusions about the distribution of corn production in Minnesota. Students can also use the corn frequency map. Have each student write a paragraph, on the back of their Minnesota counties map, in which they describe the best places to be a corn farmer in Minnesota and explain why. Remind the students that while they are writing this paragraph, they should be referring to the information on the maps of landforms, vegetation, precipitation, and frost-free days where corn grows in Minnesota and use information on their maps to support their statements. Important: Explain that they should be focusing on the areas rich in corn production (i.e. Southern Minnesota region) and not specific counties.
  6. In pairs, have students analyze the Map 2: Wheat in MN Counties 2017, and Map 4: Corn for Grain in MN Counties 2017 and the crop frequency and climate map. The students are to compare the wheat region of Minnesota with the corn region. Ask the students to answer the following questions based on their analysis of these maps. (Teachers may provide the students with these questions in a written format or display them in a PowerPoint on the SMARTBoard.)
    1. How are the environments different among the two regions in terms of precipitation and frost-free days?
    2. What do you notice about native vegetation for the corn and wheat regions? (Answer: Environmental conditions are very important factors in a farmer's decision about what crop to plant. For example, Minnesota farmers plant wheat in drier, cooler regions than corn. Both corn and wheat grow in what formerly was prairie. Corn needs more moisture and sunlight (heat units) than wheat.)

Students should be evaluated on the accuracy of the maps created and their discussion of the information provided by the maps. Students should also be assessed on their analysis of the maps and their ability to support their statements regarding the location of wheat regions and corn regions with information gathered from the maps and resources provided.

Activity 2: Making a Choropleth Map of United States Wheat Production

Background: Wheat is a commonly grown crop in the United States; it represents a vital part of the agricultural economy. Activity 2 will teach students how to make a choropleth map about wheat production so they can analyze the impact this activity has on the United States and its individual member states.

Note: Depending on the students' skill level, consider reviewing the concept of choropleth mapping, how to make a choropleth, selecting classes and ranges, and its importance for representing data (see the Foundational Skills Section of Food for Thought for ideas.)

  1. Provide students with the United States outline map. Ask students to speculate which states may grow the most wheat. The students should be able to do this based on their work in Activity 1 of this lesson. If students are struggling to identify states that might grow wheat, prompt them to identify states that are large in size and may have more agricultural land available. Also, ask students to recall the characteristics of good wheat farmland that they learned in Activity 1 of this lesson.
  2. Provide students with the U.S. Wheat Production Table, 2019. Have the students analyze the information presented in the chart. What assumptions can they make regarding wheat production by examining the data presented in the chart? Can students identify the large and/or small producers of wheat?
  3. Discuss with the students how they can interpret the data provided in the chart and on maps to answer questions about wheat production. Remind the students that maps provide a visual representation of information, making data easier to understand. Also, by identifying regions and analyzing their content, maps can be used to organize information in a meaningful way.
  4. The students will construct their own choropleth map to represent wheat production for the United States using the data provided in the U.S. Wheat Production Table, 2019. Students will complete this map on the blank United States outline map they were given.
    1. First, students must rank the states according to their wheat production as indicated on the table. Note: There is no data for Hawaii, Alaska, or Washington D.C. Ask students why there is no data provided for these places.
    2. Next, students must examine the data and determine the classification to be used for determining the categories to be used on the map. For this assignment, students may select from the following four classifications of information: 1) wheat planted, 2) wheat harvested, 3) yield per acre, and 4) total production in bushels. Students may select natural breaks in the data to determine their categories or they may have five equal groups (categories) comprised of nine to ten states.
    3. Students may then create their choropleth map by using the United States outline map. Each range/class (category) will be colored differently. Color selection is based on the values they will represent. Once again, emphasize that darker shades of the same color always indicate greater values while lighter shades indicate lesser values. Categories are distinguished from one another using different colors or different shades of the same color. These colors also indicate which values are greater in comparison to other values. Example of color selections for this map: largest producers of wheat (purple), second largest producers (red), third largest producers (orange), small producers (yellow), and smallest producers (white). Reminder: All maps should contain TODALS: title, orientation, author, date, legend (key) and source.
  5. After the students have completed their maps, students are to analyze their maps and draw conclusions from the data. Have the students discuss the following questions with a partner and as a class:
    1. What conclusions can be reached from the data regarding wheat production?
    2. Which areas/regions of the United States are growing the most wheat? The least?
    3. Are there any regional trends apparent in the growth of wheat in the United States?
    4. Are there environmental characteristics that influence the location of these regions? (Students may need to refer to their maps from Part One or the world atlas to help them answer this question.)
    5. What does this information mean for each state? What impact does wheat production have on the economy of these states?

Students should be evaluated on the accuracy of their maps and their discussion of the information provided in both the data and the maps the students created. Students can also be asked to do a writing assignment based on the conclusions they drew from their maps and data.

Local Flavor

Students could analysis local maps to help determine which of these crops could be grown in the areas/regions in which they live. Students would need to analyze maps that contained the following information:

  • Climate Types
  • Soil Type
  • Vegetation
  • Amount of Rainfall
  • Length of Growing Season (Connect to Latitude)
  • Amount of Farmland Available
  • Elevation

Invite local farmers in to discuss the process they go through to determine what crops to grow in their fields and how the environment (climate, soil type, vegetation, amount of precipitation, length of growing season) impact their decisions.

Did you know? (Ag Facts)
  • Wheat is one of the most versatile plants on planet Earth. Six classes of wheat are produced in 42 states in the United States and in nearly every region on six continents around the world.
  • Wheat has been cultivated for 10,000 years. It is one of the world's most important plants. Today, U.S. farmers grow about 50 million acres of wheat, providing food for hundreds of millions of people at home and abroad and supporting jobs in rural communities as well as mills, bakeries, grocery stores, and restaurants.
  • Thirty-seven bushels of wheat per acre were harvested during the 2018 crop year in the United States. In fact, 1,000 bushels can be harvested per hour from a modern combine.
Enriching Activities: World Agricultural Production
  1. Ask students to predict/hypothesize where wheat is grown in the world.
  2. Pair students and give each pair a world atlas and a copy of Handout 3: Chart B: Wheat Around the World. Review the instructions on the chart with the students. Have the students complete the chart utilizing information provided in the world atlas. (Hint: To save time, ask half of the student pairs to complete the precipitation and natural vegetation columns and the other half to complete the climate and soils columns. All pairs should complete the latitude column. Once the student pairs have completed their assigned columns, have them share the information they collected with another pair of students who collected information on the other columns. Have both pairs of students share their data with each other.)
  3. After the students have completed Activity 2, have a class discussion regarding the data they collected. Ask the students to describe the environmental conditions of the wheat regions around the world. While students are providing answers to this question, the teacher will display a blank outline map of the world on the SMARTBoard and outline each area/region as reported by the students. Be sure to use a different color pen for each category/column on Handout 3 discussed. After the students have shared their information and the regions of wheat production have been identified on the map, ask the students to answer the following questions:
    1. At what latitude bands does wheat grow?
      Answer: Latitude Bands: 35 – 40 and 45 – 55.
    2. What precipitation ranges occur where wheat grows?
      Answer: Precipitation Ranges: Mainly in ranges 10 – 20 and 20 – 40 inches.
    3. On what kind of soil is wheat most likely to grow?
      Answer: Frequently mollisols and alfisols.
    4. Is wheat more likely to grow in grass regions or needle leaf evergreen regions?
      Vegetation: Grass or combination grass and broad leaf evergreen, and broad leaf deciduous.
  4. Have the students compare the map of the United States they created in Activity 2 with the map of the world they created in extension activity. Ask the students to analyze the maps and draw conclusions regarding the production of wheat in the United States and the world.
    1. What similarities do they see regarding the regions where wheat is produced? What explanations do you have for these similarities? Be sure to use information from your maps and the other resources provided to support your answer.
    2. What differences do they see regarding the regions where wheat is produced? What explanations do you have for these differences? Be sure to use information from your maps and the other resources provided to support your answer.

Students should be evaluated on the accuracy of their maps and discussion of their analysis of their maps. Students can also be assessed on their comparison of the maps created in Activity 2 and the extension activity to draw conclusions regarding the production of wheat.

Minnesota Academic Standards
Social Studies - Geography Create tables, graphs, charts, diagrams, and various kinds of maps including symbol, dot, and choropleth maps to depict the geographic implications of current world events or to solve geographic problems. Make inferences and draw conclusions about the physical and human characteristics of places based on maps and other geographic representations and geospatial technologies. Identify the primary factors influencing the regional pattern of economic activities in the United States and the world. Describe patterns of production and consumption of agricultural commodities that are traded among nations. Analyze the interconnectedness of the environment and human activities (including the use of technology) and the impact of one upon the other.

Common Core Connections
Grade 9-12 Literacy in History/Social Studies

Cite specific textual evidence to support analysis of primary and secondary sources, connecting insights gained from specific details to an understanding of the text as a whole.

Integrate and evaluate multiple sources of information presented in diverse formats and media (e.g., visually, quantitatively, as well as in words) in order to address a question or solve a problem.