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Curriculum Matrix

Lesson Plan

From Foraging to Farming

Grade Level
6 - 8

Students will participate in a foraging activity, gaining perspective on how scarcity of resources can affect well-being and how agriculture provides the benefit of a steady, reliable food supply. Then they will read about hunter-gatherers and early agriculture and use maps to explore how geography affected the development of early civilizations. Grades 6-8

Estimated Time
1 hour per activity
Materials Needed


Activity 1

Activity 2

Activity 3


agriculture: the science or practice of farming, including cultivation of the soil for the growing of crops and the rearing of animals to provide food, wool, and other products

ancient: of or relating to a time long past, particularly the time from the earliest known civilizations to the fall of the Roman Empire in 476 AD

civilization: the way of life of a people that is advanced in social developments like art, science, and government

domesticate: to breed a population of animals or plants to serve the purposes of human beings and to need and accept human care

hunter-gatherer: a member of a culture in which food is obtained by hunting, fishing, and gathering plants to eat rather than by growing crops and raising animals

technology: the application of scientific knowledge for practical purposes

Did You Know?
  • Fifteen crops provide about 80 percent of the world's food supply, and most of them were domesticated in ancient times.1
  • With the development of agriculture, the human population nearly doubled, growing from less than 3 million people in 10,000 BC to 5.3 million in 8000 BC.1
  • The world's oldest known recipes were written on clay tablets in ancient Babylon around 1700 BC.1
Background Agricultural Connections

Technology can be broadly defined as the use of knowledge and invention to make life better. There are countless forms of technology that we use every day, but perhaps the most essential technology for human civilization is the practice of agriculture. It may seem strange to think of agriculture as a form of technology because it is such an integral part of our lives, but there was a time before agriculture when people had to get their food by hunting and gathering.

All people share the same basic needs for water, food, and protection from the elements. Humans who lived more than 10,000 years ago worked daily to ensure that they could cover their basic needs. These people were called hunter-gatherers because they obtained their food by hunting animals and searching for edible plants. They lived in small family groups and moved from place to place in order to collect food from different sources as they became available. Hunter-gatherers took advantage of all food sources, even scavenging alongside vultures and hyenas, and they lived in nearly every different climate zone. They used fire to cook meat, preserved fish by salting and smoking, and even preserved meat from larger animals by storing it under water where it would stay cool. Even long ago, people were constantly developing new technologies to help them survive and to make life easier.

The development of agriculture, or the intentional production of plants and animals for human use, allowed people to settle in one place and form villages and cities. Approximately 10,000 years ago, the domestication of plants and animals for human use began to develop rapidly. As hunter-gatherers became farmers, they learned to select and save seeds from plants that produced the best crops and to breed the animals that were best suited to people’s needs. The first steps of domestication probably happened by accident, but soon farmers deliberately practiced selective breeding to develop crops and livestock more suited to their needs. The development and cultivation of grains and legumes that are calorie-dense, small, and easy to store allowed people to put away food for winter, for hard times or for use in trade and barter.

Having a reliable food source made people less vulnerable to starvation, and over time, life expectancy increased. However, the advent of agriculture may not have immediately improved nutrition and health. In times of abundance, hunter-gatherers had very nutritious diets, eating mostly vegetables and meat and very little sugar or salt. In contrast, early farmers showed more signs of malnutrition and disease, which likely came from depending on a few starchy crops (wheat, rice, corn) for most of their calories and living in crowded cities where disease spread easily. Over time, these challenges diminished as people learned more about health and nutrition and agricultural practices improved.

As agriculture became more productive and efficient, people were able to produce a surplus of food, and villages developed into civilizations. People began to specialize in different tasks, writing systems arose, and art and science flourished. Around the world, ancient civilizations arose in areas favorable for seasonal farming, animal domestication, and hunting. The best locations for farming provided fertile soil, a long growing season, regular rainfall, and access to fresh water.

  1. Show students the video How Farming Planted Seeds for the Internet
  2. Discuss the video using the following questions:
    • Why would some argue that farming is the most important technology?
    • What did people do before the invention of farming?
  3. Explain to students that our species, Homo sapiens, has been on the Earth for approximately 200,000 years, but we have only been farming for a little more than 10,000 years. For the vast majority of human history, people got their food by hunting and gathering.
  4. Tell students that in the following lesson, they will get to explore what life was like for hunter-gatherers and how life changed with the beginning of agriculture.
Explore and Explain

Activity 1: Foraging

  1. Prior to class, identify an area for this activity; outdoors is preferable, but a large room indoors will work. Hide the peanuts and wrapped candy (four of each per student) around the area. Some of the peanuts and candies should be difficult to find. 
  2. Review with students what the basic human needs are—food, water, and protection from the elements (food/clothing). Tell them that today they will not have to worry about their shelter, but they will be working like hunter-gatherers to obtain their food (represented by peanuts) and water (represented by wrapped candies). 
  3. Pass out the Making a Water Cup activity sheet and have each student make their own water cup by following the directions.
  4. Take students to the area where the candies and peanuts are hidden. Show them the boundaries of the search area and the place they should gather when finished searching.
  5. Explain to the students that they will have 12 minutes to find enough food and water to survive. Because people can survive longer without food than they can without water, students must find enough water to survive (2 pieces of wrapped candy) before they start collecting food. They should place the candy in their cups and then search for as much food (peanuts) as they can find in the remaining time. When they are asked to stop, they must immediately stop searching and come back to the designated area.
  6. After the search is finished, pass out the Hunter-Gatherer Experience activity sheet and have students record the sum of what they were able to find under “Experience #1.”
  7. Use the following questions to discuss what the students observed during this first experience:
    • Did all of the students start to work at the same time? Why or why not?
    • Did everyone obtain the same amount of water and food?
    • What else were students doing during this time?
    • What happened when they did not get started on time?
    • What happened if they helped someone else?
  8. Explain to the students that in order for them to survive, they need to have filled their water cup with two pieces of wrapped candy and have at least two peanuts for food. Take a poll and record the following statistics:
    • How many survived (i.e., have at least two candies and two peanuts)?
    • How many survived but went hungry (i.e., collected two candies but less than two peanuts)? 
    • How many died (i.e. did not collect enough water)?
    • How many had excess food (more than two peanuts)?
  9. Repeat the activity, but this time give the students only 9 minutes to search. Note: This time you will notice that there is not enough food to go around, so some students will not get enough food to survive. Some students may steal from others, and some students may get mad and stop playing the game. Allow these interactions to take place; it will help the students to better understand the purpose of the activity.
  10. Bring students back to the classroom and have them fill out “Experience #2” on the Hunter-Gatherer Experience activity sheet. 
  11. Repeat the questions from steps six and seven. Discuss the changes between the first experience and the second experience. Ask students to explain why things changed.

Activity 2: Stone Age Hunter-Gatherers

  1. Pass out the Stone Age Hunter-Gatherers activity sheet. Ask students to fill out the “You” section of the activity sheet.
  2. Have students read the first chapter of Ancient Agriculture: From Farming to Foraging. Instruct them to take notes, indicating the pages where they find answers to the statements. (Note: There will be more than one place to find an answer for each question). They should also mark on their activity sheets whether the statements are true or false according to the author. 
  3. Discuss the activity sheet. For each statement, call on a student to tell you on which page they found an answer. Then have the student read the section that answered the statement. When you have finished, ask the students to write a summary statement answering the prompt at the bottom of their activity sheets.
  4. Have students complete the Hunter-Gatherer Think Sheet as a homework assignment. 

Activity 3: Geography and Ancient Civilizations

  1. Ask students what factors they think might have been important in determining where ancient civilizations developed. Remind them of your previous discussions of the importance of agriculture and discuss the factors that help make an area suitable for agriculture (fertile soil, long growing season, regular rainfall, access to fresh water). 
  2. Pass out a World Map to each student and display one for the class to see.
  3. Help students locate and label the Equator, Prime Meridian, Tropic of Cancer, Tropic of Capricorn, North Pole, and South Pole.
  4. Explain to students that latitude is an important factor in determining climate. The world can be divided into three major climate zones based on latitude. Have students color the zones as you use the information provided below to describe each one.
    • The Tropical Zones extend from 0 to 23 degrees north and south latitudes (from the Equator north to the Tropic of Cancer and south to the Tropic of Capricorn). Color these zones yellow to represent sunshine year round (use the displayed World Map to model how students should color the zones).
      • Moisture—rains daily.
      • Vegetation—lush and dense, characterized by broad-leaf evergreen trees and plants (like banana, coconut, and many common house plants) that do not lose their leaves at the same time but rather lose leaves occasionally throughout the year.
      • Temperature—hot summers (average 90s) and warm winters (average 80s).
    • The Temperate Zones extend from 23 to 67 degrees north and south latitudes (Tropic of Cancer to the Arctic Circle and Tropic of Capricorn to the Antarctic Circle). Color these zones light brown because leaves fall from the trees one season per year. These zones are characterized by having four distinct seasons.
      • Moisture—varies throughout the year with snow in the winter and rain in the spring and fall.
      • Vegetation—varied grasslands and forests, including evergreen trees (pine, fir, cedar) that keep their needles year-round and deciduous trees (oak, elm, maple) that lose their leaves for one season a year (winter).
      • Temperature—four seasons a year with a variance of temperature; winter is cold, spring is warm, summer is hot, and fall is warm.
    • The Polar Zones extend from 67 to 90 degrees north and south latitudes (Arctic Circle to the North Pole and the Antarctic Circle to the South Pole). Color them blue because they are cold year-round.
      • Moisture—very little moisture falls, about 10 inches a year. Most of it falls in winter in the form of snow. That snow does not melt until summer.
      • Vegetation—very sparse, including low-growing bushes, short evergreen trees, mosses, and lichen.
      • Temperature—there are two seasons; one season is cold, averaging below freezing, and one season is cool, averaging below 70°F.
  5. Explain to students that these zones provide a useful starting point for dividing world climates, but there is wide variation within and between zones. Each zone varies from the edge to the middle. For example, let’s look at the United States. It lies mainly in the Temperate Zone, but Florida is closer to the Tropical Zone, so it is warmer than the rest of the United States. Maine is closer to the Polar Zone, so it is colder than the rest of the United States. In addition, elevation affects climate. Higher elevations tend to be colder and have stronger winds and more precipitation than lower elevations. Global wind patterns also affect climate.
  6. Divide students into small groups or pairs and hand out a World Climate Map and a Climate Zone Think Sheet to each group. Explain that the map is a more detailed division of the world’s climate zones, and students should use it to work through the think sheet. 
  7. When students have finished, ask them to give a short presentation to their peers stating where they would live if they were the first ones on earth. They should include moisture, vegetation, and temperature as reasons for their choice. Note: If you have atlases, you may wish to let students check rainfall maps, vegetation maps, agricultural maps, and elevation maps.
  8. Display the Places of Ancient Civilization Map. Point out the locations that people chose to build ancient civilizations and compare these to the choices that students made.
  • Use the Prezi 8 Ancient Culture Hearths by Mark Leavitt to discuss the concept of culture hearths, which are regions where important developments like religion, the use of iron tools, or highly organized social structures developed and then spread from.  

  • Watch the video clip, Iowa Nice Guy: The Importance of Ag. Learn what farming has made possible in our lives by freeing up some of the time that our ancestors used to forage for food. 

  • Use the lesson plan Cowabunga! All About Dairy Breeds to further explore the concept of domestication and to teach students about the importance of cattle in both modern and ancient civilizations.


After conducting these activities, review and summarize the following key concepts:

  • For most of human history people got their food by hunting and gathering and moved from place to place, following their food sources.
  • The practice of agriculture arose slowly about 10,000 years ago as people began to cultivate and domesticate plants and animals.
  • With the development of agriculture, people were able to settle in one location and produce and store a surplus of food.
  • Ancient civilizations were built around the world in locations that were favorable for agriculture due to climate and the availability of natural resources like fertile soil and access to water.
  1. Ancient Agriculture From Foraging to Farming by Michael and Mary B. Woods
Rose Judd-Murray and Debra Spielmaker
Utah Agriculture in the Classroom
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