National Agricultural Literacy Curriculum Matrix
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At Home on the Range (Grades 3-5)
3 - 5
1 hour, plus ongoing observation and discussion
Students will learn about rangelands by participating in a hands-on activity of growing their own grass to represent a beef or sheep ranch.
Interest Approach – Engagement:
- Cow Grazing picture
- Jiffy 7 peat pellet pots,* 1 per student
- Plastic cups, 1 per student
- Permanent markers, 1 per group
- Grass seed,* 2–3 teaspoons (10-15 g) per group
- Plastic spoons, 1 per group
- Trail activity sheets (laminate the sheets and provide each group with a transparency marker to save paper), 1 per group
- Transparency markers (such as Vis-a-Vis), 1 per group
*These items are included in the Ranch Starter Kit, which is available for purchase from agclassroom.com.
- Lasso’n Lingo handout
Concept Elaboration and Evaluation
- Computer with internet access for each student
- Ridin' the Range Webquest
- Ridin' the Range Webquest Answer Key
Essential Files (maps, charts, pictures, or documents)
- Lasso'n Lingo Handout
- Cow Grazing Picture
- Ridin' the Range Webquest Answer Key
- Trail Activity Sheets and Answer Key
carrying capacity: the maximum number of animals a piece of land can support without degradation
open range: unfenced areas that can be grazed by livestock
rangelands: open land vegetated mainly by native grasses, forbs, and shrubs used by grazing wildlife and livestock
Background Agricultural Connections
Interest Approach – Engagement
- Show your students the Cow Grazing picture. Ask your students if they see anything in the picture that looks tasty to eat.
- Explain to the students that humans do not have an adequate digestive system to obtain sufficient nutrients from grasses and other similar plants. However, cattle and sheep thrive by grazing rangelands. In this lesson, students will learn how grazing can be managed to be a benefit to ranchers and to improve and maintain the health of the land.
Activity 1: Trail Blazing
- Review with your students the background information concerning rangelands, grazing, and the nature of grass.
- Divide your class into 6 groups. Each group will be taking a different “trail,” and on their way, they will start their own “ranch” with a small planting of grass. Note: Some of the "Trail" activity sheets will be most pertinent to Utah students, but the majority are generic and will be pertinent to students in any state.
- Provide each student with a peat pellet and a plastic cup to hold it.
- Provide each group with a permanent marker, 2–3 teaspoons (10-15 g) of grass seed in a small bowl, a plastic spoon, one of the Trail activity sheets, and a transparency marker.
- Ask students to place the peat pellet into the cup. Explain that you will be pouring a 1/2 cup (120 mL) of water into each person’s cup while each group reads their Trail activity sheet, completes the activity, and then starts their ranch (plants their grass seed) by following the instructions in the sidebar of the Trail activity sheet.
- Instruct the students to begin working on the activity but to also observe their peat pellets. When they finish the activity, the water should be absorbed and the peat pellet completely hydrated. It takes about 15 minutes for the peat pellet to hydrate and expand into a pot in which seeds can be planted.
- When each group has completed their activity and all students have planted their grass seed, ask each group to share what they learned on their trail.
Activity 2: Grass and Grazing
- Once the seeds germinate, keep the peat pots moist, and allow the grass to grow until it has reached 2–3 inches (5-7 cm) in height. Students will be applying two different grazing treatments and will leave some of the grass untreated.
- When the grass is 2–3 inches (5-7 cm) tall, ask the students to use scissors to cut half of the grass blades short—1 inch (2.5 cm)—above the soil to simulate a cow grazing.
- They should clip another quarter of the grass down to the crown—where the blades meet the roots; this part of the blade is white in color. To simulate overgrazing, ask students to clip this quarter area to the crown every couple of days.
- The last quarter section of the grass should remain unclipped.
- Observe the grass for a few weeks, and then make comparisons. What are the results of the overgrazed, grazed, and ungrazed grasses? Ask students how their grazing experiment compares to mowing their grass.
Activity 3: Lasso’n Lingo
- Learning western land terms is a fun way to cement what students have learned about rangelands. Share the following vocabulary list Lasso’n Lingo with students. Discuss the meanings of the words.
- Ask students to write a story using at least 12 words from the list.
- When all of the students have finished writing their stories, ask for volunteers to share what they’ve written with the class.
Concept Elaboration and Evaluation
- Review the concepts discussed in the Trail activity sheets by having students complete the Ridin' the Range Webquest.
- In order to complete this activity, students will need a computer with internet access, the link to the webquest, and an email to send the finished webquest to (provide them your email if you would like to receive their finished work).
- Within the webquest, students will be directed to the following websites to find answers to the questions:
After conducting these activities, review and summarize the following key concepts:
- Rangelands can be public or private land. They are located in open spaces where there is grass and other grazing beneficial to livestock.
- Rangelands are generally not ideal for crop farming due to a variety of factors which can include rugged topography, limited water resources, etc.
- Rangelands are defined in part by their physical geography. Physical geography affects what plants and animals live in an area as well as what kinds of activities humans undertake in an area.
- Grazing rangelands can be beneficial to the environment if it is managed properly.
We welcome your feedback! Please take a minute to tell us how to make this lesson better or to give us a few gold stars!
Look up how many acres of rangeland your state has available. Is there a correlation between available rangeland and the quantity of livestock produced in your state? Use the Interactive Map Project website to identify the number of beef cows and sheep produced in your state. Beef cattle and sheep are the livestock species that are most commonly grazed on rangelands.
Play the My American Farm interactive game The Steaks are High.
Suggested Companion Resources
- Tootsie Roll Conversation About Conservation Terms (Activity)
- Levi's Lost Calf (Book)
- Little Joe (Book)
- Balloon Roundup (Kit)
- Google Earth on the Range Repeat Photographs (Kit)
- Ranch Starter Kit (Kit)
- Chew It Twice Poster (Poster, Map, Infographic)
- America's Heartland: A Sea of Grass (Multimedia)
- America's Heartland: Bachelor Sheep Ranch (Multimedia)
- America's Heartland: Wild & Wooly Roundup (Multimedia)
- Beef Cattle PowerPoint (Multimedia)
- Frontier House (Multimedia)
- Illustrated Accounts of Moments in Agricultural History (Multimedia)
- NMSU Field Trip: Beef (Multimedia)
- Riding the Range on a Utah Cattle Drive (Multimedia)
- Sheep - Utah's Agricultural Cornerstone (Multimedia)
- Utah Beefscapes (Multimedia)
Agricultural Literacy Outcomes
Agriculture and the Environment
- Identify land and water conservation methods used in farming systems (wind barriers, conservation tillage, laser leveling, GPS planting, etc.) (T1.3-5.c)
- Identify the major ecosystems and agro-ecosystems in their community or region (e.g., hardwood forests, conifers, grasslands, deserts) with agro-ecosystems (e.g., grazing areas and crop growing regions) (T1.3-5.d)
- Recognize the natural resources used in agricultural practices to produce food, feed, clothing, landscaping plants, and fuel (e.g., soil, water, air, plants, animals, and minerals) (T1.3-5.e)
Education Content Standards
5-8 Geography Standard 14: How human actions modify the physical environment.
Objective 3The physical environment can both accommodate and be endangered by human activities.
K-4 Geography Standard 11: The patterns and networks of economic interdependence on Earth's surface.
Objective 2Some locations are better suited than others to provide certain goods and services.
K-4 Geography Standard 16: The changes that occur in the meaning, use, distribution, and importance of resources.
Objective 1The characteristics of renewable, nonrenewable, and flow resources.
Common Core Connections
Language: Anchor Standards
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.L.6Acquire and use accurately a range of general academic and domain-specific words and phrases sufficient for reading, writing, speaking, and listening at the college and career readiness level; demonstrate independence in gathering vocabulary knowledge when encountering an unknown term important to comprehension or expression.