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Farming Changes from the 1800s to 1900s

Lesson Plan Item

General Information
Grade 4th Grade Class Social Studies Length of Lesson 1 Hour
Lesson Title Farming Changes from the 1800s to 1900s
Unit Title Agriculture Changes in the Midwest
Unit Compelling Question What changes have occurred in agriculture since the 1800s in the Midwest?
Historical Context:

Farming in the 1800s was not easy.  Much of the plowing and planting work was done by hand, or with the help of a horse, mule, or ox.   Early agricultural tools were wood, cast iron, hand held, and poorly crafted, resulting in many injuries.


In the first half of the 1800s John Deere invented a polished steel plowshare that could break soil more easily than earlier cast iron implements. The polished plow allowed the sticky soil to slide off the steel, and farmers to work more quickly as they did not have to stop to clean off their plow as they did previously.  Utilizing this plowshare behind a horse or mule eased the farmers work to a degree. With horse-drawn agricultural tools farmers could plant increasingly larger areas.


By the late 1880s, steam engines were helping farmers with threshing, although the machinery was bulky and posed significant fire and injury threats.


Shortly before the end of the century, John Froelich invented the first successful gasoline-powered engine that could be driven backwards and forwards.  His design became the basis for the Waterloo Boy Tractor, which in time grew to be the John Deere tractor company. 


Between 1910 and 1960 tractor sales increased rapidly and replaced horses and mules in plowing, soil preparation, planting and cultivating, as well as mowing hay, harvesting wheat and small grains (combining), and later in cotton and corn picking.


~Allyson Simpson, Simpson College


2018.017.011 This photograph shows a Chickasaw County farmer cutting corn. The farmer appears to be using a corn cutter, which was a horse-drawn sled with blades attached to it that cut one or two rows of corn at a time.

~ Matthew Miller, Teaching Iowa History Team
Lesson Supporting Question How did farming, farm equipment, and farm life change between the 1800s and 1900s?
Lesson Overview

Students will read and complete Venn Diagrams to compare farming practices, farming equipment and the life of farm families during 2 different time periods. They will also incorporate their current knowledge of farming in their area to begin to make connections and comparisons of earlier farming practices, to farming practices of today.  They will look at how crops were planted and harvested and the tools used for that process, as well as examining the evolution of farming equipment. Students will also learn about “farm life” and the way farm families lived during the 1800s and 1900s. Again, they will compare the two different times and begin to make connections to the 1900s and today. 

Primary Sources Used
Resources Needed
Lesson Target
  • Students will examine the differences in farming techniques, farming equipment, and farm families/life.
  • Students will analyze photos of different farm scenes.
  • Students will collaborate and identify two different characteristics for farming and farming practices in the 1800s and 1900s.
Lesson Themes No themes are assigned for this lesson.
Lesson Procedure
Step Procedure Time Differentiation plan / Additional Information
Bell Ringer

-Display the corn cutting photo on the screen for students to analyze

Ask students: “What do you know about farming in Iowa?” 
“What do you know about farms long ago?”
“How are farms long ago the same or different from farms today?”


3 things about today’s farms, 2 things about farms long ago, 1 thing that is the same
10 Min  

Go around the room and have each pair share their 3-2-1 to have class hear the observations of their peers.

Next, have students open their text books and read or listen to the introduction of “Agricultural Changes in the Midwest.” 
5 Min  
Student The teacher will call on students/read the text aloud to the students, while they use their pointer fingers to follow along.  5 Min  

With their seat partners have students analyze the black and white image of the “old time” farm scene
Instruct students to answer the 4 questions on the board that require them to analyze the image 

What do you see here?
What structures can you identify?
What tools do you see?

What are the people doing?
10 Min  
Student After answering the questions and analyzing the photograph, open textbooks and listen to sections 1-3 to learn about farming in 1800’s. After students have listened to the text, have them stand up and walk to tell a classmate one thing they learned about farming in 1800s.  10 Min  

As students are making their way back to their seats and look at the picture on screen (picture from 1900 farm scene)
Ask students: “Think like historians. Analyze this picture and decide if it is before or after the 1800s.” (It is from the 1900s.)
Choose a couple of students to give their answers and reasoning. Explain that this image is from farming in the 1900s. Then, direct students to open their books to sections 4-6 to listen to the text explaining farming in the 1900s.

After students have listen to the text, direct them to look up at the board, where we will discuss reading notes questions #5&6 as a class. 
12 Min  
Closure Place large Venn Diagram labeled with 1800s and 1900s on the board. Once again, in their groups have students collaborate to come up with characteristics of each time period. As students are putting their books away have each group put one characteristic in each category (One for 1800s and one of 1900s).  8 Min  
Formative Assessment
(How will you use the formative assessments to monitor and inform instruction?)
  • For this lesson of the unit the formative assessment will be the Venn Diagram. Students will be required to write one characteristic they learned from today’s lesson about farming in the 1800s and 1900s. The information that is used in this Venn Diagram will be used to open the next lesson and re-open the discussion about the changes in agriculture over time.
Summative Assessment
(How does the lesson connect to planned summative assessment(s)?)
  • The entire unit the summative assessment will be a comparative essay. Students will be asked to write an essay through the perspective of farm families, from each time period (1800s, 1900s, today).  They will be asked to describe what tools are being used and the difficulty of the work. It does not need to be any longer than a page, but they must discuss the tools, the work intensity and the living conditions.
Author Information
Author Megan Oliver Reviewer Dr. Chad Timm, Simpson College Created 08/16/2019 Last Edited 09/06/2019
Lesson Plan Development Notes: Social Studies Methods, Simpson College, Spring 2019

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