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Sustainability Lesson Clearinghouse

Little Red Hen Plants Wheat

Lesson Description:
Students will be able to:
  • Identify and describe the germination process of wheat.
  • Conduct a simple science experiment and observe and record the outcome.
  • Identify the basic needs of wheat seeds in order to germinate.
  • Measure the growth of a wheat plant using standard measurement.

Wheat, a grass cultivated worldwide, originated in the Tigris and Euphrates River Valley near present day Iraq. It was planted in 1777 for the first time in the United States and is now the primary grain used in us grain products. About 75 % of grain products in the US are made from wheat. It is grown in 42 states. Kansas is the number one wheat producing and flour milling state.

Wheat grain is used to make flour. Flour, a powder made from cereal grains, is the primary ingredient of bread. in a 1½ pound loaf of bread there is approximately 16 ounces of flour. Flour is milled by grinding grain between stones or steel wheels. Today small appliance mills are available in both hand-cranked and electric models. one bushel of wheat produces about 42 pounds of white flour or 60 pounds of whole-wheat flour. Flour is used to make bread, bagels, pancakes, pies, doughnuts, biscuits, cookies, cakes, breakfast cereals, pasta, juice, gravy, noodles, pizza dough and couscous. in north America and Europe wheat flour is one of the most important foods since it is the main ingredient in bread and pastries. in addition, wheat flour is utilized for fermentation to make beer, alcohol, vodka, or biofuel.

Wheat can be grown in the winter but is susceptible to frost or inclement weather. wheat usually requires about 110-130 days from planting to harvest. some people plant wheat as a cover crop in the fall. this last crop of winter wheat will be turned back into the soil in the spring to help add nutrients and structure to the soil and prevent erosion over the winter. it also leaves a standing crop, rather than a barren garden during the winter.

Note: teachers may wish to do this lesson along with two other lessons on the gef website: little red hen grinds flour and little red hen bakes bread.
Before planting wheat:
Read the classic children’s story "the little red hen".
Discuss planting the wheat as an important first step in the process of baking bread.
Discuss if the parents of any students in class bake their own bread and if not where do they get their bread. do they grow their own wheat or skip that step and buy flour at the store?

Planting wheat:
  1. Prepare your soil. Luckily, wheat is a hardy crop that grows in many soil types unless the area is often under water. Soil tilled at least three times before sowing wheat produces an optimum number of germinated seeds. Till the ground using the gardening spade to a depth of 6 inches one month before planting and again two weeks before and one more time just before sowing.
  2. Sow your wheat seed approximately two weeks before the date of the first frost in your region. Unlike other crops, wheat must germinate in the late fall before it goes dormant over the winter in order for it to have sufficient time to develop in the spring. As a winter crop, it will grow a few inches before turning brown and appearing to be dead. Yet in early spring it will green up nicely.
  3. Spread your seed by hand in a small area.
  4. Drop your seed by hand, for a small crop, at the rate of one seed every 3 inches and space your rows 6 inches apart. if you like, you can spread a tiny bit of soil over the exposed seed to depth of 1/8 of an inch but if your soil is soft and porous, there is no need. The wheat seeds will fall into the low areas where they will quickly develop roots upon sprouting.
  5. During the fall and spring seasons, wheat plants should be watered only once a day to keep the area moist. Wheat grows best in a dry climate, but needs moist soil to grow well.
  6. To test a wheat crop, farmers often rub the wheat between their fingers and chew on a piece of grain. if the grain cracks in their mouth and becomes soft as they chew, it means the wheat is ready to be harvested. wheat is often harvested using a combine, but your class can be harvest it by hand !
After planting:
  • Use included worksheet provided below to periodically observe and document progress of wheat plants.

  • Younger students can draw pictures or diagrams to document the progress of their wheat plants.

Lesson Type:
  • Project

Sustainability Topic:
  • Gardening
  • Other

GEF Program Category:
  • Green Thumb Challenge

Time Needed:
Time to prepare soil prior to planting; 50 minutes for class session and planting; additional time for wheat to grow and be observed periodically
Standards Addressed:
Science Standard 5: understand the structure and function of cells and organisms.
  • Benchmark # 1: know the basic needs of plants (e.g., air, water, nutrients, sunlight).
  • Benchmark# 2: know that plants have features that help them live in different environments.

Science Standard 12: understand the nature of scientific inquiry.
  • Benchmark# 1: know learning can come from careful observation and simple experiments.

History Standard 8: understand major discoveries in science and technology, some of their social and economic effects, and the major scientists and inventors responsible for them.
  • Benchmark# 1: understand people cultivate plants for food (wheat).

Language Arts Standard 5: use the general skills and strategies of the reading process.
  • Benchmark# 2: use meaning clues (e.g., story structure and repetitive phrases) to aid
  • comprehension and make predictions about content (e.g., character’s behavior).

Language Arts Standard 6: use reading skills and strategies to understand and interpret a variety of literary text.
  • Benchmark# 1: use reading skills and strategies to understand a variety of familiar literary passages and texts (e.g., picture books, predictable books).
  • Benchmark# 5: relate stories to personal experiences.

Materials Needed:
- wheat seed
- gardening spade
- "little red hen observation worksheet" provided below
- a copy or multiple copies of "the little red hen"
School or Group:
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