Science and Poetry with Almonds
Students explore the almond tree life cycle including tree dormancy, pollination, bloom, and kernel development of an almond. Grades 3-5
- An Almond Story video (optional if students have not yet seen it)
- KWL Chart (optional)
- Chart paper or whiteboard
- An Almond Story activity book, pages 4, 5, and 6: Mother Nature, the Almond Life Cycle, and Dormancy and Bloom
- Ag-Bite 1: Desktop Gardens from California Foundation for Agriculture in the Classroom. See tutorial video for more explanation.
- Seed experiment supplies: soil, container-jar lid or plastic soup cup lid, water, ruler, thermometer, journals (students create using copy paper folded, stapled and decorated)
cinquain: a simple five-line poem which follows a specific pattern
dormant: not active but able to become active
kernel: a softer, usually edible part of a nut, seed, or fruit stone contained within a hard shell
pollinate: to carry pollen from the anther to the stigma of a flower
processing plant: a site where raw products, such as food from a farm, are prepared for sale by cleaning, packaging, and/or cooking
Did You Know?
- Almonds have the most crunch of any tree nut.1
- Over 90 countries receive almonds imported from California.2
- The world's largest almond factory is in Sacramento, California. It processes 2 million pounds of almonds per day.3
Background Agricultural Connections
This lesson plan is part of a five-lesson series for grades 3-5 which teaches about agriculture by focusing on all aspects of the almond industry. Students will learn about the people involved in growing almonds, development of almond trees and nuts, almond processing, different uses of almonds, almond history and nutritional information. Almonds are an important commodity in California agriculture. Approximately 6,800 growers located throughout the Central Valley of California produce close to two billion pounds of almonds each year. California produces more than 80% of the world’s almonds and virtually 100% of the domestic supply. Lessons in this series include:
- Growing Almonds: Fact or Opinion
- Science and Poetry with Almonds
- Fun With Almond Math
- Almond History and Cultural Significance
Almond trees begin their cycle in a dormant state, which usually lasts from November to February. Once spring arrives, the almond trees burst into bloom and the bees come to pollinate. From March to June, the almond kernel is developing and hardening. In July, once the kernel has grown to its full potential, it goes into the hullsplit phase where the outside hull (the soft, pliable protective layer) splits open. In late summer, the almond trees are harvested and transported to the processing plant to be shipped around the world.
What is dormancy?
Each year, after harvest is over and before spring comes, the almond trees settle in for the long winter. We call this stage dormancy. Dormancy is a time for the almond trees to store nutrients and energy for spring. When you drive by a dormant almond orchard, it may look dead, but the trees are actually still alive. The trees are bare and don’t have any leaves on them. All you can see are the branches and the trunks of the trees. At the return of spring, the almond trees wake up and the first sign of growth on an almond tree is called a bud.
What is pollination?
Pollination is the act of carrying pollen between plants. Without bloom or pollination, we simply would not have almonds. Soft pink-and-white petals appear each spring to attract the bees that pollinate thousands of trees. What’s so special about almond pollination is that generally, every other row of almonds is planted with a different variety of almond. Growers must plant the rows with different varieties for cross-pollination. Cross-pollination occurs when the bees move the pollen from one variety to another. Bees help to pollinate more than 90 crops each year. These crops include apples, cherries, melons, pumpkins and sunflowers. What you may not know is that bats, hummingbirds, wasps, butterflies, moths, flies and beetles can pollinate plants, too; however, bees do the best job at pollinating almond trees.
What is kernel development?
After the bees pollinate the trees, the petals will fall to the ground, and the almonds grow big and round. During this time, there are three main layers growing, maturing and hardening. The center of the almond, which is the part we eat, is called the kernel. Around the kernel is a protective covering called the shell. The hull is the fuzzy green coating, which protects the shell and the kernel.
How are almonds harvested?
From mid-August through October, mechanical tree “shakers” harvest the almonds by vigorously shaking them to the ground. The almonds then dry naturally for about a week in the orchard before they are swept into rows and picked up by machine.
What happens to almonds after harvest?
After harvest, almonds go to a huller/sheller where the kernels pass through a roller to remove the hull, shell and any remaining debris. Next stop: the handler for sizing, where the kernels drop into separate bins according to size. After sizing, almonds are kept in controlled storage conditions to maintain quality until they’re either shipped or further processed into any variety of different forms for diverse culinary uses. More than 80% of the world’s almonds are produced in California, ranging from products like whole natural almonds and almond butter to almond flour, almond milk and almond oil; Americans love all things almonds. And while the U.S. may be the largest market for almonds with about 30-40% of the crop sold for domestic use, the rest of our almonds are shipped internationally.
What happens to the hull and the shell once they are removed?
Rather than throwing them away, the almond growers recycle the almond hulls and almond shells by selling them to dairymen. The almond hulls (the soft green outer covering of the almond) are used as feed for cows. Since the almond shells are hard, cows don’t eat the shells, but they do enjoy sleeping on them.
- Ask student volunteers to name the four seasons. (winter, spring, summer, fall) List them on the board. As you list each season ask your students what makes each season unique and different from one another. (rain, snow, temperature, length of sunshine each day, etc.)
- Ask a student volunteer or two what their least favorite season is. Then, ask the class what would happen if we were to skip that season. For example, if winter was the student's least favorite season, what would happen if we skipped winter? Ask, "Is winter an important season?" "How about summer? Could we skip summer?"
- Introduce the lesson by informing students that each season is important in the growth of our food. Without each season, we would not have as much food to eat. Today we are going to learn why.
Explore and Explain
- Have a class discussion about what plants need to grow. Add student ideas to the board. The list should include: sunlight, water, air, nutrients, and soil. Trees are considered plants and need the same thing. Have students complete page 4, Mother Nature, in their activity book.
- Put a year-long timeline on chart paper or on the board; label seasons and months. Have students turn to page 5, the Almond Life Cycle in their activity books and follow along as you determine at what point the life cycle stages go on the timeline. For example:
- Almond trees are dormant in the winter- between November and February.
- Trees bloom in the spring, pollination occurs before bloom.
- Almond kernels are developing in March to June.
- During summer, hullsplit occurs.
- In late summer, harvest begins and transportation to the processing plant begins.
- Have students complete page 5, the Almond Life Cycle, in their activity books.
- Have students read and complete page 6 in their activity books on Dormancy and Bloom (or assign as homework). Almond trees are dormant in the winter. They lose all of their leaves and store up nutrients during this time. In the spring, leaves and buds start to form and bees carry pollen between trees. Review as a class.
- Optional: If students are keeping a KWL chart, add information to the chart throughout the lesson.
- Have students work in groups to conduct an experiment on what plants need to grow. Have students make observations daily for several weeks and record their observations and drawings in a journal. Include date, temperature, growth measurements, and any other observations including drawings. Use CFAITC Ag-Bites 1: Desktop Gardens as a guide for growing in your classroom. Have students complete the project with a group oral presentation to share their findings. Possible experiments include:
- Group 1: Plant seeds in different soil types and compare growth.
- Group 2: Plant seeds in different locations with different amounts of sunlight and compare growth.
- Group 3: Plant seeds in different locations with different temperatures (inside, outside, in a refrigerator) and compare growth.
- Group 4: Plant seeds and use different amounts of water and compare growth.
- Begin this activity by reading the poem, The Almendro Poem. Review the poem and what students have learned about almonds so far.
- Inform students that they will be learning about the kernel or seed development of an almond and writing poetry in this activity.
- Hold an almond up and ask, “What can I do with this almond?” Model a response, (I can bake the almond.) "What else can I do with an almond?" (I can eat, chop, slice, touch, etc.) Record student answers on the board, leaving room to add a list of synonyms. Next to the list of words, write “synonyms.” Clarify student understanding of synonyms. Ask for and share examples: eat: chew, swallow, munch...chop: cut, slice, mince. Have students use a thesaurus if needed. Explain to students that their list of words can help them when they’re writing a poem. Using descriptive words when writing helps the reader get a picture in their mind of what the writer is describing. Add other words related to almonds and develop a list of synonyms for students to use.
- Have students read page 9 in their activity books on Kernel Development. Read the activity together. Review the concept of an acrostic (or introduce and model if no prior exposure).
- For more practice, do one class example. Write the word BEE vertically. Add- Buzzing, Everywhere, Every day to each of the letters. Have students complete the activity on page 9.
- Next, have students create their own acrostic poem. Explain that they can use any word but it must be related to almonds. Have students share with their partner. Ask for a few students to share with the whole class.
- Hand out the Cinquain worksheet. Review the concept of a cinquain. Have students work with a partner or group to brainstorm a cinquain about almonds, bees, or a machine used in almond production.
- Have students create their own cinquain about almonds.
- Share with a partner, share with the class.
- Have students create several poems each of acrostic poems and cinquain poems. Have them choose their best work to illustrate and put into a class poetry book on almonds. Display for students to read. Have a class story time and have students share their poems with other classes.
Have students complete page 8, Pollination, in their Almond Story activity book.
Try out The Poetry of Agriculture lesson from Idaho Ag in the Classroom.
Have students research about bees and give an oral report. They should include a visual such as a poster or model.
Have students create Life Cycle posters. It can be on almonds, bees, or another type of tree or insect. Students should present their posters.
- First, have students create a rough draft poster on regular size paper. Have them fold their paper into fourths. Label each section with the seasons clockwise from the upper left corner: (winter, spring, summer, fall)
- On a separate piece of paper or their rough draft poster if there is space, have students write one to three sentences of what is happening to the almond during each season.
- After teacher approval of their writing, they may draw a scene to go with the sentences, on their rough draft poster.
- Add more labeling to the poster: dormancy (winter), bloom (spring), hullsplit (summer), almonds (fall), harvest (summer/fall). Also include pollination and show detail of a tree (roots, trunk, branches, leaves) and of an almond (hull, shell, kernel) in a section of the poster.
- Have students evaluate and proofread their own work, then with a partner, and then show you.
- After teacher approval, students may create a full size Almond Season poster based on their rough draft poster. Drawings, labels, and sentences must be included. Students should include the title of the poster as well.
Use the Almond Fact and Activity Sheet to learn more about the production, history, nutrition, and economic value of the almond.
Watch the Almond Story video.
After conducting these activities, review and summarize the following key concepts:
- Each season of the year is important for the growth of almonds.
- Almond trees are dormant in the winter and bloom in the spring. Bees help pollinate the almond blossoms which begins the growth process of the almond.
- Plants, including almond trees need sunlight, water, air, nutrients and soil to grow properly.
- Original Development Team: Laceyanne Sullivan Chojnacki and Jennifer Dickey
- Executive Director: Judy Culbertson
- Layout and Design: Nina Danner, Lyn Hyatt, and Jennifer Ray
The original concept for California Almonds: An Almond Story was developed by participants in the Almond Board of California’s Almond Leadership Program. The lesson plans were further developed by California Foundation for Agriculture in the Classroom with support from the Almond Board of California.
Recommended Companion Resources
- A Moose Boosh: A Few Choice Words About Food
- Alfalfa Seeds
- An Almond Story
- Fun with Almond Math
- Harvest Year
- Honey Bee Study Prints
- Introduction to Pollination video
- NMSU Field Trip: Honey
- Prolific Pollinators
- The Honey Files
- The Honeybee Man
- The Life and Times of the Honeybee
- When the Bees Fly Home