Relevancy and Engagement

Growing Our State History (Grades 6-8)

Grade Level
6 - 8

Students will discover the connections between agriculture, natural resources, and the history of their state. Grades 6-8

Estimated Time
2 hours
Materials Needed


  • Story of a ghost town in your state

Supporting Question 1: Where do my everyday necessities come from?

*See the "Essential Files" below or order the Source Search Kit, which is available for purchase from

Supporting Question 2: What natural resources can be found in my state?

Supporting Question 3: How has agriculture influenced my states' history?

  • Computer and internet access for each student or student group

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

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

ghost town: a deserted town with few or no remaining inhabitants

migration: when people move from one place to another with the intention of staying

selective breeding: process by which humans control the breeding of plants or animals in order to exhibit or eliminate a particular characteristic

urbanization: a population shift from rural to urban areas

Did You Know?
  • Human migration is when people move from one place to another with the intention of staying. Migration can be within countries or between countries.
  • An estimated 300,000 people migrated to California around 1949 in search of gold.1
  • Each state in the nation has unique opportunities for farming that are dependent upon climate and natural resources.
Background Agricultural Connections

Growing Our State History uses the College, Career, and Civic Life (C3) Framework's Inquiry Arc as a blueprint to lead students through an investigation of the impact of cotton on the history and culture of the United States. The Inquiry Arc consists of four dimensions of informed inquiry in social studies:

  1. Developing questions and planning inquiries;
  2. Applying disciplinary concepts and tools;
  3. Evaluating sources and using evidence;
  4. Communicating conclusions and taking informed action.

The four dimensions of the C3 Framework center on the use of questions to spark curiosity, guide instruction, deepen investigations, acquire rigorous content, and apply knowledge and ideas in real world settings to become active and engaged citizens in the 21st century.For more information about the C3 Framework, visit

C3 Table- Growing Our State History (Grades 6-8)

Human migration is when people move from one place to another with the intention of staying. Migration can be within countries or between countries. People migrate for a variety of reasons including the search for better paid jobs, higher quality of life (schools, medical care, and entertainment), and also freedom from persecution. Each state has its own history explaining why people moved there. Opportunities for agriculture and the presence of natural resources impacted both the settlement of communities and the overall success of the communities. 

Settlement occurs where locations provide opportunities. The following factors can make a location good for settlement:

  • harbors
  • resources for housing and fuel
  • reliable fresh water supply
  • non-hostile neighbors
  • natural defenses
  • reliable food sources
  • suitable land for agriculture

Agriculture is the science or practice of farming. It includes the cultivation of the soil to grow crops as well as the rearing of animals to provide meat, wool, eggs, and milk. Agricultural practices led to the domestication of plants and animals. Over thousands of years plants and animals with desirable traits have been chosen to perpetuate their genetic characteristics through a process called selective breeding. As agriculture progressed, families and communities changed. Rather than relying on a nomadic hunter-gatherer lifestyle, societies were built and people settled in one place for long periods of time.

If we examine the early history of the settlement of each state, a place could be settled if people could utilize agriculture to provide their food, clothing, and shelter. Every state's history began because agriculture could exist and provide for basic needs. The diet of early settlers would not have been as diverse as what we enjoy today, but they could grow and store sufficient food and provide feed for livestock animals that provided their meat, milk, and eggs.

In early settlement eras, all of the basic food needs had to be provided by agriculture within a very short distance due to limitations with transportation of food and other goods. Towns that did not have a sustainable source of resources to meet the community's needs failed and were deserted. A deserted town with few or no remaining residents is known as a ghost town. Most ghost towns were abandoned due to one or more of the following reasons:

  • Depleted nonrenewable natural resources (many ghost towns are old mining towns)
  • Disaster (repeated flooding, fires, avalanches, drought, contamination, dust storms)
  • Unsuccessful farming
  • Changes in access to the town (highways or railroads built that bypass the site)
  • Creation of dams or reservoirs that flood previously occupied towns

As agriculture evolved and the ability to transport goods increased, communities could also rely on non-agricultural economies to earn money which was then used to buy food from farmers. These changes in society paired with advances in agriculture allowed for more urbanization, the movement of people from rural areas to towns and cities. 

How has your state been influenced by agriculture? To learn more, visit your state's Agriculture in the Classroom program. Below is a list of state history websites:


Preparation: Prior to class, find a ghost town located in your state. A Google search, or the Wikipedia List of Ghost Towns in the United States may be a helpful reference. Find pictures or video and research the story of the ghost town you will share. There are many reasons a historical town could become abandoned including loss of the natural resources or agriculture that provided economic gain, natural disasters, prolonged droughts, etc. If possible, select a ghost town that was abandoned due to the loss of natural resources or agriculture. For example, Life Lessons from Ghost Town History - Grafton tells the story of an abandoned town in Southern Utah. Grafton, Utah is a town located in a beautiful area near Zion National Park. Repeated flash flooding, erosion, and soil quality made farming a challenge. The area was very remote from other communities at the time and was eventually abandoned. 

  1. Tell the story of a ghost town local to your state. Begin with the creation and rising of the town, explaining why people were drawn to live there. Then, skip ahead to a description of the present day ghost town and ask students to guess the portion of the storyline that fits in the middle. Complete the story after students have had an opportunity to guess why the town was abandoned. 
  2. After completing the story, discuss the cause in more depth. Through your discussion, conclude that people select a place to live based on the opportunities and resources that are available to them there.
  3. Explain that a town could be deserted and become a "ghost town" for any of the following reasons:
    • Depleted nonrenewable natural resources (many ghost towns are old mining towns)
    • Disaster (repeated flooding, fires, avalanches, drought, contamination, dust storms)
    • Unsuccessful farming
    • Changes in access to the town (highways or railroads built that bypass the site)
    • Creation of dams or reservoirs that flood previously occupied towns
  4. On a whiteboard or chart paper display the question, "What makes an area suitable for humans to live?"
Explore and Explain

Supporting Question 1: Where do my everyday necessities come from?

  1. Explain to students that to understand what makes an area suitable for humans to live they need to investigate the question, "Where do my everyday necessities come from?"
  2. Complete the A Search for the Source (Grades 6-8) relay. This activity illustrates to students that our every day necessities come from farms or natural resources. In addition, farms rely on natural resources. Students should recognize that Earth's natural resources are critical to our survival.
  3. Show the video clip, Resources: Welcome to the Neighborhood
  4. Summarize what students have learned about natural resources. Revisit the question, "Where do my everyday necessities come from?" (Our everyday necessities come from agriculture and our natural resources. It's no accident that communities are located near the resources people need to survive, especially historically when states was first settled and transportation and communication was limited.)

Supporting Question 2: What natural resources can be found in [my state]?

  1. Ask students, "What natural resources can be found in [my state]?
  2. Give each student one hard copy or digital copy of the Natural Resources in My State graphic notes organizer and one copy (per student or group) of your state's Agricultural Facts sheet. Divide students into small work groups or assign individual student work.
    • Note: For the remainder of the lesson you may choose to focus students on your state as a whole, or assign groups/individuals to focus on different counties within your state.
  3. Explain to students that they will be exploring four questions that answer the overarching question, "What Natural Resources Made My Community and State Thrive?" Remind students that they are focusing on the time period when the state was established, not the present day. The following prompts can be provided to the class or to small groups to guide them in their research. 
  4. What natural resources are here?
    • Have a discussion about what natural resources are. Project/share the Natural Resources image for the discussion.
    • Have students do an internet search for "What natural resources are in [your state]?" 
  5. What is the climate like?
    • Have students do an internet search for "What is the climate of [your state]?"
    • If your state has multiple regions with different climates, prompt discussion and research to increase understanding of all of the different climates and weather patterns within your state.
    • Have students refer to the "Climate and Soil" section of their state Agricultural Facts sheet.
    • To help expand students' knowledge of climate and weather, show the video, Weather vs Climate
  6. What food can be grown here?
    • Have students continue reviewing their state Agricultural Facts sheet to learn about some of the crops and livestock grown in your state.
    • Encourage students to brainstorm the types of farms they may have seen throughout the state and/or do an internet search for other food crops that may be grown in the state.
    • Have students think about what foods cannot be grown in the state. The foods they are accustomed to eating originate from a variety of places throughout the country and even the globe. Would they be able to consume a healthy diet without other foods?
  7. How has technology influenced the success of my community?
    • In some cases, communities were established despite the lack of natural resources. Some communities were established because technological advancements made it possible. 
      • Very remote communities may have only thrived after transportation made it feasible to transport goods to the town.
      • Extremely hot climates may have only begun to thrive after air conditioning was available.
      • Arid climates without close and plentiful water sources may have only begun to thrive when technology and resources became available to build damns/reservoirs and to pipe water where it was needed.
    • Lead the discussion to the present day. Discuss what technologies make food available in our communities and states. Discuss the key points, watch the videos, and have students determine which technologies impact the growth and success of your state.
  8. Summarize by revisiting the question, "What natural resources can be found in [my state]?" (answers will vary depending on where you live.)

Activity 3: How has agriculture influenced my states' history?

  1. Drawing together what has been learned in the lesson so far, explain that the next question to investigate is, "How has agriculture influenced my states' history?"
  2. Assign students to make a timeline of agricultural events in the history of your state that allowed the state's economy to diversify and for your state to grow and thrive. See the links found in the Background Agricultural Connections section of the lesson. Direct students to websites that describe key historical events in your state. Assign students a specific number of events they should include in their timeline.
  3. Consider the following tools to make a timeline:
  4. After the timelines have been created, have students come back together to share what they have learned in a group discussion.
  5. Revisit the question, "How has agriculture influenced my states' history?" (Answers will vary depending on where you live."

This lesson explores foundational concepts about how agriculture and the history of a state are connected. If you teach in the following states, refer to your local agricultural literacy history resources:

  • Taking Informed Action:

    • Understand: Identify an area in or near your community where food is produced and what type of food is produced.
    • Assess: Consider what would happen if that farmland was developed and covered with buildings or if a critical natural resource become unavailable.
    • Act: Create a public service message to highlight the importance of agriculture to your community.
  • Have students read the Ag Today: Issue 3 eReader which is dedicated to learning about natural resources and how they are used in agriculture.

  • Use the Climate Explorer to explore graphs and maps of historical climate variables. Have students research the growing season (amount of time between frosts) in your county and how/if it has changed over the years.

  • Connect history to the present day by asking students to think about the question, "Why does my family live in [this specific place?]" Allow students time to think to themselves about the answer to the question. As students are thinking, provide the following prompts

    As students think about their family's response, provide some examples:

    Summarize the discussion by concluding that, people still live where their needs can be met. Technology, communication, the ability to transport food and other goods, and other factors make where we live today more flexible.

    • Does employment play a role in why you live here?
    • If your family wanted to relocate, could you move anywhere you wanted, or would you be limited to specific areas according to the career area(s) of your parent(s)?
    • Does tradition play any role in your living here?
    • If a parent works in the mining industry, they must live near locations where minerals are located in the earth.
    • If a parent works as a forest ranger, the family will live near a forest.
    • If a parent works in agriculture, they will live in a location suitable to grow crops or raise the livestock.
    • Some families have a deep tradition of living in a specific area for many generations. Other families have traditions of moving farther from their hometowns.

Summative Performance Task

Using evidence from historical sources, construct an argument (e.g., essay, project, video production, portfolio, detailed outline, poster) that addresses the compelling question, "What makes an area suitable for humans to live?"

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

  • Agriculture and natural resources make it possible to have successful communities and states.
  • Agriculture impacted the history of your state.
  • Cities throughout the United States emerged due to the resources that were available. As technologies increased, urbanization increased.
Andrea Gardner
National Center for Agricultural Literacy
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