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Washington Agriculture in the Classroom

Agricultural Literacy Curriculum Matrix

Agricultural Literacy Curriculum Matrix

Lesson Plan

Esperanza Rising

Grade Level
3 - 5

Students read the novel Esperanza Rising written by Pam Munoz Ryan to examine the lives of migrant workers, agricultural economics, the impact of agriculture to rural communities, agricultural history, and how fruits and vegetables have been harvested historically and are harvested currently. Grades 3-5

Estimated Time
Three to four 45-minute sessions
Materials Needed

Activity 1

Activity 2

  • Markers
  • Drawing Paper
  • Colored Pencils
  • Modeling clay

Activity 3


family farm: a farm in which ownership and control of the farm business is held by a family of individuals related by blood, marriage, or adoption

Did You Know?
  • The majority (73%) of all farm workers in the US were not born in the United States.1
  • The overwhelming majority of farm workers in the United States were born in Mexico.1
  • There are more men farm workers than women.
  • Farmers rely on farm workers to complete many tasks on the farm and compensate them with money for their time, housing for their families, and daily necessities to keep them working on the farm.
  • There are many laws in place to keep farm workers safe and making money for their families such as the Fair Labor Standards Act or Occupational Safety and Health Act.
Background Agricultural Connections

Esperanza Rising by Pam Munoz Ryan is about a little girl who, at the beginning of the book, lives on a lavish ranch in Mexico in 1924. Esperanza, the main character, enjoys her life of servants, parties, and fancy dresses. Her story quickly changes as her family flees to California and settles in a camp for Mexican farm workers. Esperanza is not ready for the tough challenges ahead as she adjusts to the change of scenery and lifestyle. Esperanza finds strength when the farm workers call a strike during a time when her Mama is sick. Esperanza must help the family survive in tough working conditions and in a community of people who are refusing to work.

The book engages students with the seasons, the growth of fruits, nuts, and vegetables, and the harvesting of each crop in a cultural and historical context. This text presents a perfect opportunity for comparing and contrasting “then and now.” What has changed and what has not changed regarding the production and harvest of the highlighted crops and farm labor over the last 100 years? Through the use of crop fact sheets and the development of a poster, students will become "experts" on a crop discussed in the text and share their knowledge with other students in the class or school.

As students read each chapter, they should consider what time of year they eat the produce. Is it seasonable or can they get it year round? If so, from where? Is the product always consumed in a fresh state? How is the product processed? Is it dried, frozen, canned, pickled, juiced, baked, or roasted? Is the product added to other processed foods? How has the food been consumed over the last 100 years? What has changed? What has not changed? These are just some of the questions that should be considered during the "Text Talk Time" discussion. 

As an example concerning the significance of agriculture, Esperanza's Papa is walking with his daughter through the vineyard and explaining to her the importance of grapes. California's climate is more ideal for growing grapes to be processed for raisins, table grapes, wine, and juice “moreso” than any other state in the United States. The winters produce mild temperatures and the lack of summer precipitation and warm days is perfect for growing grapes (and the other crops noted in the book). Grapes are just as important today to the California economy as they were 100 years ago. Grapes are currently grown commercially in other states such as Arizona, Arkansas, Georgia, Michigan, Missouri, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Texas, Virginia, and Washington. Grapes are harvested as fresh fruit by farm labor; however, some are processed into juice, wine, candy, fruit leather, and—with the help of the sun—raisins. This lesson will use an excerpt from the text about grapes to practice close reading as a two-person team and learn more about agriculture, then and now. In addition, students will engage with a "Text Talk Time" strategy to further their understanding of the text and discuss the issues and crops discussed in the book.

  1. Ask the students to name their favorite fruits and vegetables. Connect to student prior knowledge by surveying their likes and dislikes of the crops produced in the novel Esperanza Rising—grapes, figs, onions, plums, papayas, guavas, cantaloupes, almonds, potatoes, avocados, asparagus, peaches.
  2. Ask students what they know about each of the crops. Do they know where they are grown? Where and when are they harvested? How are they harvested? Do they know any of the nutritional value of these crops? Are these crops economically important to the growers and the states that produce them?
Explore and Explain

Activity 1

  1. Tell the students they will be reading an excerpt from Esperanza Rising. The novel is an example of historical fiction. Briefly discuss what this means. Guide the discussion if needed; however, explain that the story is based on real events, a real setting with real people regarding a farm family in the early 20th Century. Ask the students the following questions:
    • Do you know any farming families in your community?
    • What do you see growing on farms in your community?
    • Do you know of someone in your family that works on a farm? 
    • What kind of work have you seen happening on a farm?
  2. Discuss the importance of agriculture in the community and how, in the past, farm families migrated to more fertile land for growing crops such as grapes.
  3. Show the video Grape Expectations: Delicious California-Grown Table Grapes
  4. Ask the students the following questions:
    • What kind of grapes do you like to eat?
    • What new things did you learn from the video about growing grapes?
    • What part of the United States are grapes mostly grown?
    • What foods do we eat or drink that contain grapes?
    • How are grapes harvested?
  5. Place the students into groups of two. Ask them to "Partner Read" the Esperanza Rising Text Excerpt.  
    • Note: Partner reading is a practice used by teachers instructing a two-person team alternating reading aloud to one another while switching each time there is a new paragraph. An alternative to reading out loud separately is to have the two-person team choose to read at the same time.
  6. Give the students the discussion questions below, or create a few of your own, and ask them to choose and answer three questions out of the six on a 3" x 5" index card. It is important to encourage the students to answer in their own words and not their peers.
    • Who is your favorite character? Why?
    • What is a vineyard? What does a vineyard produce?
    • Where does Esperanza live?
    • Describe the geographical setting. What is it like where Esperanza lives?
    • What is a wild tendril?
    • When Papa said "Our land is alive," what did he mean?

Activity 2

  1. Ask the students to go to an area in the classroom and sit in a circle for a Text, Talk, and Time discussion. Have them bring their copy of Esperanza Rising and their responses to their three chosen discussion questions from Activity 1.
  2. Emphasize the Text, Talk, and Time rules. To see a demonstration, watch this Text, Talk, and Time strategy video. Rule reminders:
    • Thumbs up: Share new information
    • Two fingers: Add to an answer
    • Teacher's hand up: Students are quiet, the next question is asked
  3. Have the students return to their small groups.
  4. After reading the excerpt, have the students visualize the geographical setting. Think, Pair, and Share.
  5. While only using the excerpt reading, ask the students:
    • What do you wonder?  
    • What do you now infer?
    • What would the front cover of "Esperanza Rising" look like?
    • Share your thoughts with the group members.
  6. Tell the students they can choose, based on their preferred learning style, to create a book cover for Esperanza Rising. Separate the students into three main groups—visual, auditory, or kinesthetic. The visual group of students will be asked to draw an image, the auditory group of students will discuss the image, and the kinesthetic group of students will create a small model of what the cover will look like. Hand out the needed supplies for each group—drawing paper, markers, colored pencils, and modeling clay.
  7. Allow each group of students to share their cover while you make a list of specific details that each group focused on in drawing, describing, and creating their image for the book cover.
  8. Find the statistics of grape production from your state department's agriculture webpage. Also, emphasize the number of farm workers it takes to manage and harvest grapes from the vineyard in addition to the amount of labor. Find the statistic of family owned farms in your state and what that percentage of them grow grapes.

Activity 3

  1. Tell the students that they are going to become experts on a specific crop from the book Esperanza Rising. Randomly select or allow groups (pairs or groups of three depending on the size of the class) to choose one of the crops.
  2. Using a poster board, ask students to use the California Agricultural Fact and Activity Sheets or other online sites to develop a visual presentation they can share with others (students, parents, or community members). The poster should include basic information about how the plant grows, when it is planted, how it is harvested, and how people prepare or consume the crop to meet nutritional needs. Students should also add some cool facts that are really interesting about the crop. In addition to the visual product created, ask the students to prepare to present to others what they have learned. 
  • Give the students a writing prompt that involves the life of a farm worker living in the United States. For example: Today, I worked in the field picking and harvesting ___________. (watermelons, grapes, sweet potatoes, or strawberries). Choices of commodities should be given that are grown in the state where students live.


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

  • Farms are important for providing the food that we eat, including fruits, vegetables, grains, and meat.
  • Producing our food takes a lot of work. Some work is performed by machines and other work has to be completed by hand.
  • Farm workers are very important and valuable. Sometimes they come from other countries to work.
Natosha Brinkley, Michele Reedy, and Debra Spielmaker
North Carolina Farm Bureau - Agriculture in the Classroom
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