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Massachusetts Agriculture in the Classroom

Agricultural Literacy Curriculum Matrix

Lesson Plan


Bunches of Berries

Grade Level
3 - 5
Purpose

Students investigate a variety of berries, discover how and where they are grown, and explore their nutritional benefits. Grades 3-5

Estimated Time
1 hour
Materials Needed

Engage:

  • Berry Song by Michaela Goade
  • Blank paper, 1 per student

Activity 1: Types of Berries

Activity 2: Nutritional Benefits of Berries

Activity 3: Cooking Demonstration

  • Allrecipes or similar recipe website
  • Recipe ingredients and cooking tools or playdough in a variety of colors

Elaborate:

Vocabulary

aggregate fruit: fruit that consists of a number of smaller fruits

antioxidant: a substance present in foods that can prevent or slow the harmful effects of free radicals in the body

berry: a small, fleshy, and typically edible fruit produced from the ovary of a flowering plant

compost: a mixture made of decaying organic material used to fertilize plants and amend soils

edible: suitable or safe to eat

fertilizer: any material of natural or synthetic origin that is applied to soils or plant tissues to supply one or more nutrients essential to plant growth

fiber: isolated, non-digestible carbohydrates that have beneficial physiological effects in humans

fruit: the part of a plant that develops from the flower and contains the seeds of the plant

mulch: a covering placed on bare soil to keep it from eroding; loose leaves, straw, bark chips, etc.

nutrient: a substance that provides nourishment essential for growth and the maintenance of life

perennial: a plant that lives for more than one growing season

pollinate: to carry pollen from the anther to the stigma of a flower

propagate: to grow, generate, or produce

seed: the part of a flowering plant that contains an embryo within its protective coat and a stored food supply

tilling: preparing soil for planting by breaking up clumps of soil to provide an even bed for seeds; performed with a tractor and tilling implement

Did You Know?
  • Blueberries are one of the only truly blue foods. The blue pigment comes from a group of antioxidants called anthocyanins.1,2
  • Every strawberry, no matter the size, has around 200 seeds.1
  • Cranberries are one of the few fruits native to North America.8
  • Blueberry is America's favorite flavor of muffin.9
Background Agricultural Connections

A berry is a small, fleshy, and typically edible fruit produced from the ovary of a flowering plant. It contains one or more seeds and is often characterized by its sweet or tart taste, vibrant colors, and nutritional benefits. Berries come in various shapes, sizes, colors, and flavors. Strawberries, blueberries, cranberries, raspberries, and blackberries are some of the most popular berries consumed in the United States.

Any small, fleshy fruit is popularly called a berry, but strawberries, raspberries, and blackberries are not true berries by the botanical definition. They are considered aggregate fruits—fruits that consist of a number of smaller fruits. Cranberries and blueberries are true berries.

Strawberries: Known for their bright red color and sweet-tart taste, strawberries are a rich source of vitamin C, antioxidants, and fiber. Strawberries are one of the most popular and widely consumed berries in the world. They belong to the Rosaceae family and are technically not true berries; instead they are classified as aggregate fruits since they develop from a single flower with multiple ovaries. Strawberries have a distinctive heart-shaped appearance with tiny seeds embedded on their outer surface. They are typically bright red when ripe, but some varieties can be white, yellow, or even green when unripe. 

Strawberries are grown in temperate regions around the world, with various cultivars developed to thrive in different climates. California (90%) and Florida (8%) are the top states for fresh strawberry production, followed by New York, North Carolina, Oregon, and Washington.3 Strawberries prefer well-drained, fertile soil and require ample sunlight to produce fruits. Most strawberry plants are perennial, meaning they can bear fruit for several years with proper care. Strawberries can be propagated from seeds, but it's more common to use young plants, known as runner or daughter plants, that are produced by established strawberry plants. Farmers prepare the soil by tilling and adding compost or fertilizers to provide essential nutrients. The strawberry runners are planted in rows or raised beds, ensuring proper spacing to allow for growth and airflow. Strawberries require consistent watering to keep the soil moist and ensure the plants have enough water for growth. Mulch, such as straw or plastic, is often used around the plants to help retain moisture, suppress weed growth, and protect the fruit from direct contact with the soil. 

As strawberry plants grow, they develop flowers that need to be pollinated to produce fruit. Bees and other pollinators play a crucial role in the pollination process, transferring pollen from one flower to another. After successful pollination, the flowers develop into small green berries that gradually ripen. 

The timing of strawberry harvest varies depending on the strawberry variety, climate, and growing conditions. Ripe strawberries are picked by hand to ensure gentle handling and to avoid damaging the delicate fruit. Skilled workers carefully select ripe strawberries, leaving the unripe fruit on the plant to ripen fully. After harvesting, the strawberries are sorted to remove any damaged or overripe fruits. They are then packaged in containers suitable for transportation and sale. Proper post-harvest handling and refrigeration are essential to maintain freshness and extend their shelf life. Strawberry plants are typically grown in annual cycles, and after the harvest, the old plants may be removed or cut back. In some cases, farmers may promote the growth of new runners, which will become next year's fruit-bearing plants.

Strawberries are a rich source of vitamin C, manganese, and folate. They contain antioxidants like anthocyanins, quercetin, and ellagic acid, which contribute to their health benefits. These berries are also low in calories and high in dietary fiber. Consuming strawberries is associated with improved heart health, as they may help reduce bad cholesterol levels and improve blood pressure. The antioxidants in strawberries contribute to their anti-inflammatory properties and may help protect cells from oxidative stress. Strawberries are beneficial for skin health due to their vitamin C content, which supports collagen production.

Strawberries are popularly used in desserts like cakes, pies, and ice cream, salads, smoothies, jams, and sauces, and can be enjoyed fresh as a healthy snack.

Blueberries: These small, blue-purple berries are packed with antioxidants, particularly anthocyanins, which contribute to their vibrant hue and numerous health benefits. Blueberries are often hailed as a "superfood" due to their positive impact on brain health. Blueberries are typically small, ranging from 5 to 16 millimeters in diameter. They have a deep blue to purple-blue color when ripe, but some varieties may be green, red, or even black. 

Blueberries are cultivated in temperate regions with well-drained, acidic soil. They prefer locations with ample sunlight but can also tolerate some shade. More than 98% of blueberries in the U.S. are grown in 10 states—Oregon, Washington, Georgia, Michigan, California, New Jersey, North Carolina, Florida, Texas, and Minnesota.4 There are two primary types of blueberries—highbush and lowbush. Highbush blueberries are grown commercially, while lowbush blueberries are more commonly found in the wild and also cultivated on a smaller scale.

Blueberries are typically grown from young plants or bare-root nursery stock. They can also be propagated through cuttings. Farmers prepare the soil by ensuring it is well-drained and has the right acidity (pH level) since blueberries prefer acidic soil. The plants are spaced adequately to allow for proper growth and airflow. Blueberry bushes require regular watering, especially during dry periods, to keep the soil consistently moist but not waterlogged. Mulching is often used around the plants to retain moisture, suppress weeds, and regulate soil temperature.

Blueberries produce small, bell-shaped flowers in the spring. For adequate pollination and fruit set, farmers may introduce beehives to the blueberry fields to facilitate pollination by bees. After successful pollination, the flowers develop into small green berries that gradually ripen. Blueberries require warm temperatures and sunlight to ripen fully, which is typically in the summer months. 

Blueberries are handpicked when they are fully ripe to ensure the best flavor and quality. Skilled workers gently harvest the berries to avoid damaging the fruit and the plants. The harvest may extend over several weeks, as not all berries ripen simultaneously. After harvesting, blueberries are carefully sorted to remove any unripe, overripe, or damaged fruits. They are then packed in containers suitable for transportation and sale. 

After the harvest, blueberry bushes may require pruning to remove old canes and encourage new growth. Proper care and maintenance, such as fertilization and pest control, are essential for the long-term health of the blueberry plants. To prevent soil depletion and reduce the risk of diseases, farmers often practice crop rotation, planting different crops in the same area in successive years.

Blueberries are a rich source of vitamins, particularly vitamin C and vitamin K. They are packed with antioxidants, especially anthocyanins, which are responsible for their vibrant blue color and potential health benefits, including reducing oxidative stress, supporting heart health, and promoting brain health and cognitive function. Blueberries are relatively low in calories and high in dietary fiber. They may help with insulin sensitivity and blood sugar regulation. Consuming blueberries has been linked to improvements in overall gut health due to their potential prebiotic effects.

Blueberries are commonly used in baked goods such as muffins, pies, and pancakes, salads, smoothies, desserts, jams, jellies, and sauces. When selecting blueberries, look for berries that are plump, firm, and have a deep blue color. 

Cranberries: Renowned for their tartness, cranberries are often associated with Thanksgiving dinners. They are an excellent source of vitamin C and are believed to support urinary tract health. Cranberries are small, red, and tart berries that grow on evergreen shrubs native to North America. They are a unique fruit as they thrive in acidic, boggy wetlands known as cranberry bogs. They have a glossy skin and contain air pockets, which make them float in water. Cranberries are known for their tart and slightly bitter taste.

Wisconsin, Massachusetts, Oregon, and New Jersey are the top states for cranberry production.5 Cranberries are grown in specially prepared cranberry bogs, which are flooded during harvest to facilitate fruit removal. The bogs provide the acidic, sandy, and well-drained soil that cranberries require for optimal growth. The bog surface is often covered with a layer of sand or peat to provide additional support for the cranberry vines. Cranberry bushes are perennial, meaning they can bear fruit for many years under proper management. 

Cranberries are typically grown from cuttings or runners, which are pieces of the vine that are planted directly in the bog. These cuttings root and develop into new cranberry plants, forming dense mats that cover the bog surface. Cranberries require ample sunlight and regular watering during their growing season, which usually extends from spring to fall. The bogs are often flooded with water for irrigation, frost protection, and controlling weeds and pests.

Cranberry bushes bloom with small, pink flowers in the spring. The flowers are pollinated by bees and other pollinators to produce small green berries that gradually ripen over the summer months. 

Cranberries are typically harvested in the fall, usually from September to November. The cranberry bogs are flooded with water, and special equipment such as water reels or eggbeaters, are used to agitate the vines and dislodge the berries from the bushes. Due to their air pockets, the cranberries float to the surface, making it easier to collect them.

After harvesting, the cranberries are transported to a cleaning facility, where they are sorted to remove any leaves, twigs, or debris. Sorting machines and flotation tanks separate the berries from any remaining water, ensuring that only clean cranberries are processed. Cleaned and sorted cranberries are packaged and distributed for sale as fresh fruit or processed into cranberry products like juice, sauce, or dried cranberries.

Cranberries are a rich source of vitamin C and fiber, which are essential for supporting the immune system and promoting digestive health. They also contain various phytonutrients, particularly proanthocyanidins, which contribute to their potential health benefits. Cranberries are well-known for their positive effects on urinary tract health. The antioxidants in cranberries have been linked to potential cardiovascular benefits, as they may help improve cholesterol levels and reduce the rick of heart disease. Regular consumption of cranberries may support overall immune function and provide protection against certain types of bacteria and viruses.

Cranberries are often consumed in juice form, but they can also be enjoyed fresh or dried. They are a popular ingredient in  sauces, chutneys, relishes, and baked goods like muffins and cookies. Dried cranberries, often referred to as craisins, are commonly used in salads, trail mixes, and granola bars. When purchasing cranberries, look for firm and brightly colored berries.

Raspberries: With their delicate, reddish-pink color and sweet flavor, raspberries are loaded with dietary fiber, vitamin C, and manganese. Raspberries are small, round berries that come in various colors, including red, black, purple, and gold. Red raspberries are the most commonly cultivated variety. Each raspberry is composed of many individual drupelets clustered together around a central core, giving them their unique, bumpy texture.

California, Oregon, and Washington are the top states for raspberry production.6 Raspberries are grown on perennial bushes that require well-drained soil and adequate sunlight. They are typically planted from root cuttings or canes, which are young, flexible shoots of the plant. The canes are planted in well-drained soil with adequate sunlight. Raspberries thrive in loamy or sandy soil with good drainage to prevent waterlogging. Raspberry bushes require support to keep the canes upright and well-organized. Trellising systems, such as stalks, wires, or frames, are used to support the canes and prevent them from sprawling on the ground.

Raspberries can be grown in both summer-bearing and everbearing varieties, which produce fruit at different times of the year. During the growing season, raspberry bushes require consistent watering and fertilization to support healthy growth and fruit development. They produce delicate white or pink flowers in the spring, which are crucial for fruit development. After pollination, the flowers turn into small green berries that gradually ripen over the growing season.

Raspberries are harvested when they are fully ripe, as they do not continue to ripen after being picked. The berries are gently picked by hand to avoid damaging the delicate fruit and the bushes. The harvest season for raspberries varies depending on the variety and location, with peak harvest times typically in the summer.

After harvesting, raspberries are sorted to remove any unripe, overripe, or damaged berries. They are then carefully packed in containers for transportation and sale. Proper pruning is essential for raspberry bushes to promote new growth and improve fruit production. After the harvest, the canes that bore fruit are pruned back, and new canes are trained to grow for next year's crop.

Raspberries are a rich source of dietary fiber, vitamin C, and manganese. They are also packed with antioxidants, particularly anthocyanins, which give red and purple raspberries their vibrant colors and potential health benefits. The antioxidants in raspberries have been linked to various health benefits, including reducing oxidative stress and inflammation in the body. Raspberries' high fiber content supports digestive health and helps regulate blood sugar levels. Consuming raspberries may contribute to heart health by improving cholesterol levels and supporting healthy blood vessels.

Raspberries are enjoyed fresh and are commonly used in desserts, such as pies, tarts, and cakes, and are also a favorite topping for ice cream and yogurt. Raspberry jam, jelly, and preserves are popular spreads, and raspberry-flavored syrups are used in beverages. When selecting raspberries, look for plump, firm, and brightly colored berries.

Blackberries: Blackberries are distinguished by their deep purple-black color and are bursting with antioxidants, especially vitamin C and anthocyanins. They also provide a good amount of dietary fiber. Blackberries, known for their sweet-tart flavor, are small, round berries that have a glossy skin and are composed of multiple individual drupelets clustered together. Similar to raspberries, blackberries have  a unique bumpy texture due to the numerous drupelets that make up the fruit.

Almost all of the blackberries produced in the United States are grown in Oregon.7 Blackberries are grown on perennial bushes that require well-drained soil and ample sunlight. They are typically propagated through root cuttings or canes, which are young, flexible shoots of the plant. The canes are planted in well-drained soil with adequate sunlight. Blackberries thrive in loamy or sandy soil with good drainage to prevent water logging. Blackberry bushes require support to keep the canes upright and organized. Trellising systems, such as stakes, wires, or frames, are used to support the canes and prevent them from sprawling on the ground. Blackberry bushes can produce fruit for several years under proper care and maintenance.

Blackberries have different growth patterns based on the variety. Some are classified as primocane-fruiting, producing fruit on the current season's canes, while others are floricane-fruiting, yielding fruit on canes that grew the previous year. During the growing season, blackberry bushes require consistent watering and fertilization to support healthy growth and fruit development. Blackberry bushes produce small white or pale pink flowers in the spring, which are essential for fruit development. After pollination, the flowers turn into small green berries that gradually ripen over the growing season.

Blackberries are harvested when they are fully ripe, as they do not ripen further after being picked. Blackberries are handpicked to avoid damaging the delicate fruit and the bushes. The harvest season for blackberries varies depending on the variety and location, with peak harvest times typically in the summer.

After harvesting, blackberries are sorted to remove any unripe, overripe, or damaged berries. They are then carefully packed in containers suitable for transportation and sale. Proper pruning is essential for blackberry bushes to promote new growth and improve fruit production. After the harvest, the canes that bore fruit are pruned back, and new canes are trained to grow for next year's crop.

Blackberries are rich in dietary fiber, vitamin C, and vitamin K. They are a good source of antioxidants, especially anthocyanins, which contribute to their potential health benefits. The antioxidants in blackberries have been linked to various health benefits, such as reducing oxidative stress and inflammation. Blackberries' high fiber content supports digestive health and aids in maintaining healthy blood sugar levels. Consuming blackberries may contribute to heart health by improving cholesterol levels and supporting cardiovascular function.

Blackberries are enjoyed fresh and are commonly used in desserts, such as pies, tarts, cobblers, and crumbles. Blackberry jams, jellies, and syrups are popular spreads and toppings for pancakes and waffles. Blackberries are also used in smoothies, salads, and as flavorings in beverages. When selecting blackberries, look for berries that are plump, firm, and uniformly colored. 

 

Engage
  1. Read Berry Song by Michaela Goade aloud to the class.
  2. Explain to the students that berries are the fruit of a flowering plant that contain one or more seeds. Berries come in various shapes, sizes, colors, and flavors and are eaten for their delicious taste and nutritional benefits. On the board, make a list of the berries mentioned in the book.
  3. Provide each student with a blank piece of paper. Have them think of their favorite type of berry, but not say it out loud. Instruct them to draw a picture of their berry and write down three clues that describe it. 
  4. Organize the class into groups of 4-5 students. Have them take turns sharing their clues and see if their group members can guess their berry. After each member guesses, they can show the group their picture.
  5. Add any new berries mentioned by the students to the list on the board.
  6. Explain that they will investigate a variety of berries, discover how and where they are grown, and explore their nutritional benefits.
Explore and Explain

Activity 1: Types of Berries

  1. Divide the class into ten groups. Allow each group to pick one Berry Information Card out of a hat or box. (There will be two groups per berry.)
  2. Provide each student with a Become a Berry Expert activity sheet and Berries Flowchart.
  3. Explain to the groups that they will become experts for the berry on their card. Instruct them to read the information, watch the video (links provided on the cards and below), and search for information online to complete their activity sheet.
  4. Provide each group with a folder, and instruct them to label the folder with the name of the berry they were assigned and the names of everyone in their group. Direct them to place their Berry Information Card, Berry Flowchart, and completed Become a Berry Expert activity sheet in their folder. Explain that they will add additional information to the folder and then use it at the end of the lesson to create a cooking demonstration video about the berry.

Activity 2: Nutritional Benefits of Berries

  1. Reorganize the class back into their groups from Activity 1 and provide each group with the Nutrition Facts and Health Benefits handout for their berry (links below). Hand out a Berry Nutrition Comparison Chart to each student.
  2. Using the information from their Nutrition Facts and Health Benefits handout, each group should fill in the information for their berry on their Berry Nutrition Comparison activity sheet.
  3. Bring the students back together as a class and project the activity sheet onto a large screen. Explain to the class that they are going to compare the nutritional facts of the five different berries the groups have been researching. Have a representative from each group share the nutritional information for their berry while the students complete their activity sheets.
  4. After all the information has been recorded, lead a discussion comparing the nutritional value of the five berries. Use the following question to guide the discussion:
    • Which berry contains the most calories? Which contains the least?
    • Which berry contains the most total fat? Which contains the least?
    • Which berry contains the most protein? Which contains the least?
    • Which berry contains the most fiber? Which contains the least?
    • What do the berries have in common?
  5. Have the groups place their handouts and activity sheets into their group folder.

Activity 3: Cooking Demonstration

  1. Have the groups choose a recipe for their berry from a recipe website like Allrecipes
  2. Explain to the class that they will be working with their group to write a script for and film a cooking demonstration to promote their berry. If you are unable to make the real recipes in class, provide each group with playdough in a variety of colors to create model ingredients for their recipe. 
  3. The script should include the following:
    • Name of the berry and the recipe
    • Step-by-step instructions for making the recipe while modeling the steps
    • Where the berry is grown
    • How the berry is grown and harvested
    • Different ways the berry can be consumed
    • Nutritional value and health benefits of the berry
    • Why consumers should purchase/grow and eat the berry
  4. After checking each group's script and providing feedback, allow time for the groups to practice and film their cooking demonstration. Share the videos with the class. 

    This lesson investigates a variety of berries, where they are grown, and their nutritional benefits. If you live in the following states, refer to your local agricultural literacy resources about berries:

Elaborate
  • Use the Parts of a Strawberry Plant Poster to label and discuss the functions of the six main parts of flowering plants—roots, stems, leaves, flowers, fruits, and seeds.
  • Conduct a taste test of the five berries from the lesson—strawberries, blueberries, cranberries, raspberries, and blackberries. Have the students vote for their favorite berry and make a class bar graph to represent the votes.
  • Invite the students to create an Acrostic Poem for their favorite berry.
  • Have the students assemble The Buzz on Berries mini book and share it with their families.
Evaluate

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

  • Berries are the fruit of a flowering plant and contain one or more seeds.
  • Berries come in various shapes, sizes, colors, and flavors.
  • Berries are eaten for their delicious taste and nutritional benefits.
Acknowledgements
Author
Lynn Wallin
Organization
National Center for Agricultural Literacy
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