Before a long holiday, I always try to wrap up any major units of study so I can plan something fun the day or two before break. While many teachers may choose to show a movie, in all honesty, I’ve always found movies to be not that engaging for students – and they don’t learn anything. While it takes a little more work, if you plan a thematic unit or a few out-of-the-ordinary activities, students get excited about doing something new. This is why before Thanksgiving break, I like to plan a Popcorn-themed unit. There are so many cool things you can do with popcorn – and it is relatively inexpensive.
In this blog post, I explore several different ways to use popcorn with the core subjects. Check them out and see if a few will fit your curriculum and available time. Just be sure to save some popcorn specifically for snacking!
In my opinion, no thematic unit is complete without a reading component! There are a number of books that have a popcorn theme. Here are my favorites:
- A good picture book is The Popcorn Book by Tomie de Paola. This plot mixes a character making popcorn with another character discussing facts about popcorn.
- For teachers looking for an easy chapter book, Cam Jansen: The Mystery of the Stolen Corn Popper by David A. Adler is a good option for second and third grades.
- My favorite book is Popcorn! by Elaine Landau. It is a short nonfiction book about popcorn that includes questions that help draw students into the book.
I created an easy-to-prep writing activity that I call “Popcorn Narrative.” The writing itself has nothing to do with popcorn, but I set up the activity in plastic popcorn boxes you can find at the Dollar Store. I use white and yellow paper to print the character and setting choices, then crinkle them up to look like popcorn. Students randomly select one character and one setting, then use them in a creative writing piece. The combinations can be really funny, and students can get very imaginative trying to work both of them into a story! You could also use this activity to have students practice writing story starters or “hooks.”
I’ve made this resource available to you for Free. You can get it HERE!
Popcorn can be used for math in so many ways. Kernels could be counted for groups to add, subtract, multiply, or divide. If you have any math games, swap out the buttons for popcorn.
You could also dye the popcorn kernels a few days ahead of time and use different colors to make fractions. (These same kernels could be used again in the art activity below.)
Another fun math activity is Popcorn Volume. Students explore the volume of cylinders made from the same size rectangle as well as one made from a square. After assembling the cylinders, students work with a partner to fill them with kernels and count them. The results are very surprising! This is a great activity for grades 4 – 6. Popcorn Volume as a free download in my TPT Store!
A popular science experiment is testing different brands of microwave popcorn. Students hypothesize which brand will have the most (or least) unpopped kernels in a bag, then count the unpopped kernels. You can lead the discussion on why they feel a brand would have fewer unpopped kernels – is it because it is a brand name versus a store brand? Do buttered kernels pop better than plain kernels? Be sure to buy microwave popcorn bags of the same size. The popped kernels can double as a snack!
Another fun science experiment is to use kernels to see the reactions of acids and bases. Have students dissolve baking soda into different cups of water, then add popcorn and another liquid to see which ones react. If the liquid is acidic, it reacts with the base (baking soda) and the popcorn will “dance.” This Popcorn Acids & Bases Science Experiment is available in my store for teachers who would like a form for students to complete during the activity.
I integrate social studies into reading with the Popcorn! book. However, if you are holding Popcorn Day close to Thanksgiving, you could also have students research the history of Thanksgiving. In many children’s books or cartoons, popcorn is shown at the first Thanksgiving. Did the Pilgrims and Native Americans really eat it?
A great website to use for research is Plimoth Plantation. They have a wonderful Webquest for students that teaches them about both the Pilgrim and the Wampanoag cultures. Note: The Plimoth Plantation website can get a high volume of traffic before Thanksgiving. If you would like to do the WebQuest with students, I recommend doing it earlier than the Wednesday before Thanksgiving.
Popcorn kernels make beautiful mosaics! I found these instructions on how to dye the kernels in vibrant colors at Fun-A-Day. These kernels could first be used as math manipulatives, then recycled for an art project. Teachers should plan on dying the kernels a few days before use. A simple project would be to use pieces of thin cardboard (like the front or back of a cereal box) as the background for the project. The kernels will be too heavy for construction paper.
First, have the students sketch their designs onto the cardboard. The design could be a pattern or a picture. They want to create their designs with enough space for the kernels, so they want to draw something with large sections. For example, instead of a park scene, they may want to make a bird.
After students have sketched their designs and you have checked them, students should plan the colors of their designs. It is important for students to have a well-formed plan, because if they use too much glue the cardboard may get soggy.
These projects will need time to dry, so teachers may want to schedule art a few days ahead of break or leave the mosaics dry over break.
I hope you were inspired by these ideas! What is your favorite way to use popcorn in the classroom?