Search form

Popcorn Isn't Just for Movies Anymore!

According to The Popcorn Institute, Americans consume more than 17.3 billion quarts of popcorn each year. This week, Education World provides you with activities -- just in time for National Popcorn Month -- that will help your students discover that there's more to popcorn than good taste.

Did you know that

  • popcorn is the only kind of corn that pops?
  • popcorn probably originated in Mexico, but by the time the first Europeans arrived in North America, more than 700 varieties of popcorn were being grown there?
  • the oldest ears of popcorn ever found were discovered in New Mexico's Bat Cave 50 years ago? The ears were more than 5,600 years old!
  • popcorn was America's first breakfast cereal? Colonial housewives served it with sugar and cream.
  • because popcorn was rationed during World War II, it was often bought and sold illegally?
  • the average American today consumes approximately 68 quarts of popcorn a year?


So what can you do with popcorn besides eat it? You can grow it, soak it, bake it, shape it, rhyme it, combine it, multiply and divide it. You can...

Grow a popcorn plant. Follow directions in Millicent E. Selsam's book Popcorn to help students grow their own popcorn. Soak popcorn kernels overnight and then provide students with cups, wet paper towels, and the kernels. Have them place a kernel between the cup and the paper towel and put the cup in a warm place. In three to five days, when a small root will appear, students can plant the seed in a large clay pot filled with 1/2 potting soil and 1/2 peat moss. Have students leave the ear of corn on the plant until the plant matures and the kernels dry out.

Geography -- make a map. Encourage students to visit Where Is Corn Grown? to learn where corn is grown in the United States. Then ask them to locate the Corn Belt on an outline map of the United States. Arrange students into groups, assign one of the Corn Belt states to each group, and have them research classroom, library, and online resources to learn more about the agriculture of their assigned state. Ask each group to create a map of their assigned state and to include icons identifying urban, rural, and suburban areas.

Math -- divide and multiply. Encourage students to answer such fact-based math questions as:

  • If Americans consume 17.3 billion quarts of popcorn a year and each American consumes approximately 68 quarts of popcorn a year, about how many people live in the United States?
  • If a single popcorn plant produces one ear of corn containing 600 kernels, and 30,000 plants can be grown on one acre of land, how many kernels can be produced on a 400-acre farm?
  • If a 3.5-gallon canister of popcorn is marked down 30% to$24.95, what's the regular price of the canister?

Science -- conduct an experiment. Arrange students into four groups and provide each group with equal amounts of unpopped popcorn. Have one group dry their popcorn in a 250-degree oven for several hours. Have another group soak their popcorn in a dish of water for the same length of time. Have the third group cut deep scratches in some of their popcorn kernels. The fourth group -- the control group -- does nothing to their popcorn kernels. Then pop the corn from all four groups and ask students to create a chart showing how many cups of popcorn each group of kernels yielded and how many of each groups' kernels failed to pop. Ask students: What makes popcorn pop? (If they don't know, explain that all seeds contain a tiny bit of water. When the popcorn seed, or kernel, is heated, the water inside turns into steam. The pressure from the steam bursts the hard outer coating of the kernel, turning the seed inside out and causing the soft material inside the kernel to puff up.) Then ask: What factors affect how well popcorn pops? (If necessary, explain that the amount of moisture inside the kernel and the hardness of the outer coating affect how well the popcorn pops.)
Note: Younger children might prefer the simpler version of this experiment provided at Kids CORNer, a site maintained by the Ohio Corn Marketing Program.

Social Studies -- study Native Americans. Encourage students to explore Native American Technology and Art to learn about the history of corn and discover the ways in which corn was used by early Native Americans. Then have students read about read about cornhusk dolls and follow the Instructions for Making Cornhusk Dolls.

Reading -- look for words. Point out to younger students that the word pop in popcorn begins and ends with the same letter. Encourage children to look in books and magazines to find other words that begin and end with the same letter, such as Mom or Dad. Then help children count the number of words they find. Older students can search for compound words (such as Popcorn) instead.

More science -- explore genetics. Explain to students that many farmers improve their crop's yield by creating hybrids. Hybrids are created by crossing two parent plants of different varieties of corn, each of which have specific traits that will adapt to growing conditions in particular locations. Ask them to explore the hybrid information provided at the Ag Alumni Seed Popcorn Web site and have them identify the traits the farmers might have been trying to develop in each type of hybrid popcorn plant.

More geography -- make up a quiz. Have students explore Where In the World Is Corn? to learn where corn is grown outside the United States and then explain that the differences in the amounts and varieties of corn are primarily due to location. Arrange students into groups and ask each group to research the climate of one of the countries named at the site. Have them hypothesize about the factors that might affect corn production there. Then ask students in each group to create a list of facts about the climate they researched and have a volunteer from each group read those facts to the rest of the class. Encourage students in other groups to guess the name of the assigned country. Finally, ask students: Why isn't popcorn grown in Antarctica?

More math -- weights and measures. Arrange students into small groups and provide each group with an equal number of popcorn kernels. Ask each group to place their kernels end to end, measure their entire length, and divide the total length by the number of kernels to find the average length of a single kernel. Then have students weigh their kernels and find the average weight of a single kernel. Finally, have students use a measuring cup to measure the kernels. Pop the corn and repeat all the measurements. Ask: What percentage did the popcorn increase in size, weight, and volume after it was popped? Create a bar graph to show the information.

Ecology -- stage a debate. Invite students to read about ECO-Foam, a packaging peanut made from corn, and discuss with them the advantages and disadvantages of that material compared to synthetic packaging. Have students stage a debate about whether a law should require the use of packaging made of corn. You might also encourage students to visit the Ontario Corn Producers' Web page, A Zillion Uses for Corn, to learn more about the uses of corn today.

Art -- design a screensaver. Invite students to search Google for a variety of free "popcorn screensavers." Then encourage them to design their own "screensavers." Remind them to include words and images that reflect their own personalities and interests. Students might use their screensavers as desk blotters.

Nutrition -- create a menu. Invite students to study the Food Guide Pyramid and determine which category of food popcorn would fit into. Then have each student create a day's menu -- including meals and snacks -- that conforms to the nutritional guidelines provided at the site. Encourage older students to include information about serving sizes.

Creative writing -- write a story or poem. Encourage students to read stories and poems about corn. (You you might use the stories at Good Stories for Thanksgiving Day.) Then have them write original stories and poems about popcorn.

Related Resources


Article by Linda Starr
Education World®
Copyright © 2003 Education World

Originally published 10/12/1998
Links last updated 10/07/2003