Johnny Appleseed Lesson Plans

Johnny Appleseed

John Chapman, who became known as “Johnny Appleseed,” was born on September 26th, 1774. He left home at eighteen and traveled around the Midwest planting nurseries and doing good deeds.

There are a number of good picture books for this American legend, including versions by favorites Steven Kellogg and Carol Ottolenghi.

You can also read the story online:

Go multimedia:

Once you’ve read or watched the story, consider some cross-curricular activities on Johnny Appleseed:

Science

  • While storybook versions of John Chapman’s life sometimes show him scattering apple seeds willynilly, he actually trained as an orchardist and planted his nurseries carefully, going back to visit them regularly. Ask an orchardist or agriculture expert to visit the class, or visit a local orchard  and learn what’s involved in planting an orchard successfully.
  • Compare the nutritional value of apples with that of other snacks.
  • Johnny Appleseed is considered a conservationist by many modern thinkers. Have students conduct research on his life and decide whether this is true or not.

Economics

  • Chapman’s business practices were very unusual by modern standards. He extended credit to everyone, never pressed people for payment, accepted old clothes and cornmeal as barter, gave shares in his nurseries to lots of people without formal contracts, and didn’t show much concern for profit. Have students form groups and write up reports of what advice they as business consultants would offer Johnny Appleseed.
  • Read this article making a counterclaim: that John Chapman was an astute businessman who got rich from the liquor trade, and was only turned into an American icon by the apple industry in the early 20th century. Comparing the two tales could make an excellent activity for research skills.
  • The Botany of Desire: A Plant’s-Eye View of the World, Michael Pollan’s fascinating meld of history, economics, and science, has an interesting discussion of Johnny Appleseed. Check out the PBS website and see the PBS The Botany of Desire DVD (if you buy the DVD from Amazon, you can watch the film instantly online as well. The section on apples, and Johnny Appleseed, is suitable for classroom viewing). There are lesson plans and a teacher’s guide at the PBS site.

Character Education

  • A recent poll found that Americans in general no longer think of self-sacrifice as a virtue. Johnny Appleseed’s life showed a definite tendency toward self-sacrifice: he gathered used clothing and gave away the best he found, wearing the worst himself. He gave away most of his earnings, and never settled down to have a home and family and enjoy the fruits of his labors. Was this a good choice on his part? Hold a class debate.
  • In honor of Johnny Appleseed’s contributions, have a bit of a party. But an ostentatious celebration wouldn’t be in the Johnny Appleseed spirit. As a class, discuss what kind of party Johnny might have chosen to have and why. Use Venn diagrams to compare the party you imagine he’d have planned with those students would choose for themselves.
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