Learn How a Middle Ages Crop Rotation Lesson Plan Sharpens Your Students' Thinking

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Middle Ages Crop Rotation Lesson Plan


As the Middle Ages crop rotation lesson plan will show, crop rotation has undergone several changes. Beginning in ancient times with the Romans and into the Middle Ages with Charlemagne, crop rotation went from a two-field to a three-field crop rotation system.

The Dark Ages, as the Middle Ages is often called, was a period of great emotional distress and suffering. Key among the ills, as Kirchner states in his book, Western Civilization, was starvation. The whole point of crop rotation during the Middle Ages was better variety and productivity of crops.

Grade Level:

Middle School


Students will be able to understand why crop rotation was important during the Middle Ages.

Students will be able to understand the importance of the contributions from the Middle Ages and their impact on the Modern Age.

Relevant Terms for Preliminary Discussion:

  • Crop Rotation - the practice of growing different crops in succession on the same land chiefly to preserve the productive capacity of the soil

  • Feudalism - system of political organization prevailing in Europe from the 9th to about the 15th century having as its basis the relation of lord to vassal with all land held in feudal law

  • Peasant - a member of a European class of persons tilling the soil as small landowners or as laborers

  • Manor - self sufficient feudal estate

  • Vassal - a person under the protection of a feudal lord to whom he has vowed homage and fealty (fidelity)


Helpful Aides:

Large wall map of Europe

Timeline showing the events that occurred before, during, and after the Middle Ages

Questions to Stimulate Critical Thinking:

Land meant different things to different people. What do you think the land represented to the peasants?

How would improved systems of crop-rotation be a major contribution to their lives and the Modern Age?

The focus of this Middle Ages crop rotation lesson plan is on the improvements in agriculture made by the peasants in the face of all the drama they endured. First, the demise of the Roman Empire led to chaos. Next, under the leadership of Charlemagne - Charles the Great, a period of order followed. Then, after his death, centralized government collapsed. Ultimately, the law fell into the hands of the nobility and a system of government called feudalism was created.

Sustenance was an ongoing problem for the people during the Middle Ages, particularly the peasants. Feudalism did little to make life better for them. Confined, for the most part, to the manor, their personal lives as well as their livelihood were controlled by the lords.

The land was farmed by the peasants. Initially, they had crude farm tools and small farm animals. In addition, because they did not know how to properly rotate their crops, they used a system called two-field crop rotation. This consisted of planting half of the allotted land in a year, usually grain, and leaving the other half idle.

Over time, farmers learned to use a system called three-field crop rotation. Under this system, the land was divided into three parts, with two parts being planted and one part left idle. In addition, more efficient tools were introduced which enabled the peasants to plant crops in the autumn (winter wheat and rye) and also in the spring (legumes). A harvest that used to be scanty and lacked variety was now replaced with an abundance of nutritious crops.

(Note: In addition to the activities listed and the website referenced, use websites, such as YouTube and others to give the students a visual image of the time period.)

Activities and Assessment through Discussion Knowledge

Have the students research and discuss how three-field crop rotation was helpful for farm animals and the role that legumes and clover played.

Have the students research and discuss farm tools and compare the tools of the Middle Ages with the tools used today.

Have the students contact their local farmer/s and report on what system of crop rotation is used and the name associated with it.


Middle Ages art included mosaics and paintings in the Byzantine, Romanesque, Gothic and Renaissance style. Divide the class into five groups and have them find examples of the mosaics and painting styles. Have them discuss the artists, if possible. Encourage them to take notice of buildings in their area for examples of Middle Ages architecture.

As a culminating fun activity, have the students research and discuss the history of chess in the Middle Ages and the role of the various pieces. Follow that with a chess match.


Farming has played and continues to play a key role in our everyday lives. As the Middle Ages crop rotation lesson plan is taught, students should be helped to understand how one innovation can build on another. The skills of farmers have greatly improved. Many of today’s farmers are college-educated. They have learned how to apply the principles of many disciplines, for example, chemistry, math, microbiology and others to more efficiently produce and process food products.


Farming in the Middle Ages, https://www.middle-ages.org.uk/farming-middle-ages.htm

Kirchner, Walther, Western Civilization from 1500, HarperCollins Publishers, New York, N. Y. 1991

Wallbank, T. Walter and Schrier, Arnold, Living World History, Scott, Foresman and Company, Glenview, Illinois, 1982

Webster’s Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary, Merriam-Webster Inc., Springfield, Massachusetts, 1985