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Plan a Classroom Fair - Lesson Plan

Background Notes

Each year 125 million people attend agricultural fairs in the United States. The earliest fairs were local events, organized at the county and regional level. Later statewide fairs appeared with the financial support of legislatures. The Michigan State Fair began in 1849. It is one of the oldest state fairs in the United States. In 1928, the first Upper Peninsula State Fair was held in Escanaba.

Fairs, no matter what their size, offer opportunities for young people to participate by contributing a variety of projects. Plan a Classroom Fair with your students.

Girl Holding Sunflower


  • Students will describe the economic and entertainment purposes and activities of a fair.
  • Students will plan and carry out a classroom fair, including contributing projects for awarding of ribbons or other prizes.
  • Students will explain the historical importance of the fair as a place to come together and learn from each other's skills and talents.

Michigan Social Studies Curricululm Content Standards

The lesson presents an opportunity to address, in part, these standards:

  • 2.3. GEOGRAPHIC PERSPECTIVE: All students will describe, compare, and explain the locations and characteristics of economic activities, trade, political activities, migration, information, information flow, and the interrelationships among them.
  • 4.1.1. ECONOMIC PERSPECTIVE: Students will identify ways families produce and consume goods and services.

Materials Needed

  • Basic art supplies including paper, markers, crayons for making publicity materials such as fliers and decorations.
  • Materials will vary depending on the type of project students choose.


  1. Boy with White Rabbit Ask if any students have ever been to the fair in their local community or county. What did they do? What did they like? Did they go beyond the "Midway" with its carnival rides and games? What did they see? Are some students 4-H members who have exhibited projects in their local fair? (Visit your local fair this summer for more ideas!)
  2. At Michigan's first State Fair in 1849 prizes were given for "articles, productions, and improvements best calculated to promote the agricultural and household manufacturing interest of the State." Talk with students about the economic purposes of a fair (seeing new inventions; learning how to improve products and strains of animals; competing to show the best animal, handicraft, food, etc.).
  3. Talk with your local county extension agent or local 4-H leader for more information about planning youth projects for a fair. Invite them to your class to talk with your students.
  4. Have students decide what kinds of things they want to show at their fair. Ask them what interests them--art, handicrafts, pets, plants, etc., and then divide the larger categories into smaller ones. For example, art could be divided into painting, drawing, or mixed media. Pets could be divided into training or care or type of pet.
  5. Boy Riding Pony Have the students divide into several groups to organize each category of things to show—pets, plants, handiwork, hobbies, collections, photos, food. They will need to decide what is eligible, what is needed to physically display the category and how to judge what is best in the category. (There may be subcategories with first, second, third or honorable mention prizes and a best-of-show.)
  6. Work with your students to develop a "Premium Book" for the fair. A "Premium Book" is a list of categories in which students may enter projects in your fair. A premium denotes that what kind of prize, such as a ribbon, will be given for a project entered in each category.
  7. Once the categories are determined, invite your students to enter a project in one or more of the categories. Give them a sample entry form. They will need to fill out entry forms and give a description of their project when they enter. Do this far enough ahead of time so that each student will have time to work on his or her project and not be rushed.
  8.  Have students prepare a report or poster explaining what they plan to enter. For example, if a student makes jam, she/he will need to prepare a written explanation in the form of a report or a poster describing how it will be made. If they are entering a pet, they need to explain how they raised their pet and trained it.Girl with Goat
  9. Students will need to be responsible for the overall organization--publicity, preparing programs, setup, take down, decorations, making ribbons/prizes, determining who will judge the categories.
  10. The day your fair opens, have your students' projects judged. Invite local community leaders or school officials or other teachers to act as judges. Have the students tell the judges the criteria they have established for judging each category. Give the judges a chance to talk with each student about his or her project before the judging begins. This will give the judge some idea of the students' knowledge of his or her project and give the child confidence and pride in talking to other adults about his or her project.
  11.  To give your fair a festive atmosphere, plan to include, music, games and food. Invite other students, parents and grandparents to your fair. Have the prizes already attached to the project before your guests arrive. Boy on a Carnival Ride The size of your fair will depend on the time and energy you and others are willing to invest.
  12. After your fair is over, discuss the experience. Ask questions such as:
    • Did you learn about some new things at the fair? How will you use what you learned? How could a fair help farmers grow better crops and make more money?
    • Did you have fun? If you lived on a farm and usually only saw your neighbors at church, do you think you would be excited about going to the fair? Why?

Questions for Discussion or Research

  1. Have students read Will Carleton's poem The Festival of Industry or The County Fair. (For a shorter activity select just one part, such as Section III.) Discuss the images the poet uses. How do students picture early county fairs? Will Carleton's family farm was in Hudson Township, Lenawee County, Michigan, in the 1800s. Find Lenawee County on a map of Michigan. Print out the 1874 map of Hudson Township to see where the farm was located.
  2. What other projects could you have gotten involved in if you lived in another part of the state or the country?
  3. What kinds of projects would be typical for children to have worked on 100 years ago? How would they be different? similar?
  4. Have you been to a county fair? a state fair? What was it like? Compare your experiences.

At the Museum

  • See the graphic of a state fair poster in the Rural Michigan Gallery on the second floor.
  • You can see another fair poster and a banner from the State Fair in the Early Agriculture Gallery in "Michigan in the 20th Century" on the third floor. While looking at these posters, ask your students how they might draw a poster for a fair 100 years ago? How would they draw a poster for their classroom fair?


  • Agriculture: the science and art of farming
  • Fair: a festival or carnival where people showcase foods, livestock, handcrafts
  • Premium book: a book with a list of rewards or prizes for items entered in the fair


  • Bacon, Richard M. The Forgotten Arts, Yesterday's Skills Adapted to Today's Materials; Books 1-5. Camden, ME: Yankee Books, 1975.
  • Bial, Raymond. County Fair. Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin, 1992.
  • Chesman, Andrea. Summer in a Jar: Making Pickles, Jams and More. Charlotte, VT: Williamson Publishing. 1985.
  • Lutes, Della T. The Country Kitchen. Detroit, MI: Wayne State University Press, 1935.
  • Marling, Karal Ann. Blue Ribbon, A Social and Pictorial History of the Minnesota State Fair. St. Paul, MN: St. Paul Minnesota Historical Society Press, 1990.
  • Massie, Larry B. and Priscilla Walnut Pickles and Watermelon Cake: A Century of Michigan Cooking. Detroit, MI: Wayne State University Press. 1990.
  • Mitgutsch, Ali, et al. From Milk to Ice Cream. Minneapolis, MN: Carolrhoda (Start to Finish Books Series), 1981.
  • Siebert, Diane. Heartland. USA: Harper Trophy. 1989.

Contact the Michigan Historical Museum.

Updated 08/04/2010

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