The Irish Potato Famine

Contributor: Brian Anthony. Lesson ID: 12290

What food would you miss if it were suddenly unavailable? Would you be particularly horrified if you couldn't eat potatoes anymore? That may seem trivial, but it was a life-changer for 1840s Ireland!



learning style
personality style
Otter, Golden Retriever
Grade Level
Intermediate (3-5)
Lesson Type
Dig Deeper

Lesson Plan - Get It!


Do you have enough food to eat? Do you take it for granted? Why do you trust your food to be safe? How do farmers and scientists keep plants healthy to make sure we have food to eat?

When you visit the grocery store, you expect to find mountains of tomatoes, stacks of oranges, and bags full of onions and potatoes.

We are so used to having food that we easily forget all the work that goes into making sure enough plants grow to feed large numbers of people.

It’s not just farmers working in fields that cause all those plants to grow! Scientists play a very important role in identifying the diseases and other problems that can kill plants and ruin a crop. One of the tasks of modern botanists, or plant scientists, is to examine the plant diseases of the past, to figure out how they work, and determine how best to prevent those diseases from happening again.

The Irish Potato Famine has taught farmers and scientists a lot. A famine is a great shortage of food. At different times and places, famine has killed many, many people. In the Irish Potato Famine of 1845-1849, it is estimated that nearly one million people died!

Learn more about the Irish Potato Famine by reading the article, Great Famine, courtesy of Encyclopædia Britannica. As you watch the related video, write down the answers to the following questions:

  • What disease affected the plants?
  • What were the effects of the famine on the people of Ireland?
  • What were the effects on other countries as a result of the famine?

Share your answers with your parent or teacher, then discuss these questions together:

  • Why didn’t the farmers or scientists of the 1800s find a way to kill this plant disease before it happened?
  • What do you think are ways that our modern-day food sources are made safer?
  • What do you think are some positives that came out of the terrible tragedy of this famine?

Scientists have been researching the disease that caused the Irish Potato Famine for many decades, and recently uncovered the specific strain of disease that destroyed years of potato crops.

In the Got It? section, explore some of the diseases that can afflict plants and some of the ways farmers can prevent those diseases.

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