The Irish Potato Famine

Contributor: Brian Anthony. Lesson ID: 12290

What food would you miss if it were suddenly unavailable? Would you be 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!

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Close your eyes for a moment and picture a table filled with your favorite foods: juicy fruits, colorful vegetables, and warm, comforting bread. Now, imagine if all of that suddenly disappeared.

No more delicious meals, no more snacks, and no more full bellies. This unimaginable event happened in Ireland during the 19th century and is known as the Irish Potato Famine.

In this eye-opening lesson, journey back in time to understand the devastating impact of the famine, appreciate the importance of having enough food to eat, and explore how farmers and scientists work together to ensure your meals are safe and plentiful.

Get ready to dig deep into the history and science behind the Irish Potato Famine and uncover the secrets to keeping your food supply secure!

When you visit the grocery store, you expect 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 ensuring 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 vital 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, figure out how they work, and determine how best to prevent those diseases from happening again.

farmer with potato plant

The Irish Potato Famine has greatly taught farmers and scientists. A famine is a great food shortage.

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.

As you watch the video below to learn more, 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?

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After watching, consider these questions.

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

Scientists have been researching the disease that caused the Irish Potato Famine for many decades and recently uncovered the specific strain of the 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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