National Agricultural Literacy Curriculum Matrix
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King Cotton (Grades 6-8)
6 - 8
Students will learn about the production and processing of cotton and discuss the impact it has had on the history and culture of the United States.
- Cotton bolls*
- Hand lenses
- Linking History and Technology handout
- Cotton Clothes & Combos activity sheet
*A Cotton Boll Kit is available for purchase from agclassroomstore.com.
Essential Files (maps, charts, pictures, or documents)
boll: the part of a cotton plant that contains the seeds; the pod or capsule of a plant
gin: to separate cotton fiber from seeds and waste material
Did you know? (Ag Facts)
- Cotton has been cultivated and used to make fabrics for at least 7,000 years.1
- Today, US cotton is entirely machine harvested.1
- Some of today's high-capacity gins can turn out as much as 30,000 pounds of clean, cotton fiber in one hour.1
Background Agricultural Connections
Interest Approach – Engagement
- Help your students begin to recall their prior knowledge. Ask them to think about the economic, cultural, and political causes of the Civil War. Ask them, "Why did the South want or need slaves more than the North?"
- Allow students to offer their ideas. Use guided questions to lead them to recognize that cotton was large industry in the South. It was also very labor intensive.
- Inform students that they will be learning how cotton impacted events in American history.
- Find a local source for cotton bolls or order the Cotton Boll Kit. Note that the cotton in these kits has a longer fiber than the cotton harvested in the 1800s.
- Share the background information about cotton and slavery.
- Give each student or group of students one cotton boll.
- Have your students examine the woody stem of the cotton boll. Ask students if they can understand why it was so painful to pick this plant by hand. Would gloves have been available?
- Share the background information about slaves and the process of ginning cotton. Have your students predict how many seeds are in each boll, and then ask them to compare it to the actual number of seeds after ginning.
- Have students listen to songs that were sung by slaves while they performed the tedious work of ginning cotton. Many spirituals are available from negrospirituals.com. What cultural differences may be expressed by this music? Do we still use music to pass the time while we work? What does the kind of music we listen to say about our cultural heritage?
- Have your students weigh their fibers from one boll, and then compare it to the weight of a pair of jeans. A pair of jeans would be almost one hundred percent cotton (minus a zipper and a button).
- Ask students to consider how many cotton bolls are needed to produce a pair of jeans. Share the information from the Linking History and Technology handout.
- Have students examine the fiber under a hand lens or simple magnification lens. They will notice that these short fibers have almost a silky appearance.
- Discuss the invention of the cotton gin. Ask your students how many years passed between invention of the cotton gin and the beginning of the Civil War. Did the tension between the North and the South escalate after this important invention?
- Have your students complete the Cotton Clothes & Combos activity sheet to integrate math concepts with this lesson.
Concept Elaboration and Evaluation
After conducting the following activities, review and summarize the following key concepts:
- Cotton is a very widely used fabric produced by cotton plants. After harvesting, the cotton is made into fabric.
- The invention of the cotton gin significantly reduced the need for laborers in producing and processing cotton.
- Ethics are important to consider in the production of farm products such as cotton.
Ask your students to listen to or read some of the arguments for ending slavery. Can they also identify why abolishing slavery would have been seen as a problem for those farmers who were trying to grow crops? What would have to be done differently without the use of slaves on a cotton farm? What did a general farm laborer earn in the 1800s?
Visit the Interactive Map Project website and view the map representing Cotton Production in the United States. Identify the state that produces the most cotton, then find where your state ranks for cotton production. Many states do not produce cotton. Based upon the map, what climate does cotton grow best in?
Share the slide show Cotton: From Field to Fabric in Forty Frames, which describes the major steps of modern cotton production and processing.
Read Working Cotton by Sherley Anne Williams. The African American dialect used in the book can provide language arts integration by stimulating discussion of regional dialects and cultural differences. Other resources to share may include the book Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry by Mildred D. Taylor or the video Cotton, the Perennial Patriot.
Suggested Companion Resources
- Cotton Now & Then: Fabric-Making from Boll to Bolt (Book)
- Immigration, Migration, and the Industrial Revolution (Book)
- Mr. Blue Jeans (Book)
- Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry (Book)
- Working Cotton (Book)
- Cotton Boll Kit (Kit)
- Cotton Education Kit (Kit)
- Cotton's Journey - A Field Trip in a Box (Kit)
- America's Heartland: Cotton Episodes (Multimedia)
- Cotton... From Field to Fabric (Multimedia)
- Cotton...The Perennial Patriot (Multimedia)
- How It's Made: Cotton Yarn (Multimedia)
- Planet Money Makes a T-shirt (Multimedia)
- Cotton Reader (Booklets & Readers)
- Agricultural News (Website)
- Breeding Better Cotton (Website)
- Cotton Campus (Website)
- Cotton Counts Educational Resources (Website)
- Cotton Gin Animation (Website)
Agricultural Literacy Outcomes
Science, Technology, Engineering & Math
- Identify specific technologies that have reduced labor in agriculture (T4.6-8.h)
Plants and Animals for Food, Fiber & Energy
- Describe the differences in plants and animals used for food, clothing, shelter, and fuel before and after European settlement of the United States (T2.6-8.a)
- Explain the role of ethics in the production and management of food, fiber and energy sources (T2.6-8.b)
Education Content Standards
5-12 History Era 2 Standard 1A: Diverse immigrants affected the formation of European colonies.
Objective 2Explain why so many European indentured servants risked the hardships of bound labor overseas.
5-12 History Era 4 Standard 2D: The rapid growth of 'the peculiar institution' after 1800 and the varied experiences of African Americans under slavery.
Objective 2Explain how the cotton gin and the opening of new lands in the South and West led to the increased demand for slaves.
Objective 4Describe the plantation system and the roles of their owners, their families, hired white workers, and enslaved African Americans.
5-12 History Era 5 Standard 1A: The North and South differed and how politics and ideologies led to the Civil War.
Objective 5Explain the causes of the Civil War and evaluate the importance of slavery as a principal cause of the conflict.
Common Core Connections
Speaking and Listening: Anchor Standards
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.SL.1Prepare for and participate effectively in a range of conversations and collaborations with diverse partners, building on others’ ideas and expressing their own clearly and persuasively.
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.SL.2Integrate and evaluate information presented in diverse media and formats, including visually, quantitatively, and orally.
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.SL.3Evaluate a speaker’s point of view, reasoning, and use of evidence and rhetoric.
Language: Anchor Standards
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.L.1Demonstrate command of the conventions of standard English grammar and usage when writing or speaking.
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.L.4Determine or clarify the meaning of unknown and multiple-meaning words and phrases by using context clues, analyzing meaningful word parts, and consulting general and specialized reference materials, as appropriate.