National Agricultural Literacy Curriculum Matrix
Search Lesson Plans & Companion Resources
King Cotton (Grades 9-12)
9 - 12
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
*A Cotton Boll Kit is available for purchase from agclassroomstore.com.
Essential Files (maps, charts, pictures, or documents)
gin: to separate cotton fiber from seeds and waste material
boll: the part of a cotton plant that contains the seeds; the pod or capsule of a plant
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
- Ask students 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 your students to offer their answers. Use guided questions and display the Interactive Map for cotton production in the United States. As students study the map, help them connect the South with cotton and the demand for labor to produce and process it.
- 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: Modern grown cotton has a longer fiber than the cotton harvested in the 1800s.
- Share the information found in the Background Agricultural Connections section of the lesson 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. Ask, "Would gloves have been available?"
- Have your students predict how many seeds are in each boll, and instruct them to gin their cotton boll.
- 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. Ask questions such as:
- 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?
- Once ginning is complete have students count the number of seeds found in their boll and compare it to their estimate.
- Next, Have your students weigh their fibers from one boll, and 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 using the information found in the Background Agricultural Connections section of the lesson. Ask your students:
- How many years passed between the invention of the cotton gin and the beginning of the Civil War. (67 years. The cotton gin was patented in 1794 and the Civil War began in 1861)
- Did the tension between the North and the South escalate after this important invention? (Yes, because the demand for cotton increased with the improved ability to gin the cotton)
Concept Elaboration and Evaluation
After conducting this activity, review and summarize the following key concepts:
- Historical events such as the Civil War as well as technological inventions impact agriculture and day-to-day living.
- As agriculture has evolved and more technological advancements have been made, changes in our society also occur.
- Cotton played a large role in the civil war.
- Cotton is still an important agricultural crop today.
We welcome your feedback! Please take a minute to tell us how to make this lesson better or to give us a few gold stars!
Share the slide show Cotton: From Field to Fabric in Forty Frames, which describes the major steps of modern cotton production and processing.
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?
Suggested Companion Resources
- Eli Whitney and the Cotton Gin (Book)
- Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry (Book)
- Cotton Boll Kit (Kit)
- Cotton Education Kit (Kit)
- America's Heartland: Cotton Episodes (Multimedia)
- Cotton... From Field to Fabric (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
- Correlate historical events, discoveries in science, and technological innovations in agriculture with day-to-day life in various time periods (T4.9-12.a)
- Describe how agricultural practices have contributed to changes in societies and environments over time (T4.9-12.b)
Education Content Standards
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.
NCSS 1: Culture
Objective 1"Culture" refers to the socially transmitted behaviors, beliefs, values, traditions, institutions, and ways of living together of a group of people.
Objective 4How culture develops and changes in ways that allow human societies to address their needs and concerns.
Objective 6How people from different cultures develop diverse cultural perspectives and frames of reference.
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.
Language: Anchor Standards
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.L.1Demonstrate command of the conventions of standard English grammar and usage when writing or speaking.