Create an Assembly Line: An Activity to Teach About the Industrial Revolution & Factories

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Materials and Set-Up needed

Prepare your students ahead of time before you model an assembly line in your classroom. You should have already taught a lesson plan on Industrial Revolution and the changes it brought about in American economy. The hands-on social studies activity should demonstrate some of the advantages and disadvantages of the assembly line. This experience should give students an idea of what it was like to work on an assembly line or to build a product on their own.

Materials needed for this project are:

  • “The buns” Vanilla wafers
  • The burgers” Mint cookies (small, thin, hard mint cookies covered in chocolate)
  • Onions” Coconut
  • “Ketchup” Red tube icing
  • Mustard” Yellow tube icing
  • Package” Ziploc bag
  • Sharpie Pens in two or three different colors
  • Gloves for food-handling
  • Paper plates

Many times parents will be happy to donate one of the items above if you send home a note, explaining the project, in advance. Be creative–if you want to add cheese or lettuce to your burger, think of more ingredients to ask for. Social studies teaching strategies should be fun and creative!

Making the Burger On Their Own

After the lesson plan on the Industrial Revolution and during the first part of the assembly line lesson, students will need to make their own burgers. This activity should probably happen throughout the morning in small groups in order to share materials. Students should be timed to see how long it takes them to make a burger without any help. Their job is to have all the parts put together, the burger put in the package, and the package labeled with the product name and company logo. The product name and company logo are something you and your class will create the day before. Social studies teaching strategies often encourage teachers to combine objectives when teaching. So, this could also be a lesson on economics.

When students are finished with their product, they write down how long it took to make it themselves on a chart. Then they should respond in their journals to questions such as: How did it feel to make your own product? Did you like doing all the parts? Do you think an assembly line will be faster?

Making the Burger On the Assembly Line

Your lesson plan on Industrial Revolution concepts should show students why Henry Ford thought an assembly line made better, faster products. That’s what this activity should prove, too.

Once students have made individual burgers, now they are assigned a job on the assembly line. If you have a large class, you can have two assembly lines. The line starts with opening the cookie packages, placing a paper plate down, putting the bottom bun on the plate, and so on. Each task in building the burger is a new job for an individual student. Once students have made about 10 burgers, you can time how long it takes to make a burger on the line. Do students notice that some jobs take longer than others? What happens if someone is really slow or too fast? Is it easy to do one particular job on the line or easier to make the whole burger alone? These are the questions you want students to ponder and write about after their experience. Ask them to relate their in-class project to Ford’s idea of making cars on the assembly line.