Skip to main content

American Industrial Revolution Lesson for Kids

  • Author:
  • Updated date:

I am a Christian. I was an 8th-grade American History teacher. I am currently a freelance writer, public speaker, & homeschooling mom of 9.

American Industrial Revolution Lesson for Kids

American Industrial Revolution Lesson for Kids

This is the 22nd lesson in a series of 28 hands-on lessons covering U.S. American History through 1865. This lesson focuses on the American Industrial Revolution & Transportation: Eli Whitney, Robert Fulton, Erie Canal, & Transcontinental Railroad. I used this plan while teaching a 45 minute history class for children in Kindergarten, 1st, & 2nd grades. Each lesson includes a biography report, history notebook page, history song, our favorite children's books, YouTube video, a history joke, & a variety of hands-on activities to make each lesson engaging & memorable. Use these fun lessons with your classroom, homeschool, after-school program, or co-op!

Student biography presentation on Eli Whitney

Student biography presentation on Eli Whitney

Student Biography Presentation: Eli Whitney

1. Student biography presentation on Eli Whitney

Review & Presidents Song

2. Review: What document did our Founding Fathers write to describe our government's 3 branches? (Constitution) In 1803 what did President Thomas Jefferson purchase? (Louisiana Territory) It was explored by whom? (Lewis & Clark and Sacajawea) We went to war again with England during the War of 1812. Who was the President at the time? (James Madison) Our next President told Europe to stay out of America. What was that called? (Monroe Doctrine) President Andrew Jackson forced the Cherokees to leave their homes & move West. What was that called? (Trail of Tears) What trail did many pioneers take to travel out West? (Oregon Trail) Which battle inspired Texans to fight harder for their independence from Mexico? (Battle of the Alamo) What was discover in California in 1848? (gold) What is one way mail was delivered between the gold miners and their families living in the East? (Pony Express)

3. Now let's go through all the Presidents. Sing through the entire song 2 times while either showing the video or flipping through pictures of the Presidents. (Be sure to add in "Donald Trump" at the end.)

You will need:

  • Screen to show the below video or a book showing Presidents or point to their pictures on a President place mat

Presidents Song

Eli Whitney & the Cotton Gin

4. Ask the children, "If you could invent something, what would you invent?" Summarize how Eli Whitney invented the cotton gin while flipping through the pages of Eli Whitney and the Cotton Gin (Inventions and Discovery) by Jessica Gunderson.

You will need:

  • Eli Whitney and the Cotton Gin (Inventions and Discovery) by Jessica Gunderson or other book on Eli Whitney
Attempting to remove seeds from raw cotton

Attempting to remove seeds from raw cotton

Removing seeds from raw cotton

5. Eli Whitney was inventive. He saw a problem & came up with a solution. Let's find out why he needed the cotton gin.

  • Ask the children, "What is made of cotton today?" There are a bunch of things made from cotton today, aren't there? That wasn't always the case, though.
  • Imagine if the cotton shirt you're wearing and the cotton towels you used after your bath last night were really itchy and scratchy because there were little pieces of crushed, hard seeds throughout it. Not only that, imagine if they were really expensive. Do you think you'd still want them? Probably not, right?
  • Something needed to be done to make sure all those seeds could be removed quickly and completely.
  • [Toss some raw cotton bolls with seeds in them on the floor.] Tell the children to pretend it's a field of cotton & pretend they are slaves on a cotton plantation. They need to each collect 3 bolls of cotton & then remove the seeds.
  • It's not easy, is it? Ask them to imagine if they had to do that every day for a whole season all day long.
  • [Pass out an envelope to each child] Have children put their cotton & cotton seeds in the envelope. They should not seal their envelopes.
  • Eli Whitney's cotton gin made cotton the #1 crop to grow in the South. Almost everyone wanted to grow & sell cotton because now it was so easy to remove the seeds. Unfortunately, this meant they'd need lots of workers in those fields to help pick the cotton. The workers they got were slaves. We'll talk more about that next week.

You will need:

  • raw cotton bolls with seeds in them (I got them from a local farmer during cotton season, but you can also purchase them from amazon .com.)
  • an envelope for each child
Interchangeable Parts

Interchangeable Parts

Interchangeable Parts

6. A cotton gin wasn't the only item that Eli Whitney invented. After a fire burned down his factory & all the cotton gins he'd be making, he needed a way to make money to rebuild his factory. He told the U.S. government he could make a huge amount of rifles in a really short amount of time. He did this by creating the rifles using Interchangeable parts

Scroll to Continue
  • [Show a toy rifle or picture of a historic rifle.] It used to be that every single rifle was made unique. If something broke, you couldn't just replace that part. You had to fix the old part or get a whole new rifle.
  • Eli Whitney said, "What about if we make a bunch of rifles the exact same way with the exact sized parts? If one part breaks, we can then just replace the broken part, not the whole gun." He called those interchangeable parts because the parts could be changed out.
  • Now almost everything is made using interchangeable parts at factories, which is a great idea Eli Whitney came up with!
  • Eli Whitney's ingenuity helped the South by giving them the cotton gin, which allowed for them to make lots of money growing cotton. He helped the North by creating the idea of interchangeable parts, which is how factories in the North began producing almost everything.

You will need:

  • a toy rifle or picture of a historic rifle
Eli Whitney Coloring Pages from https://www.thoughtco .com/

Eli Whitney Coloring Pages from https://www.thoughtco .com/

Eli Whitney Notebook Page

7. Pass out an Eli Whitney Coloring Pages to each child.

  • Ask the children what the pictures show. (cotton gin & rifle with interchangeable parts)
  • Have children use their glue sticks to glue the front of the envelop holding the cotton & seeds to the back of the paper. The flap of the envelop should be facing outward so they can still open it.
  • They can put the page in their history notebook.

You will need for each child:

Map of the US from https://elliemae345.weebly .com/

Map of the US from https://elliemae345.weebly .com/

Waterways of the U.S.

8. After the War of 1812, more Americans wanted to move out West. They could go by land, but that took soooo long! Let's look at the waterways they could use instead, which would make travel so much faster.

  • Pass out a map showing the Great Lakes & Mississippi.
  • Point out the Great Lakes & tell the children they can remember them using the acronym: HOMES = Huron, Ontario, Michigan, Erie, Superior. Most of the names are based on the Native American names for that area or body of water, or they were named after the Native Americans that were in that area.
  • Have the children color the Great Lakes.
  • Then have them use their finger to trace over the Mississippi River on the map. Have them trace over the Mississippi River using their crayon.
  • Have children put the paper in their history notebooks.

You will need per child:

  • Copy of this US map, punched with 3 hole punch (I printed the Robert Fulton Notebook page on the back of the map.)
  • Student supplies: blue crayon
Watching steam fill a balloon just like how steam helped move Robert Fulton's steamboat

Watching steam fill a balloon just like how steam helped move Robert Fulton's steamboat

Robert Fulton & Steam

9. [Show a picture of Robert Fulton.] Robert Fulton wanted to help people moving West.

  • Going on boats in the river was easier than going on land, but it was still kind of slow.
  • While in France, Robert Fulton learned about steam engines & steamboats. He didn't invent the steamboat, but he create ways to make steamboat travel easier and faster than ever before. [Show a picture of the Clermont.]
  • (Optional) I you have a toy paddle boat, allow the children to take turns letting to run across a small plastic tub of water.

You will need:

  • pictures of Robert Fulton & the Clermont
  • (optional) toy paddle boat & small plastic tub of water

10. So how did steam help the ship? Show steam working by filling a deflated balloon placed over a bottle in hot water.

  • Why did this happen? When air is heated, it moves around & tries to take up more space. The only place it has to go is in the balloon.
  • In a steamship, they boil water. It creates steam. The steam moves a piston. The piston moves the waterwheel. The waterwheel moves the boat through the water.

You will need:

  • a container of very hot water (I microwaved water in a 4 .c liquid measuring cup. You could also keep hot water in a travel coffee mug.)
  • a plastic bottle (like a water bottle)
  • a balloon that has been blown up to stretch it out & then deflated
Robert Fulton Notebook Page from https://homeschoolhelperonline .com

Robert Fulton Notebook Page from https://homeschoolhelperonline .com

Robert Fulton Notebook Page

11. Pass out a Robert Fulton Notebook Page to each child. Have the children put it in their history notebooks.

  • Point to the patent picture & ask them what they think it's a patent picture of. He also used his steamship technology to create a submarine, which he called the Nautilus.
  • Eli Whitney & Robert Fulton used their ingenuity for God's glory. They followed Colossians 3:23, which says, "Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for man." As they were working, they worked hard because they knew they were working for God. Whenever you do a job, you should also work hard knowing that you too are working for God's glory.
  • If you're not limited by time, use the 3 pictures to make a flap book. Have the children cut them out and then paste the tops of the pictures, so that they can flip up each picture.

You will need:

Erie Canal

12. Have children flip back to the page to their map of the US & point to the Great Lakes.

  • Let's go through the names & point to them one more time: HOMES = Huron, Ontario, Michigan, Erie, Superior
  • Wouldn't it be convenient if you could just sail right through them out into the Atlantic Ocean? (Point to that on the map.)
  • Well, it wasn't that easy to do. Who likes to dig? Who would like to dig for 4 years? That's what some Americans did. They spent 4 years digging a canal from Lake Erie, across New York State, so it could meet up with the Hudson River, & easily go out to the Atlantic Ocean. [Show a picture if the Erie Canal.]
  • Have children use their blue crayon to draw the Erie Canal from Lake Erie across New York State.

You will need:

  • a picture of the Erie Canal
  • student supplies: blue crayon

13. People loved riding & hearing about the Erie Canal, that someone wrote a song about it. Sing the Erie Canal Song 1 time while flipping through the book The Erie Canal by Peter Spier. Children can join in on the chorus. We also ducked down quickly each time we sang, "Low bridge, everybody down."

You will need:

  • The Erie Canal by Peter Spier or other book on the Erie Canal

Erie Canal Song

Building the Transcontinental Railroad using Thomas the Train pieces

Building the Transcontinental Railroad using Thomas the Train pieces

Transcontinental Railroad & Review

15. Travel by water was improving thanks to Robert Fulton's steamboat and the creation of the Erie Canal, but some people wanted to or needed to travel by land. Railroads began getting built across the United States, mainly in the North & West, but not in the South.

  • [Show a picture of the Transcontinental Railroad.] The most famous railroad was the Transcontinental Railroad. Two different companies were hired to build the tracks. One came from the East & one came from the West. They eventually met up in Utah & connected the 2 tracks.
  • The girls will be the Central Pacific Company & will stand on 1 side of the table. The boys will be the Union Pacific Company & will stand on the other side of the table.
  • They will lay down wooden Thomas the Train tracks & meet in the middle of the table at "Promontory Point, Utah."
  • If you're not limited by time, you can have the children take turns having the train run down the track.

You will need:

  • picture of the Transcontinental Railroad
  • wooden track pieces (like Thomas the Train pieces)
  • toy train (optional)

16. Review: What did Eli Whitney invent? (cotton gin & interchangeable parts). How did the cotton gin help Southern cotton farmers? (They could remove cotton seeds more easily & quickly.) What technology did Robert Fulton improve? (steamboat) Who can name a Great Lake? (HOMES = Huron, Ontario, Michigan, Erie, Superior) The Erie Canal connected Lake Erie with what other body of water? (Atlantic Ocean) What state did it cross? (New York) What's probably the most well-known railroad track in the U.S. called? (Transcontinental Railroad)

17. Assign next week's biography report on Harriet Tubman.

In addition to the 2 books used in this lesson, these were our top 7 favorites:

  • Robert Fulton by Steven Kroll
  • Watt Got You Started, Mr. Fulton?: A Story of James Watt & Robert Fulton by Robert M. Quackenbush
  • From Cotton to T-shirt (Start to Finish, Second Series: Everyday Products) by Robin Nelson
  • Amazing Impossible Erie Canal by Cheryl Harness
  • Ten Mile Day: And the Building of the Transcontinental Railroad by Mary Ann Fraser
  • You Wouldn't Want to Work on the Railroad!: A Track You'd Rather Not Go Down (You Wouldn't Want To) by Ian Graham
  • Locomotive by Brian Floca

Native Americans & Columbus Lesson
Jamestown Lesson
Pilgrims Lesson
Thirteen Colonies Lesson
French and Indian War Lesson
Colonial Period & Revolution Rumblings Lesson
Boston Massacre & Boston Tea Party Lesson
First Shots & Declaration of Independence Lesson
American War for Independence Battles Lesson
Valley Forge & Battle of Yorktown Lesson
American Literature Lesson & American War for Independence Review
Colonial Christmas Party
Constitution Lesson
Three Branches of Government Lesson
President George Washington Lesson
Louisiana Purchase Lesson
War of 1812 Lesson
Monroe Doctrine Lesson
Trail of Tears Lesson
Oregon Trail & Battle of Alamo Lesson
California Gold Rush & Pony Express Lesson
American Industrial Revolution Lesson
Underground Railroad Lesson
Abolitionists & Women Suffragists Lesson
Civil War: The Confederate States & Abraham Lincoln Lesson
Civil War Battles Lesson
Civil War Party & End of Year Review Game
Fun, Free Hands-on Unit Studies (My Lessons in All Subjects)

© 2018 Shannon


Shannon (author) from Florida on August 11, 2018:

Thank you!

Liz Westwood from UK on August 10, 2018:

This is yet another fascinating lesson plan.

Related Articles