The world's first moving auto assembly line started operating
at Henry Ford's Highland Park plant in the spring of 1913.
Thereafter, mass production would transform the modern world.
In this lesson students will simulate production strategies
to examine the concept of change over time in the context
of the Industrial Revolution and the assembly line.
Targeted Audience: Grades 4-5
Time to Complete: 40-50 minutes.
Benchmark Addressed: History 2 [Analysis] and Economics
3 [Economic Systems]
- Examine historical materials relating to a particular
region, society, of theme
and analyze change over time.
- Identify different means of production
economic systems in different times and places.
- Unlined paper - cut in half.
- Pencil or Pen.
1. Take pieces of unlined 8 ½" by 11"
paper. Hold the papers vertically and cut them in half.
2. Pass out a piece of the cut paper to each student in
the class. Ask them to draw a sketch of a car with as much
detail as possible. Keep track of the amount of time that
it took for first and last students to complete their sketches
without letting the students be aware that you are doing
so. Hold on to that information until the students complete
the next phase of the lesson.
3. Divide the class in half (or thirds if the class is
large) and seat them in rows. Ask the student to pretend
that they are part of an automobile producing company. Tell
each group that they are to select one of their company's
sketches of an automobile that they want to feature as its
"flagship" automobile for the upcoming new car
season. Ask each group to share their sketches and select
their flagship automobile. Some students may choose not
to present their sketch and this is OK.
4. Hold up the sketches selected by each group and ask
the students to identify all of the "parts" or
details that appear on each car. List their responses on
the board. Assign a number to each part.
5. Explain to the students that, now that they have an
automobile design that they think will earn the company
a lot of money, their task is to produce cars for sale.
With each company's students sitting in rows, have each
student assume a number in numerical order (e.g. 1, 2, 3,
etc.). Have the students continue counting until all of
the numbers that appear on the board (i.e. enumerated car
parts) have been exhausted. It will not affect the lesson
if there are more numbers than students.
6. Tell the students that you are going to give student
#1 a piece of paper. He or she is to draw that part of the
car that corresponds to the number that they have been assigned.
For example, if car part 1 on the board is windshield, Student
#1 is to draw the windshield for the car. After student
#1 completes his or her task, he or she is to pass the paper
to student #2 who will then add his or her part. Pass the
paper through the company's "line" or row until
the car is complete (or until the number of students has
7. Put a pile of papers on the desk of Student #1 and tell
that student to repeat the process describe in Step 6 of
this lesson until you signal the group to stop. Give the
students the same amount of time to do this activity as
it took for the last student to finish Step 2 of this lesson
(Procedure Section). While the students are simulating the
assembly line, use forceful verbal instructions to get them
to produce as many as possible for the company so that the
company can break all previous production and sales records.
Count up the number of "cars" (i.e. sketches)
that each "company" has produced in the allotted
time. Compare that number to the number one, which is the
number of cars a single student produced in the first round
of production and write those numbers on the board for all
to see. This allows the students to see the productive advantage
of the assembly line.
Show the first segment of "On the Line: 1926"
from the PBS series entitled "People's Century."
This segment uses primary source video clips to explain
the transition from individual to mass production via Henry
Ford's revolutionary assembly line. The video is part of
the PBS VIDEOdatabase collection (Volume 4) that is available
from the Education Resource Center at the University of
Delaware's Education Resource Center (www.udel.edu/erc).
1. Ask the students to describe the production strategy
that was used the first time they drew their sketches of
the car? Tell them that this is the manner in which most
goods were produced prior to the Industrial Revolution and
the introduction of the assembly line.
2. Ask the students to describe the production strategies
that were used by the classroom "companies" in
phase 2 of the lesson. What changed? Tell them that this
is the manner in which most goods have been produced since
the Industrial Revolution and the introduction of the assembly
3. Ask the students to identify which production strategy
they preferred (first as workers, then as company owners)
and explain why they preferred that strategy.
4. What were the costs and benefits of each production
McCarthy, Pat (2002). Henry Ford: Building Cars for Everyone.
Historical American Biographies. Enslow Publishers, Inc. Berkeley