Enter to Win a $10 Teachers Pay Teachers Gift Card

TPT is having a big sale this week, and I have a promotional $10 gift card to give away!  Just fill out the contact form in this post (which will add you to my e-mail list), and I’ll enter you in my drawing!  (Don’t worry, I won’t share or sell your e-mail.)  The TPT sale takes place on February 14th and 15th.  I’ll draw from the entries by 3:00 p.m. EST on the 15th and e-mail you the gift card code if you’ve won!  Good luck!  While you are at it, check out my TPT store to see what you could get with that gift card!


Eli Whitney Videos and Cotton Gin Craft

Eli Whitney.  You’ve all heard of him.  You know, he’s that guy that indirectly led to an increase in slavery and all of that horrible stuff.  He was just trying to help make life easier (and make a little cash in the process), but his ideas made a HUGE impact on America.

I taught a lesson on Eli Whitney this week.  In my opinion, you need to make sure your students know 2 things about Eli Whitney:

1- He invented the cotton gin

2- He came up with the idea of using interchangeable parts in manufacturing

It can be hard to visualize how the cotton gin works without seeing one (or at least a diagram of one).  I found the BEST video I have ever seen showing the operation of a cotton gin.  Now granted, this video is in black and white and is probably older than me, but there is no better video that I have found which has clear shots of the teeth in the wheels.  When you show this to your students, just let them know ahead of time that it is an older black and white video and that there is a cheesy guy in a wig pretending to be Eli Whitney.

(Side note:  I have often found that students tend to dismiss something they see as old or in black and white IF they haven’t been prepped for it.  Before I show an older video, I always explain that the video explains or illustrates something so much better than other videos that it still has relevance and is worth showing.  Once I acknowledge any obviously cheesy moments or outdated phrases or clothing, it takes away much of the novelty of it, and the students can move past it and just absorb what the video is showing.)


Another “decent” video (although NOT the History Channel’s best production) is this one.  You may want to use this in between your discussion of the cotton gin and interchangeable parts.

Now, here’s what I’m REALLY proud of!  I decided that I wanted to have my students make some kind of crafty-type thing to help them remember how the cotton gin worked.  So I enlarged and printed the picture below on cardstock (you could use regular paper too if you had to).

I then gave my students some glue, cotton balls, and unpopped popcorn kernels (to represent cotton seeds).  They had to glue the stuff on the diagram in such a way as to represent what the cotton gin did.  Use liquid glue if you do this.  None of this will stick if you use a glue stick.  Also, tell your students to tear apart the cotton balls into smaller chunks.  The balls will last longer, and it just looks better.


Now, this will seriously take less than 5 minutes, so why should you do it?  Because sometimes your students need to do something hands-on.  Because sometimes your students need to do something other than take notes.  Because sometimes you need to do something different.  And if you think this craft may be too “childish” for your kids, I think you underestimate how refreshing a change of pace is when you are sitting in class and listening to people talk all day long.  Did I mention that it would be GREAT reinforcement for tactile learners…or really anyone?

If this idea is too simple for your “high-minded classroom ways,” (haha) try this:  Divide your students into small groups and give them a poster board, cotton balls, popcorn, and glue and say…”Make me a diagram of a cotton gin.” or “Make a poster demonstrating how a cotton gin works.”

Before you get your students pasting and crafting, you need to reinforce the impact of the cotton gin.  It is pointless for your students to know how the cotton gin works if they don’t know the impact it had on the South (and really the world).  I used a table to show the students the difference the cotton gin made.  Have them cut out each box and put it in the correct spot in the chart.  (See link at the bottom of the article.)

One thing that you need to discuss when covering the effects of the cotton gin is the positive and negative effects of the invention.  Have a brief discussion about the good and bad that has resulted from various inventions (start off discussing the cell phone).  Have students do some deep thinking about consequences and cause and effect (maybe a short free-write).  Many people talk about the fact that the cotton gin led to an increase in slavery but often overlook the fact that the cotton gin also provided a way for poor farmers living in the South (who didn’t own slaves) to better support their family.  Also, cotton provided the raw materials necessary for textile mills to expand which provided more jobs.

Once you cover the cotton gin and move on to interchangeable parts, there’s more fun stuff to do.  After explaining interchangeable parts and their importance, may sure you show them that they are surrounded by hundreds of examples of them.  You can use your board markers as a handy example.  If you lose the top to one, you can replace it with another.

Have your students go on a scavenger hunt around the room for examples of interchangeable parts.  You can divide them into groups and have them race.  Whoever gets done first is the winner and gets candy or extra points on a quiz.  I would make them find about 30 different examples within the classroom.  Or, you could also set a timer and see which group can come up with the most examples of items with interchangeable parts in the time allotted.  Pretty much anything with a screw has interchangeable parts.  In fact, a screw is an interchangeable part!  Students are probably wearing examples of items with interchangeable parts as well:  watches, zippers, buttons, earrings, etc.

A word of warning, apparently there is a theory out there called the Mandela effect, where a group of people collectively remembers something wrong.  There’s a bunch of articles devoted to this.  Well, some crazy people claim that Eli Whitney was black and that he invented the cotton gin to reduce the work of slaves.  It’s a crazy Internet theory with no reliable evidence, but there’s always that ONE kid in class who’s read stuff like that and brings it up.  Haha!  The point is, the cotton gin changed the course of American history, regardless of the physical characteristics of the inventor!

Here’s a link to my cotton gin table.  It’s pretty simple.  You can add more stuff to it if you would like (specific statistics about cotton production and slavery).  The fonts may look weird if you don’t have them on your computer.


Featured image courtesy of Dsdugan – Own work, CC0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=58026846

Tips for Remembering Constitutional Amendments

Do you know about ALL of the amendments to the Constitution?  Can you tell me what each one changed or added to the Constitution?  I can’t (gasp).  I’m betting your students can’t either (and probably you neither, unless you’ve been teaching Civics for a while).  Well, I found this video that gives some quick pneumonic devices to help you remember some of the more important amendments.  You don’t necessarily need to show this to your students, but I would watch it and go over these tricks with your students (and use them yourself).  The tip about the Reconstruction amendments is pretty helpful.

The one that he didn’t cover, which I think is super-important, is the 19th amendment, which gave women the right to vote.  I actually scoured the internet (ok, I looked for 10 minutes) to see if anyone else had tips for remembering the 19th, and I couldn’t find anything useful!  I used to tell my students to imagine a bunch of women standing in line to vote wearing t-shirts that say “19” or imagine a bunch of girls jumping up and down squealing, “I’m 19!”  You know, that would be a good extra credit assignment; have students come up with easy and creative ways to remember the some of the important amendments.

Do you have any neat ways to remember amendments?  Leave them in the comments below!

Create a Twitter Page for a Historical Figure

Can you imagine what it would be like if John Wilkes Booth had a Twitter page?  Or Adolf Hitler?  What would they say?  Well, now your students can have fun figuring out what these (and many more) historical figures would say on social media.  I have finished my most recent curriculum project for US History, and I’m so excited to finally put it in my Teachers Pay Teachers store!

My new product “Create a Twitter Page for a Historical Figure” includes:

  • A blank printable Twitter template for students to fill in
  • A digital Twitter template for students to complete
  • 46 assignments covering various historical figures from the colonies to Ronald Reagan
  • Detailed student and teacher instructions
  • Optional rubric
  • PowerPoint slides to display the assignment on the board
  • An example of a filled in template

In each Twitter assignment, students will have to create the following for their historical figure:

  • Basic biographical information
  • A unique, creative username
  • Up to 6 historically relevant tweets
  • Up to 3 suggestions as to who they should follow on Twitter (ties to other figures of the time period)
  • Up to 7 trends (historical relevance)
  • A small profile picture
  • A header image

Wouldn’t your students rather do something like this than complete a worksheet?  Click here to purchase or find out more!  You get 46 assignments for less than $0.18 each!  That’s 46 new ideas for your US History class!  You can also use the template for other classes, like World History.  Check it out!

Help Students Memorize the Preamble to the Constitution

I am helping my daughter memorize the Preamble to the Constitution.  I think it is imperative that ALL citizens of this country memorize at least the introduction to our governing document.  The Preamble is a good reminder of why this country was founded and what the purpose of our government truly is.  I do NOT like the idea of making my students memorize a lot of random dates, but I always made my students memorize (and be able to explain) two things every year in US History:  the Preamble to the US Constitution and the first line of the second paragraph of the Declaration of Independence (“We hold these truths…Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.”).  I did not, however, just give the text to my students and say, “Memorize this.”  We worked for a few minutes in class every day for about a week, and then students had to recite it.

I wrote the various words and/or phrases of the selected text on various pieces of construction paper.  I divided the text up into bits that equaled the amount of students in my largest class.  So if my largest class had 28 students, I divided the text up into 28 chunks.  This way, each student had a piece.  In the smaller classes, I just gave a few students 2 chunks if there were extra pieces.  Then I did this:

  • Time the students on how quickly they can line up so that the words of the Preamble were in the correct order.
  • Read the words of the Preamble as a class.
  • Mix up the words and do it again, trying to beat the previous time.  If the students are successful, they get a reward (like candy or a few free minutes at the end of class).
  • Repeat this exercise each day until you are confident that most students know it.
  • After the second day, I don’t allow students to talk when they are moving around with their pieces.  It makes things a little harder (and more interesting).

The day of the unit test, students had to come up and say the Preamble to me after they took their test.  I didn’t make students say it in front of the class, because I had some students that knew it but just couldn’t handle saying it in front of others.  The recitation was worth 100 points.  I allowed the students to start over as many times as they needed, but I subtracted 5 points for every prompt required or word missed when they said it the final time.  One thing I did notice was that many students seemed very nervous having to come up and say it to me.  I think it’s intimidating for some students to have a teacher’s undivided attention while reciting something from memory, so be sure to smile and be encouraging.

When learning the Preamble, you can also show the the School House Rock video.  It’s older, but the song is very catchy.  (Just be aware that they leave out “of the United States” at the beginning.)

I also recently found this rap.  The video quality is not very good, but the rap is pretty catchy.  You could try to recreate it for your students or let them watch it and perform along with it.  (You’ll have to read your students’ attitudes and whether they will be willing to do this one or not.)

I also found this free memorization sheet that would great to use if needed.

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