Cotton Gin Lesson Plan

Instructor: Sharon Linde

Sharon has a Masters of Science in Mathematics

Teach your students about the cotton gin with this interactive lesson plan. Students will watch a video explaining what the cotton gin was, the importance of the cotton gin and its impact on slavery. They'll also participate in a hands-on activity to make learning stick.

Learning Objectives

After this lesson, students will be able to:

  • explain what the cotton gin was and its importance
  • discuss the impact of the cotton gin on slavery and commerce


1 to 1.5 hours


  • Raw cotton (can be purchased online) or regular cotton made to look raw by mixing in seeds, twigs and other objects from nature
  • Access to the internet
  • Primary and secondary sources about the process of cleaning cotton

Key Vocabulary

  • Cotton gin
  • Eli Whitney
  • 'Cotton is King'
  • 'Cotton King'

Curriculum Standards

  • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.8.1

Engage effectively in a range of collaborative discussions (one-on-one, in groups, and teacher-led) with diverse partners on grade 8 topics, texts, and issues, building on others' ideas and expressing their own clearly.

  • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.6-8.3

Identify key steps in a text's description of a process related to history/social studies (e.g., how a bill becomes law, how interest rates are raised or lowered).

  • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.6-8.4

Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in a text, including vocabulary specific to domains related to history/social studies.

  • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.6-8.1

Cite specific textual evidence to support analysis of primary and secondary sources.


  • Divide students into small groups of 4-5. Give each group raw cotton and instructions on how to clean it (found with an internet search) and have them estimate how much time they think it would take to finish the process. Discuss students' predictions.
  • Start the video lesson The Cotton Gin: Definition, History & Impact.
  • Pause at 0:56 and have students compare their predictions with the information from the lesson. Discuss:
    • Why was the cotton gin an important invention?
    • What impact do you think the cotton gin had on slavery and cotton production?
  • Resume the lesson and pause again at 1:55. Ask:
    • Why didn't Eli Whitney profit from his invention?
    • What other inventions did Whitney have?
  • Resume the lesson and pause at 3:17. Have students discuss these questions with a partner, then talk about as a whole group:
    • What impact did the cotton gin have on production?
    • How much cotton was the South producing after the invention of the cotton gin?
    • Why did the invention of the cotton gin increase reliance on slave labor?
    • Why do most historians consider the cotton gin the leading cause of the civil war?
  • Play the 'Lesson Summary' and take the lesson quiz with students to check understanding.

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