Assembly Line Simulation – A History Lab

I’m teaching a unit on Industrialization and Immigration, and I was searching for an experiential exercise for my students.

I found a simulation for making cars on an assembly line online (the original lesson is bookmarked at the bottom of this post), and set about trying to make it work for my fifth graders.

After reading through the simulation and trying it out for myself, this is how it worked for me:

1) I assumed the role of the plant owner. I decided what the finished product would look like, and all “finished” automobiles had to pass my personal inspection.

2) I broke the jobs down to what could be completed in 1 minute. It would take 11 students to run the assembly line using my job set.

3) I placed 11 desks side by side to create the assembly line. I used perforated paper (the stuff that ran through the old dot matrix printers) to create the conveyor belt. (You could use butcher block, but after having done this once – I will be using fabric next year.) Here is a picture of what it looked like:

4) I typed up directions for each line worker in powerpoint, then printed the slides two to a page and attached the directions for each line worker to their desk.

Assembly Line Simulation

5) To assign parts, I had the students draw randomly from a container. I printed the PowerPoint six slides to a page, cut them out and put them in a container. I loved this – random is random and this minimized complaints. They could also easily match the slide they drew to the slide on their desk.

Assembly Line Simulation Drawing Slips

6) One student was the “line mechanic” and that job was to move the conveyor belt every minute.

7) All other students were inspectors. Their job was to make sure the line workers were doing their jobs correctly, to bring materials as needed, and to keep the line clear. They had the power to fire a worker and take their place. At the halfway point, all inspectors and the line mechanic switched places with people on the line. We called it “second shift”.

In a sixty minute period, this allowed me to take 10-15 minutes to introduce and explain the activity, 25 minutes for the actual simulation, and 15-20 to debrief and have the students write their reflection. If you have access to Brainpop, there is one on Assembly Lines that I used to introduce. I also showed them this clip from I Love Lucy as part of the wrap-up:

It worked terrifically. Students experienced the frustration of line failure, little training to do the work, and the boredom of doing the same task over and over – all in all, a successful learning experience!

This is the original lesson I modified – thank you for posting it!

Teacher Handouts: There is a detailed description of the lesson written as a pdf.
Student Handouts: Page through to “Student Handout 3” for the car pieces and student directions.


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