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Inventions that Changed America (American History | Grade 6)

Subject: American History

Common Core Standard: CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.SL.6.1 Engage effectively in a range of collaborative discussions (one-on-one, in groups, and teacher-led) with diverse partners on grade 6 topics, texts, and issues, building on others' ideas and expressing their own clearly.

Lesson Objective: To understand cause and effect through the invention and ingenuity of the American people throughout history, mainly through the industrial revolution.


  • White Board
  • Dry Erase Marker
  • Textbooks
  • Computer


Stand in front of the classroom and prepare to lecture for the first half of the lesson.

Say: Throughout American History, there have been many great inventions that have greatly improved the economy, industry, and the daily lives of American citizens. Today we are going to be discussing the golden age of invention, the Industrial Revolution.


Ask: "Does anyone know what the industrial revolution is or when it took place?"

Allow for general feedback and brainstorming. After a short time, reign in the discussion.

Say: The industrial revolution began in the 1760s and lasted until the 1830s. It started in Great Britain, later spreading across Europe and into America. Farms were growing in acreage, and more people were moving to the cities to find work. This meant that urban areas were becoming larger and more densely populated than before.

With these new workers headed for the cities and advancements in technology such as the steam engine, railroad systems, communications, and factory equipment, life in America would never be the same.

During the 1760s, advancements were made to the original versions of the steam engine, making them more efficient and more versatile. This enabled coal miners to mine deeper, trains to move faster while carrying larger loads, boats to sail more quickly, and fueled factories nationwide.

Telegraph systems were being invented both in America and across the sea in Great Britain. As railroad systems advanced, communication systems needed to as well. Gone were the days of the Pony Express. Now, people needed to send messages quickly.

Automatic looms were another major invention of the day. No more did fabric need to be woven at home and yarn spun by hand. Now machines could do that, enabling people, usually women, to make the fabric quicker than ever before. The use of machines ensured that the quality of the material was consistent. Weaving, for instance, was now the same from the beginning of the cloth to the end.

However, as with much in history, greatness does come at a cost. As factories grew, women and children became a large part of the workforce. Small hands and small bodies could work in small spaces and maneuver around fast-moving equipment in ways men could not. 

Factory conditions soon deteriorated, overcrowding was common, long hours mandatory, and incredibly unsafe working conditions with no regulations were common. So common that workers were often locked into their workspaces, quite literally. Employers would bolt the doors from shift start to shift end. 

This practice culminated in 1911 at the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory in Manhattan. The fire was one of the deadliest industrial accidents in American history, totaling 146 deaths, primarily women and teen girls. This fire spurred worker safety laws and ended the practice of locked exits.

While advancements in technology and new inventions drove the American economy in the late 1700s and early 1800s, it was also a troubled time. Technological advancements bettered life for the American people but also came at a cost to the average worker. Together, we will look at some specific inventions throughout American history and discuss what good they have done for us and the times when those inventions may have had a negative side effect.

Do: Turn the board and draw a T Chart. On one side of the chart, list "Pro," and on the other, list "Con."

Open discussion to your students, allow them to brainstorm together, and choose an invention to discuss together. For this example, we will use the airplane.

Allow students to discuss why the airplane changed American culture and lifestyle. Acceptable answers may be: 

  • it made travel more accessible
  • faster shipping and importing of goods from farther distances
  • boosted the economy
  • gave our military an edge.

Once you are satisfied with the positive side of the list, move onto discussing what could be seen as negative impacts. Such answers may include:

  • weaponized aircraft leads to higher casualties in war
  • the environmental impact of aircraft is large
  • some students may even point out the evolutions of planes into other aircraft, such as drones. 

Both military and civilian-operated drones have caused issues and injuries in recent years.

Once the class T chart is finished, break students into groups of four to five students. Choose a list of inventions you find important for your curriculum or allow students to decide as a group what invention they would like to research. 

Allot each group an hour or so to use their textbooks or computers to read about inventions through the years and create their own T charts. Each group will list the positive and negative impacts the inventions have had throughout the years.


Say: America has been known for its innovation, creating and expanding on technology, leaving a lasting impression on the world. For each of these inventions, much good has come about. They have improved lives and perhaps even saved them by resourceful people looking to create something new. 

However, we must all realize that innovation comes at a price, and not every invention has improved society. We much take a look at innovations with a critical eye and ask ourselves as citizens, "Is this worth it?"

Today technological advancements are moving so quickly. We often have technology before we as a people fully understand the capabilities. It is our job to be both excited and critical of these advancements.

Written by Amber White,  Education World Contributor

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