Experiencing the Assembly Line
Step-by-step Instructions
1. Before class, review the intent of this activity. This activity is designed to have students experience the monotony and repetition of work on the assembly line. By assuming the roles of assembly line workers to repetitiously re-create one part of a drawing of a man, students will be better able to understand how the specialization of labor and the move to assembly line production impacted workers around the turn of the century. (Note: In this activity you will play the role of a factory manager and push students to work hard and quickly. It is critical that you have a cooperative learning environment in your classroom and a strong rapport with your students because they may feel vulnerable, uncertain, or upset by your behavior. Allow ample time to debrief the activity.)

2. Introduce the activity and have students draw a man. At the beginning of class, tell students that they will participate in an activity to learn about working conditions around the turn of the century. Give each student a blank sheet of unlined paper and explain that students are individual craftspersons who create paper dolls. Tell students that they will have five minutes to draw a picture of a full, frontal view of a man. Explain that after they have completed their drawings, the class will choose the best two drawings to use in the next part of the activity. Tell students to create the best, most detailed drawings they can in the allotted time.

3. Have students choose the best drawing and arrange the classroom. Once students have completed their drawings, randomly divide the class into two groups. Have students in each group share their drawings and choose the best one. Then, have students move their desks into two rows side by side, with each desk touching the desks both in front and behind it. Have each student sit in one of the desks.

4. Project a transparency of Student Information A, explain the activity, and assign students parts to draw. When students are seated, tell them that they are now going to assume the roles of assembly line workers to manufacture high-quality paper dolls. Explain that each group will reproduce the drawing they have chosen as many times as possible in a 30-minute time period. To do so, each student will specialize in one part of the drawing. Tell students that the group that creates the most complete, high-quality drawings will receive bonus points. Have students number off. Make Student Information A: Assembly Line Organization into an overhead transparency, and project and review the transparency. Make sure all group members clearly understand which part of the man they have to draw. Have the members of each group pass around the picture they will reproduce so students know exactly what they are going to draw. If the part they are supposed to draw is not on the picture, have students add it as the picture is passed around. Then post the pictures on the wall at the end of each line. Tell students that during production there will be no talking, laughing, or horseplay.

(Option: You may want to set up the classroom to more closely replicate assembly line conditions. To do so, after students have set up the desks in rows, have them go outside the classroom. Then, do one or all of the following: alter the temperature in the room by turning up the heat or turning on space heaters; turn off all of the lights and use an extension cord to hang a single lightbulb or lamp from the ceiling; play a loud recording of factory noise; put on a construction hat labeled "boss" to simulate your role as the manager of the assembly line. Then have students reenter the room and sit in the desks.)

5. Assume the role of factory manager, pass out paper, and tell students to begin production. Once students understand the directions, tell them that you are the factory manager and quality control supervisor. Give each Worker One 150 to 200 sheets of blank paper, and have students begin working. As students work, push them to speed up, to concentrate, and to work harder by saying things like, "Keep production moving! Don’t slow down! Our competitors will catch up to us!" Check completed drawings to make sure they are of high quality, and throw out any pictures that don’t measure up. Carefully monitor students’ work and punish those who misbehave by destroying finished products and reprimanding them: "No talking! Keep your attention on your work. Don’t waste time laughing." Expect some students to be frustrated by the pace and repetitiveness of the work. Some may even refuse to work or try to organize the other workers to "strike." You may want to "fire" unproductive workers and malcontents. Alternatively, you may want to "pay" students for their work on the assembly line by telling students that their grade for the activity is based on their productivity.

6. Have students stop working and count the finished products. After 30 minutes, have students stop working. Have a student from each group count the number of finished products, and award points (optional) to the winning group. Then have students clean up the classroom and return the desks to their ordinary configuration.

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