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Lesson Plans

Busy Bees T-Shirt Company - Lesson Plan

January 15, 2014

Full Lesson


By Tina Yalen, NBCT, Early Adolescence: Social Studies/History

Repurposed by Katie Gould, PBS NewsHour Extra Teacher Resource Producer


In this simulation, students will authentically experience what it is like to work on an assembly line.  First, they will be asked to create their own T-shirt design for homework. The next day in class they will be part of an assembly line to mass produce T-shirts. Their reflection on the experience will help them to better understand the realities of one part of the economic/resource system that they are a part of as consumers.



Estimated Time

Homework time and one 90 minute class period

Grade Level

Middle school and high school


  • Lots of sharpened colored pencils (enough so each student can have three of the same color – they only need one color though.)
  • Several working pencil sharpeners
  • A stop watch or buzzer (needed to signal that students should pass on the T-shirt to the next person in the assembly line)
  • A list of students with their numbers
  • Predesigned blank T-shirt on 8.5” x 11”paper
  • 100 copies predesigned T-Shirt on 8.5” x 11” paper


For homework, have students create their own T-shirt design using the blank T-shirt on page 6 of this packet. The only requirement is that they use colored pencils and that they sign their shirt at the bottom like an artist would. Beyond that they can design the T-shirt however they want to. Encourage students to make a T-shirt that they are proud of and that reflects their own personality in some way.

Main Activity

Note: The desks should be arranged in one continuous line around the classroom – like an assembly line. Additionally you will need to assign each student a number, number the desks and prepare to have them sit where their number is as soon as they walk in. Assign one or two students to be the foremen/forewomen that will facilitate pencil sharpening and watching to make sure students are working hard. Finally each desk should have 3 sharpened colored pencils (of the same color) that the students will use to color in their part in the assembly line.

As students walk in, give them their number and have them go sit at their assembly line seat.

Explain to students that they are now part of the Busy Bees T-Shirt Company and are factory workers. Two students are foremen/forewomen and will be responsible for watching to make sure that the factory workers are producing as many T-shirts as possible. Students are assigned a number and will be coloring in that number only on the T-shirts as they go through the assembly line. They must listen for the bell/buzzer and pass on their T-shirt (regardless if they are finished or not) to the next person in the assembly line when they hear it. If their pencil breaks, they must raise their hand and ask the foremen/forewomen for help as they may not leave their seat for any reason.

Rules :
  • to color in their assigned section ONLY and in the time given
  • to ONLY use the colored pencils given to them
  • to pass the “t-shirt” to the right every time they hear the bell or buzzer
  • to raise their hand when they need a pencil sharpened – the only way they will be helped
  • to stay seated
  • to remember the objective: to do their part in producing as many quality “T-shirts” as possible during their “shift”

Pass out the predesigned T-shirt and have students get to work.  Have them work on producing T-shirts for 30 minutes and see how many they can make.

During this time there will be backups, boredom and stress. This is important for students to experience and will help them to better understand the difference between making artisanal products and factory products.

Debrief Activity

At the end of 30 minutes stop students and have the foremen/forewomen count and collect the T-shirts.

Have students take out their original T-shirt they made for homework to compare with the T-shirts they made as an assembly line. Give them 5-10 minutes to write answers for the debrief worksheet.

Notes to teacher
  1. You’ll need to decide on the time allotment before signaling the workers to pass the paper!  Start with 20 seconds. Observe – may be too much or too little, so adjust – remember, efficiency is the key.  You want them under some pressure to stay focused and not have down time!  If you feel like you can spare a student to be “the timer” – then do that – it will free you up to look at the homework designs and draw some conclusions, observe the assembly line operation, and take notes on what you see!
  2. Some workers will have smaller areas to color in, some can afford to be less precise because of the nature of the design, some have better small motor skills than others, some will care more and some will care less about the attention to detail.  All of this will affect the flow of the assembly line – but it needs to keep moving!!
  3. While they are working on this task, look through the finished mass-produced t-shirts…draw some of your own conclusions!  Be ready to help them compare/contrast the work…maybe put some of the homework designs up for display…and some of the assembly line designs up for display…it may help enrich the discussion!
  4. Make sure to handout the instructions and specific debrief to the foremen/forewomen.