Cotton is grown in the southern portions of the United States. Many children have not had the opportunity to see a real cotton plant. The lesson below will concentrate on creating the structural parts of a cotton plant and exploring the importance of cotton. This lesson plan is designed for elementary students but can be adapted for Pre-K children.

Objective: In this lesson children will create and explore the growing cycle of a cotton plant. Children will investigate how the cotton plant changes over time to produce the cotton fibers that are used in clothing.

FROM FARM to CLOTHING:  The Growing Cycle of a Cotton Plant

Materials Needed:

Background Information
Cotton is planted in rows during the spring. In approximately two months, flowers emerge from the buds on the cotton plant. After the flowers die, they leave pods called bolls. When the bolls ripen and open, the fluffy cotton fibers can be seen on the mature cotton plant. Cotton is then harvested, cleaned, and the fibers are sent to manufacturers to be sewn into clothing. Cotton is used more than any other fiber in the world. Cotton fibers are sewn into many items from towels to T-Shirts.

Read the book, From Cotton to T-Shirt by Robin Nelson to all of the children. It is a fascinating book that guides children through the steps from cotton to manufacturing.
Cotton Growing Cycle
Creating the Wikki Stix Cotton Growing Cycle
Set out the various colors of Wikki Stix and scissors on a table as an invitation for the children to create. Print the life cycle templates (separate download) for each of the children and review the cotton growing cycle from seed planted in the soil to the mature cotton plant. Note: make a model of the growing cycle in advance of the lesson for the children to view.

Order of the Cotton Life Cyle:

  • Seed – brown Wikki Stix
  • Bud – brown and green Wikki Stix
  • Flower – white or white/pink Wikki Stix
  • Cotton Boll – black and brown Wikki Stix

Mature Cotton Plant – black/brown/white Wikki Stix
To create each of the structural parts of the cotton plant, the children can use the printable templates if desired. Invite the children to outline each cotton part with Wikki Stix. The Wikki Stix outlines will lift from the paper once the children are finished creating. Note: to re-use the templates, laminate the paper before outlining the cotton parts with Wikki Stix.
Younger children may wish to only trace the template with Wikki Stix; older children may want to fill in the template with Wikki Stix or create more complex designs (see photo above). By using Wikki Stix to create the cotton parts, students will gain fine motor control and, generally, enhance the learning process.

To create the mature cotton plant:
Invite the children to use white Wikki Stix to create 4 round “cotton” balls. The cotton boll opens to expose the white cotton inside as the plant matures. The children can create black/brown boll parts and place them under the created white Wikki Stix “cotton” balls.
Place the create cotton on a black plant stem for the final phase of the cotton growing cycle.
Remind the children that a growing cycle repeats itself. The cotton seeds fall (or are dispersed by animals or humans) and the cycle begins anew.

Cotton Growing Cycle Model
Invite the students to demonstrate how the Wikki Stix created model shows the cotton growing cycle.
The children can attach all of the created structural parts of the cotton growing cycle to additional strands of Wikki Stix. No glue or tape will be necessary. The children can arrange the growing cycle in a circle (as in the photo above) or place the cotton parts in a line to show the progression from seed->leaf->bud->flower->boll-> to mature cotton plant. Print the Cotton Growing Cycle Labels (separate download), have the children cut out the labels, and stick the labels to each of the created structural parts.

Extension Activities:

  • Invite the children to research the states that grow cotton. Do they live in a state that produces cotton or have a relative that does?
  • Have the children looks at the tags on clothing. Is the item made with cotton? Most items the children wear will be made with cotton (along with other fibers).