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LESSON PLAN in Observations, Physical Properties, Interdisciplinary. Last updated October 12, 2022.


Summary

In this lesson, students will explore the characteristics of different types of natural and synthetic fabrics. Students will learn how synthetic fabrics are made and review the chemical formulas for various fabrics. Finally, students will demonstrate their knowledge by holding a chemistry fashion show.

Grade Level

Middle School

NGSS Alignment

This lesson will help prepare your students to meet the performance expectations in the following standards:

  • MS-PS1-3: Gather and make sense of information to describe that synthetic materials come from natural resources and impact society.
  • Scientific and Engineering Practices:
    • Constructing Explanations and Designing Solutions
    • Obtaining, Evaluating, and Communicating Information

Objectives

By the end of this lesson, students should be able to:

  • Name at least five different types of fibers.
  • Explain the differences between natural and synthetic fibers.
  • Describe how synthetic fibers are formed.
  • Identify at least three natural resources used to create fabrics.

Chemistry Topics

This lesson supports students’ understanding of:

  • Observations
  • Physical Properties
  • Interdisciplinary

Time

Teacher Preparation: 15 minutes to prepare fabric samples
Lesson: ~200 minutes (the lesson is divided into five parts, each designed for a 40-minute meeting)

Materials

  • Sets of small fabric squares for small groups of students to observe: Silk, wool, linen, spandex, nylon, cotton, etc.
    • One set per group
    • Squares should be the same size and same color, if possible
    • A variety of fabrics can be used
    • Try to ensure that some of the fabric squares are natural and some are synthetic
    • Samples could be made from old clothing or teachers could request samples from a local fabric store
    • *Yarn made from different fibers could be used in place of fabric squares

Safety

  • No specific safety precautions need to be observed in this lesson.

Teacher Notes

  • This lesson was created as part of the 2022 National Chemistry Week lesson plan contest: Fabulous Fibers: The Chemistry of Fabrics

Teacher Preparation:

  • If teachers use fabric swatches for the hands-on portion of the lesson, it might be helpful to ensure that the fabrics are all the same color and size.
  • If teachers are unable to obtain swatches of fabric, you could use yarn or cards that have the fabric characteristics written on them with a picture of the fabric.
  • As an extension, students could sew an item out of their selected fabric.

Classroom Management Tips: 

  • The small group portions of the lesson can be completed as a whole class if needed.
  • Instead of having students give live presentations on presentation day, groups could record their presentations on Flip or another video platform, and the teacher could require students to view a specific number of presentations or the recorded presentations could be viewed by the class.

Additional Resources:

  • Sewport.com contains helpful information about how different types of fibers and fabrics are made.
  • COATS, Know About Textile Fibres, provides an extensive list of fibers, their individual properties, their uses, and comparisons for how they react in different environments. This page may be useful to students as they research their assigned fibers.
  • The Textiles Room includes additional helpful information about a variety of fibers.
  • Textile Learner provides a graphic organizer to assist in classifying different types of fibers.

Lesson Overview:

Part 1: Identifying Fibers

  • Begin the lesson by asking students to individually jot down the names of at least three different types of materials that fabrics can be made from (Question 1 on the student handout). It may be helpful to explain that cotton is an example of a material used to make fabric.
  • Assign the students a partner or small group and ask them to share their brainstorming lists to create a larger list.
  • After a few minutes, work together as a class to develop a list of fibers used to make fabrics. Students may be familiar with fabric materials such as cotton, wool, linen, rayon, spandex, and silk.
  • Once the class has generated a list, explain to the students that they will make some hands-on observations of the fabrics on the list.
  • Place the students in small groups (3 or 4 students) and give each group labeled fabric swatches. The swatches should be clearly labeled so the students know which type of fiber they are working with.
  • Explain that the students should observe each swatch and make notes about what they observe. For instance, students could note the texture, elasticity, thickness, luster, etc. of the swatch. (A data table is provided for this purpose on the student handout.)
  • When the groups have made their observations, explain that some fabric fibers are found in nature while others are manmade.
  • As a class, create a large chart, classifying the various types of fabrics as either natural or manmade. Ask the students to explain why they think each fabric should be placed in a particular category. For instance, if students want to place wool in the natural category, ask them why they think it should go there. There may be fibers that the students are unsure of how to properly categorize, which is okay. This provides them with an opportunity to use their observations to make inferences. This chart should be displayed for the entire class to access, for example, written on the board or chart paper, so students can refer back to it, if needed.
  • After the natural vs. synthetic chart has been completed, explain to the students that they will conduct online research to see if their chart is correct (see student handout). Assign each group a fiber to research to verify if it is natural or synthetic. This ACS document Fabrics from the Land and the Lab can also be used to assist students in fiber classification.
  • When students have had time to research, work together as a class to verify the placement of the fibers on the chart.

Part 2: Exploring Natural Fibers

  • Explain to students that you will now examine the fibers categorized as “natural” in the chart from the previous part of the lesson.
  • Place the students into small groups (four students per group is ideal). Each student in the group will be responsible for learning about one of the four fibers (wool, silk, cotton, linen). Then each student will explain what they learned to the rest of the group. Alternatively, the teacher can explore each of the fibers together as a class. Students may find resources on their own, or the teacher may utilize the written and video sources below:
  • After students have had a chance to share information about their assigned fiber, ask the groups to explain the similarities in the processes they learned about. For instance, students should be able to explain that the fiber begins as a raw material, is processed to separate the fiber from other materials, and is drawn into uniform strings.
  • After students have learned more about how natural fibers are turned into garments, ask them to explain how the process of making synthetic fibers might compare to the processes they learned about.

Part 3: Exploring Synthetic Fibers

  • Begin by reviewing the differences between natural and synthetic fibers.
  • Explain that students will be investigating the fibers classified as “synthetic” from the original class chart.
  • Again, place the students into small groups (four students per group is ideal). Each student in the group will be responsible for learning about one of the four fibers (spandex, nylon, polyester, acrylic). Then each student will explain what they learned to the rest of the group. Alternately, the teacher can explore each of the fibers together as a class. Students may find resources on their own, or the teacher may utilize the written and video sources below:
  • After students have had a chance to share information about their assigned fiber, ask the groups to explain the similarities in the processes they learned about. For instance, students should be able to explain that the fiber begins as a raw material, is processed to separate the fiber from other materials, and is drawn into uniform strings.
  • To wrap up the lesson for the day, the teacher will ask students to compare natural and synthetic fibers. This Synthetic Fibers video can be used as a review. The teacher will also ask students to explain how the use of synthetic fibers has impacted society.

Part 4: Fashionable Chemistry

  • Ask students to write a one-sentence summary of something they have learned so far about fibers and fabrics (space provided on student handout). Allow time for volunteers to share their responses.
  • Explain that the class will be planning a chemistry fashion show to demonstrate the information they learned about fibers.
  • Divide the students into small groups of 3-5. Assign each group a synthetic fiber or allow the groups to select a synthetic fiber they would like to explore.
    1. Review the fashion show guidelines with the students.
      1. Groups will gather information on their assigned fiber. This information will include
      2. The name of the fiber.
      3. The resources that are used to make the fabric.
      4. The chemical formula for the fiber.
      5. A general description of at least two characteristics of the fiber.
      6. At least two examples of products the fibers are used to make.
      7. At least two benefits of the fiber.
      8. At least two drawbacks of the fiber.
    2. Once groups have completed background research on the fiber, they will create a visual representation for the class fashion show. The visual representation should include:
      1. The name of the fiber.
      2. The resources that are used to make the fabric.
      3. The chemical formula for the fiber.
      4. A general description of at least two characteristics of the fiber.
      5. At least two examples of products the fibers are used to make.
      6. At least two benefits of the fiber.
      7. At least two drawbacks of the fiber.
      8. Describe an object made from the fiber. The object can be a picture, or students can bring or create an object out of the assigned fabric.

Day 5: Chemistry Fashion Show

  • Groups will present the information they researched about their fabric. Each group member should have an opportunity to address one of the aspects researched by the group. During the presentations, students should explain:
    1. The name of the fiber.
    2. The resources that are used to make the fabric.
    3. The chemical formula for the fiber.
    4. A general description of at least two characteristics of the fiber.
    5. At least two examples of products the fibers are used to make.
    6. At least two benefits of the fiber.
    7. At least two drawbacks of the fiber.
    8. Describe an object made from the fiber. The object can be a picture, or students can bring or create an object out of the assigned fabric

For the Student

Part 1: Identifying Fibers

There are many different types of fibers. You will examine and compare a selection of fabrics in this first part of the lesson.

  1. List three different types of fibers that fabrics can be made from.
  2. Complete the chart below for the fabric swatches your group received. Aim to record 4 characteristics for each fabric.

Fabric name
Characteristics of the Fabric
  1. Record the name of the fiber your group was assigned to research:
  2. Is the fiber natural or man-made?

Part 2: Exploring Natural Fibers

This section is focused on natural fibers. Each person in your group should research one of the fibers listed below and then share the information with the rest of the group. Everyone in the group will complete the chart.

Fiber Type
Identify the Natural Resource that the fiber comes from:
How is the natural resource processed into thread?
Wool
Silk
Cotton
Linen
  1. What similarities did you notice as the members of your group explained how each of the fibers are turned into thread?
  2. Do you think the process for making synthetic fibers is similar? Why or why not?

Part 3: Exploring Synthetic Fibers

This section is focused on synthetic fibers. Each person in your group should research one of the fibers listed below and then share the information with the rest of the group. Everyone in the group will complete the chart.

Fiber Type
Identify the Resources used to make the fiber:
How is the synthetic fiber processed into thread?
Spandex
Nylon
Polyester
Acrylic
  1. What similarities did you notice as the members of your group explained how each of the fibers are turned into thread?
  2. How has the use of synthetic fibers impacted society? List at least one benefit and one drawback.

Part 4: Fashionable Chemistry

  1. Write a one-sentence summary of what you have learned so far about fibers and fabrics:

Task

Next, you will begin preparing for a chemistry fashion show. Your group will be responsible for selecting a fabric, researching it, and presenting your new understandings to the rest of the class in the form of a digital fashion show entry.

Research

To begin, find the following background information about your fiber:

  1. The name of the fiber.
  2. The resources that are used to make the fabric.
  3. The chemical formula for the fiber.
  4. A general description and at least two characteristics of the fiber.
  5. At least two examples of products the fibers are used to make.
  6. At least two benefits of the fiber.
  7. At least two drawbacks of the fiber.

Visual

After you have completed the research portion, create a visual representation for the class fashion show. Your visual representation can be made using technology (Prezi, Google Slides, etc.) or could be a poster.

The visual representation should include:

  1. The name of the fiber.
  2. The resources that are used to make the fabric.
  3. The chemical formula for the fiber.
  4. A general description and at least two characteristics of the fiber.
  5. At least two examples of products the fibers are used to make.
  6. At least two benefits of the fiber.
  7. At least two drawbacks of the fiber.
  8. An object made from the fiber. The object can be a picture, or you can bring/create a design out of the assigned fabric.

Presentation

On presentation day, your group will describe your visual representation to the class. Your group should address each of the bullet points below and everyone in your group should have a speaking role.

  1. The name of the fiber.
  2. The resources that are used to make the fabric.
  3. The chemical formula for the fiber.
  4. A general description and at least two characteristics of the fiber.
  5. At least two examples of products the fibers are used to make.
  6. At least two benefits of the fiber.
  7. At least two drawbacks of the fiber.
  8. Describe an object made from the fiber. The object can be a picture, or you can bring/create a design out of the assigned fabric.