The Origins of Silk and How It's Made
Students learn the steps involved in making silk and why it was such a prized fabric.
- Grades: 1–2, 3–5
- Unit Plan:
About this book
Students will learn the steps in the silk-making process. They will arrange sequencing cards to illustrate the steps. Later, students will unravel a silkworm’s cocoon.
- Listen to and discuss The Empress and the Silkworm by Lily Toy Hong
- Color, cut out, and arrange Silkworm Sequencing Cards
- Unravel a silkworm cocoon
- The Empress and the Silkworm by Lily Toy Hong
- Silkworm Sequencing Cards (PDF)
- Glue sticks
- Colored construction paper (12- by 18-inch), one sheet per student
- Silkworm cocoons (available at a biological supply house)
- A pot of very hot water
Set Up and Prepare
- Make a class set of the Silkworm Sequencing Cards (PDF).
- Practice unraveling a silkworm cocoon at home.
Step 1: Read aloud and discuss the legend The Empress and the Silkworm by Lily Toy Hong. Be sure to read the author’s note in the back.
Step 1: Review The Empress and the Silkworm.
Step 2: Distribute the Silkworm Sequencing Cards (PDF), scissors, glue, and construction paper to the class. Then ask students to color, cut out, and glue the cards in the correct sequence onto the construction paper.
Note: Depending on how long this takes, you may want to divide the activity into two days.
Step 1: Divide the class into pairs and explain that today, they will make silk thread from cocoons. Demonstrate how to soak a cocoon in hot water and then unravel it onto a pencil.
Step 2: Now distribute a cocoon to each pair of students, and a pencil on which to wind the filament. Toothpicks may help them as they begin. Before unraveling, the cocoon should be soaked in very hot water for a few minutes.
Step 3: Ask students what they notice before, during, and after they unravel the cocoon.
Step 4: After students have unwound the silk filament, take three or four cocoons and demonstrate how several filaments are twisted together to make silk thread.
Step 5: Discuss why and how silk was kept a secret.
Step 6: Discuss the fact that silk making was hard work and as a result, silk was a highly prized fabric.
Supporting All Learners
There are second graders who have difficulty with sequencing and will need help sorting and arranging their cards. Circulate and check the arrangement of cards for everyone before they use glue.
There are so many wonderful books about China. I have listed several in the booklist but here are a few additional books you may want to read aloud or have available for students to read:
- A is for Asia by Cynthia Chin Lee
- China ABCs by Holly Schroeder
- The Emperor and the Kite by Jane Yolen
- Gung Hay Fat Choy by June Behrens
- The Khan’s Daughter by Lawrence Yep
- The Last Dragon by Susan Miho Soentpiet
- Monkey King by Ed Young
- Go, an ancient Chinese game of strategy sort of like chess, and Dominoes can be taught and played at home.
- If there is a Chinatown in your area, encourage families to visit.
- Children arrange sequencing cards and glue them to construction paper. Working with a partner, they unravel a silkworm cocoon.
- Paying attention to students while they worked at their seats?
- Clearing up any misunderstandings about sequencing?
- Encouraging partners to help one another?
- Taking time to summarize what was learned?
- Arrange sequencing cards in correct order?
- Observe their cocoon closely?
- Discuss what he/she observed?
- Work cooperatively with partner?
- Work independently while unraveling silkworm cocoon?