Division of Labor and the Future of Work

division of labor middle school productivity

The aim of this game is to "build" a production chain with sounds and actions. Each student provides a single step in the production chain. This lesson plan includes material appropriate for online teaching. 

Need Resources for Online Teaching?

This lesson plan can be used, excluding the in-person craft-building activity, for teaching online. The improv activity, in particular, would be fun to do using Zoom or another online meeting platform.

Check out our tips for online teaching, including tips for online text-based discussion that could be done with the woollen coat handout (in Materials, below), here.

Online Teaching: Division of Labor and the Future of Work slide deck
Online Teaching: Division of Labor and the Future of Work handout

Division of Labor and the Future of Work

Grades: 7th, 8th, 9th
Length: 1 hour


This lesson goes over the importance of exchange, which is only possible when goods are the property of the individuals exchanging them. Division of labor allows for specialization, and this is possible because of the Law of Comparative Advantage and through market actors' analysis of opportunity costs. At the end of the lesson, students will understand that individuals engage in trade and specialization because they recognize the benefits earned from truck, barter, and exchange.


  • Understand how society arises through exchange and trade.
  • Relate division of labor with specialization.



Display quotes:

Before class starts
“It is the great multiplication of the productions of all the different arts, in consequence of the division of labour, which occasions, in a well-governed society, that universal opulence which extends itself to the lowest ranks of the people.”
Adam Smith, The Wealth Of Nations, Book I, Chapter I, p. 22, para. 10.

“Without the assistance and co-operation of many thousands, the very meanest person in a civilized country could not be provided, even according to, what we very falsely imagine, the easy and simple manner in which he is commonly accommodated.”
Adam Smith, The Wealth Of Nations, Book I, Chapter I, p. 23, para. 11.

Opening, Improv game:

10 minutes
The aim of this game is to "build" a production chain with sounds and actions. Each student provides a single step in the production chain. This activity is done by the class as a whole.

The included slide deck asks students to imagine the production of a wool coat, as Adam Smith described in Wealth of Nations. This can be paired with the Woollen Coat handout (both the deck and the handout can be found in Materials). However, you may choose to ask your students what they'd like to produce and come up with that production line instead.

Each person will have to act out, with motions and sounds, one part in the production line for the coat. Students may work together to help each other come up with the steps. A student acts out what they believe to be the first step in production, and others have to follow with additional steps.

For example, if students were producing a pencil, the first student could stand up and act as if he were cutting a tree, making a “chop” sound. The next student could stand up and pick up the tree that we just cut and put it on a truck, making a sound to accompany this motion. The next student can drive the truck. The next student can begin to get the graphite, etc.

After the chain is done, the students should act out the production line in order, showing each of the steps they've thought of.

Extension: Read through the Woollen Coat handout with your students. (Requires extra time.)
  1. How many different professions does Adam Smith mention that are involved in the production of a coat? 
  2. What other people might be involved? Explain how they're involved. 
  3. Does Adam Smith's example change how you think about the number of people who work to build things? 
  4. Choose a profession and talk about some product that seems unrelated but their work might contribute to its production.

Activity: Build a craft! 

15 minutes
Depending on time and the interest of the students, choose something that they can make in class at least twice. For example, they might complete a craft, build a box, or assemble a parfait. The slide deck included in the Materials section assumes that you will ask students to make a box.

Time the students as they complete the task for the first time.

In the second or third round, you may consider introducing tools, such as scissors or glue, to the activity that were not available in the first round.

Materials needed:
  • For the educator: A timer (without showing it to the students).
  • For the students: Instructions for building a box, such as those found at wikiHow and Instructables.
  • For the students: Crafting materials—paper, if building a box.
  • For student groups: Tally handouts (found in Materials). Each group needs to have at least two sheets.
  • For student groups (optional): Additional materials for later rounds.

Round 1: In groups of four people, individually create your own craft. Make as many of them as you can.

Round 2: Now organize yourselves within your group however you want to make as many crafts as you can.

Round 3 (Optional, requires more time): Allow the whole class to work together to build crafts.

Round 4 (Optional, requires more time): Allow the students to build crafts using tools.

Round 1:
Each person in the group does their own craft. The teacher allows five minutes for the first round. The students report out their production results on the Tally handouts.

Round 2:
Tell the students they may work together to build their crafts. Each person in the group may choose to specialize in a task. Some groups may not choose to specialize. The teacher can debrief this at the end of the activity. The teacher times them again, for another five minutes. Students should record their production on the Tally handout.

(If nobody chooses to specialize, ask them to try an additional round using division of labor.)

Round 3 (optional, adds time):
The class can arrange themselves however they see fit. They may decide to increase group sizes, decrease group sizes, allow some people to work individually, etc. The teacher will debrief to discuss these choices at the end of the activity. The teacher times them again, for another five minutes. Students should record their production in the Tally handout.

Round 4 (optional, adds time):
Return to an earlier arrangement (Groups of four, the whole class) and provide the students with additional tools for completing their task and time them once more. The teacher will debrief to discuss how tools changed the production arrangements. The teacher times them again, allowing another five minutes for production. Students should record their production on the Tally handout.

Debrief the activity: 
5 minutes 
  • What did you notice? 
  • When did your group produce more crafts?
  • What allowed you to produce more?
  • Did any group produce more crafts than the rest? What did they do differently?


8 minutes

Questions for discussion:
10 minutes
  • What is division of labor?
  • What are the advantages of the division of labor? Are there any disadvantages?
  • How does the division of labor impact our daily lives? 
  • How would our lives be without division of labor?

10 minutes
  • Explore the Pin Factory and learn more about Adam Smith  
  • Track down where your shirt or phone was made. Use the information provided on your clothing or phone and try to trace down where the different products used to produce it was made. 
  • Watch either or both of the following videos: 

Submit: Written assignment

  • How would you explain division of labor? How can you relate this concept to your daily life?
  • What surprised you about division of labor? What questions are you left with?
  • What did you find about your shirt or phone? What surprised you? About how many people participated in the production of it? How long do you think it would take you to produce something entirely by yourself?