Lesson 2: Combing and Spinning

This lesson explains the combing and spinning processes, while allowing pupils the opportunity to develop language skills and to conduct a scientific investigation.

Main Areas of Curricular Focus

Lesson Plan


Learning Intentions

Learning Intentions

Pupils will:

  • develop skills in creating similes with the stimulation of images from flax combing;
  • understand the processes of combing and spinning – the stages in the linen story before the thread can be woven into cloth; and
  • conduct a scientific investigation to discover the properties of linen, in comparison with a range of other materials.
  • combed flax
  • hackle
  • bobbin
  • flexibility
  • durability



Display Resource 2.10: Combed Flax (IWB) and ask pupils to say what they think it is. Expect - (blonde) hair/wig. Explain that this is how the flax looks after it has been hackled, or combed.

Now display Resource 2.11: Flax Comb/Hackle (IWB). Discuss its long teeth, their sharpness and prickles. Ask pupils to suggest what they would compare it to. There is an opportunity here to develop an appreciation of simile. Ask pupils if they know any similes. Give them an example of ‘as slow as a snail’. Now see if pupils know any more. Then display the first screen of Resource 2.12: Similes.

Now display the second screen and ask them for suggestions to complete the two similes:

  • The hackle is as sharp as...
  • The hackle is as prickly as...

The Ulster-Scots poet Samuel Thomson (1766–1816) thought of a hackle when he saw a hedgehog and he wrote: ‘Thou looks …array’d in spikes/A creepin heckle’. Display Resource 2.13: A Creepin Heckle (IWB). Get pupils to notice that Thomson spells the word differently – ‘e’ instead of ‘a’.

Ask pupils if they can suggest any further comparisons for the flax and the hackle. Now show the video clip of the flax-combing process.

After the flax is combed the fibres are still quite short. They have to be spun together into a long and very strong thread. Ask pupils where they have come across a spinning wheel before. Expect fairy tales and stories such as, The Sleeping Beauty and Rumpelstiltskin.

Then show the video clip of the spinning process.

This sequence shows the three steps in spinning and the uses of the distaff, the treadle and water.

Display Resource 2.14: Spinning a Yarn. Point out that we know what the phrase means after watching the spinner at work. Ask what else it is used to mean – explain, if necessary, that it’s telling a long story, perhaps one that isn’t true. Explain that the yarn coming off the wheel is wound around a bobbin to keep it secure and from getting tangled.

Main Lesson

Main Lesson

Pupil Activity

Which material would have been most suited for covering aeroplane wings during the First World War?

DISCUSSION WITH PUPILS: Before modern synthetic materials were invented, aeroplanes were often covered with fabrics. Some early aircraft even used paper as a covering material!

Now tell pupils that they are going to design a fair test to investigate which material is most suitable for the covering of aircraft wings. Ask the pupils in small groups to think about and discuss what properties of materials would be important. Responses from pupils may include such things as:

  • Weight - necessary to be light for flight and linen is light;
  • Durability/hardwearing - to survive stormy conditions but despite this the linen on the wings had to be replaced approximately every 12 flights;
  • Flexibility – it could be readily moulded without breaking over the structure of the wings;
  • Strength of the fabric - so that the fabric did not disintegrate easily;
  • Waterproofness – necessary for different weather conditions. How was the linen protected? Refer to the doping of the linen. (See Resource 2.16 and accompanying audio, the use of linen during World War 1). The fibres in linen also became stronger when they were wet; and/or
  • Readily available and low cost - flax was widely grown in Ulster and by 1914 linen was industrialised and no longer a cottage industry so the mills could make large amounts of the cloth with relatively cheap labour.
  1. Ask the pupils to come up with ideas about how they could explore the properties of linen and other fabrics which were available at that time such as wool, paper and cotton;
  2. In small groups, ask the pupils to discuss what they need to do. When they have completed their discussion, take feedback and draw up a class plan for the investigation; and
  3. Discuss with the pupils what a fair test is. Ask the pupils for their ideas of what should be kept the same in the experiment in order to test the materials fairly.

Safety Note: Always carry out a risk assessment and follow your school’s policy on Health and Safety.

Ideas for properties to test
  • Use weights to investigate the strength of linen when wet and dry and compare with the other fabrics;
  • Use a ruler or measuring tape to investigate the elasticity of linen when wet and dry when compared with the other fabrics;
  • Use materials stretched over jars to investigate the waterproofness of linen when compared with the other fabrics; and
  • Test the durability of linen when compared with the other fabrics by scratching it with an object such as a stone.
Suggested equipment: (pupils should be encouraged to suggest equipment themselves)
  • Four samples of fabric per group, linen, cotton, wool and paper;
  • rulers or measuring tapes;
  • elastic bands;
  • water;
  • pipette;
  • jars;
  • weights;
  • scissors; and
  • object with a rough surface, for example a stone.

Decide what to do: Pupils should decide in their groups how they are going to carry out a fair test. Remind them to identify which variables will remain the same and which one will change.

Record results: Pupils may record the results of their fair tests by using Resource 2.15: Which material would have been most suited for covering aeroplane wings during the First World War?.

Feedback: Pupils should present their findings to the whole class on the outcomes of their fair tests. How did pupil results compare to their predictions?

After completion of this investigation you may wish pupils to listen to an audio clip about the use of linen during World War 1.

Now listen to the audio again but this time distribute Resource 2.16: Listening Cards and ask pupils to make short notes to answer each of the questions.

  1. What was linen and linen thread used for?
    Answers: Knapsacks, gas masks, to stitch tents together, to cover aeroplane wings.
  2. Why do you think that the cloth on the wings would have to be replaced ‘every twelve flights or so’?
    Discuss with pupils the fact that aircraft were damaged due to bombings and shrapnel and the pilots needed to be kept as safe as possible.
  3. What work did Andrew’s Mill do the most of according to the diary entry made in January 1916?
    Answer: They mainly produced aeroplane cloth.
  4. Listen for the word ‘dope’. What do you think it was and what was its purpose?
    This question provides an opportunity to discuss with pupils how fabric can be made more rigid and waterproof.
  5. Listen for the word ‘aileron’ in the audio and write down what you think it is.
    This question provides an opportunity to explain to pupils that the ailerons caused the aeroplane to move up or down, see illustration below.


Now ask pupils to draw the design on the aeroplane wing.

Compare the designs by displaying Resource 2.17: Bristol Fighter Aeroplane (IWB).



Ask pupils to reflect on what they did using this TS&PC Thinking Card; Did your group succeed?

  • combed flax
  • hackle
  • bobbin
  • flexibility
  • durability


TS&PC Thinking Card; Did your group succeed?

Assessment Opportunity

Assessment Opportunity

If you wish to assess pupils’ responses to this lesson, see the suggestion below.

Pupils may use TS&PC Thinking Card: Did your group succeed?.

You may wish to assess how well your pupils conducted a fair test.

  • combed flax
  • hackle
  • bobbin
  • flexibility
  • durability


TS&PC Thinking Card: Did your group succeed?

Other Activities

Additional Pupil Activity

Create similes

You may wish to develop the simile idea which pupils met earlier in the lesson. Check out these links for ideas:

  • combed flax
  • hackle
  • bobbin
  • flexibility
  • durability

Links to Curriculum

Cross-Curricular Skills

Cross-Curricular Skills: Communication

Children should be given opportunities to engage with and demonstrate the skill of communication and to transfer their knowledge about communication concepts and skills to real-life meaningful contexts across the curriculum. (Language and Literacy)

Talking and Listening
  • Participate in group and class discussions about the use of linen to cover aircraft wings;
  • Know and understand the conventions of group discussion when designing their science investigation;
  • Identify and ask appropriate questions to seek information about the properties of linen; and
  • Recognise and discuss features of spoken language, for example, similes.


Thinking Skills and Personal Capabilities

  • Thinking, Problem-Solving and Decision-Making (Explore properties of linen and other fabrics)
  • Working with Others (Explore properties of linen and other fabrics)
  • Managing Information (Explore properties of linen and other fabrics)

WAU: Science

The World Around Us: Science

  • Why materials are chosen for their use.

Active Learning and Teaching Methods

Active Learning and Teaching Methods for Key Stage 2

These active teaching and learning approaches encourage active participation from pupils, making the learning a more relevant and enjoyable experience.

Pupils work in pairs or small groups to evaluate what went well and what needed to be improved. They may use TS&PC Thinking Card: Did your group succeed?

Pupils may also use Two Stars and a Wish to evaluate how well they did and what needs to be improved. Active Learning and Teaching Methods for Key Stages 1&2, page 73.

Suggested Websites & Resources

if you’re ‘spinning a yarn’ you’re telling a long story that isn’t true?

In partnership with  Ulster Scots Agency