Aug 29

The Story of a Rock 8-5.3

In this lesson, students will create a picture book that tells the history of the phosphate industry in South Carolina.

Click here to download the full lesson with attached handouts. The Story of a Rock

Historical Background

During the late 19th century the discovery of phosphate deposits marked the beginning of a rapidly growing industry in South Carolina.  The phosphate industry was created after phosphate deposits were found in the Charleston and Florence areas.


Phosphates are rocks formed from the fossilized remains of sea creatures.  These rock beds have formed over millions of years and are found under riverbeds, which were once covered by ocean. In South Carolina, phosphates were used to fertilize over-worked fields.  This allowed planters to extend the life of their crop.  The manufacture of this new plant fertilizer offered new opportunities for both farmers and workers.  Freedmen flocked toward the industry seeking employment.  With the financial support of Northern financiers, Carolina farmers began production of this highly sought-after material.


Soon after the introduction of the phosphate industry, the popular market collapsed. The decline of the industry came as a result of an over-saturated market.  Investors crowded the riverbanks of the Lowcountry with fertilizer mills and other heavy machinery needed to manufacture the phosphate rock into fertilizer. After only twenty years of production, the phosphate industry was essentially over for South Carolina. Long-since ended, signs of the briefly successful industry still exist in Charleston in road names and signs of geological incursion.


Horne, Paul A. Jr. South Carolina: The History of an American State, 2nd Ed. Georgia: Clairmont Press, 2006.

Shuler, Kristina A. and Ralph Bailey, Jr. A History of the Phosphate Mining Industry in the South Carolina Lowcountry. 2004.


South Carolina Standards

8-5.3 Summarize the changes that occurred in South Carolina agriculture and industry during the late nineteenth century, including changes in crop production in various regions, and the growth of the textile industry in the Upcountry.



  • Students will create a picture book that tells the history of the phosphate industry in South Carolina


Time Required                                                                    Recommended Grade Level

2-3 class periods                                                                     Middle


Lesson Materials

  • Images from the Phosphates in South Carolina Collection
  • Using History to Write a Picture Book handout
  • Computer lab – enough computers for student groups.
  • Historical background of the phosphate industry in South Carolina
  • Rubric for grading
  • Sample image citation

Lesson Preparation

  1. Divide students into pairs.
  2. Bookmark the Phosphates in South Carolina webpage for use throughout the lesson.
  3. Practice saving images to “My Favorites”
  4. Print Using History to Write a Picture Book handout.
  5. Print historical background information for student reference (see above).
  6. Reserve computer lab for student use (at least 2 days)
  7. Create a simple presentation for students from the historical background above.  More information can be found here http://nationalregister.sc.gov/SurveyReports/hyphosphatesindustryLowcountry2SM.pdf


Lesson Procedure

  1. Begin the lesson by explaining the history of the phosphate industry using your presentation.
  2. Explain to students that there job is to create a picture book that tells the history of the phosphate industry in South Carolina.  They will only be able to use primary documents via the Phosphates in South Carolina Collection.
  3. Explain to students that all picture books must have the following elements.
    1. Title
    2. Setting
    3. Plot
    4. Conflict
    5. Characters
    6. Point of view
    7. Theme
  4. Distribute all documents related to the project.
  5. Explain to students that all pictures used in their books will need to be cited. Show students an example of the citation provided below.
  6. Take students to computer lab
  7. Allow time for students to work with partners in computer lab.
  8. Reconvene to debrief asking students what they learned about the phosphate industry



  • Have students respond to the following question in written paragraph form.  How did phosphates affect crop production in South Carolina?
  • Use attached rubric to assess picture books.


Lesson Extension Options

  • Have students compare and contrast modern-day advertisements with advertisements used in the Phosphates in South Carolina Collection.
  • Have students created bindings for their books and put on classroom on school-wide display.
  • Modify the lesson by having students create their picture book in PowerPoint or any other presentation program that students may be familiar with.


Digital Collections Information                    

This lesson plan is based on images and/or documents derived from the Phosphates in South Carolina Collection available from the University of South Carolina’s Digital Collections Library.


To see other collections that may be helpful to your search, visit the Digital Collections homepage or visit SCDL’s collections.