In this lesson about the Industrial Revolution, students will begin by observing photographs of factory workers and analyzing primary sources to make inferences about working conditions during the Industrial Revolution. Based on the information they gather, students will write a letter protesting working conditions they feel are unjust. As an extension, students will view a video interview with Oklahoma State AFL-CIO President Jimmy Curry and explain how labor organizations advocate for workers' rights historically and currently. This lesson includes optional modifications for distance learning. Resources for use in Google Classroom are included.
How did the early industrialization of the American economy impact workers in the 19th and 20th centuries? Should governments regulate businesses to protect the rights of workers?
Students observe real photographs of factory workers and make inferences about working conditions during the Industrial Revolution.
Students analyze a real report describing working conditions in the Lowell Mills from 1845.
Based on the information they gathered, students use the RAFT strategy to write letters protesting working conditions they feel are unjust. Next, as a class, students make a list of the major issues that workers protested in their letters.
Students view a video interview with Oklahoma State AFL-CIO President Jimmy Curry, learning about how labor organizations and unions have protected workers throughout history. Based on the interview, students identify how the concerns they learned about in the previous section have been addressed.
The Paint a Picture activity responses and RAFT strategy serve as assessments for this lesson.
Lesson Slides (attached)
Issues Workers Protested Chart (attached; one per student)
Paint a Picture Chart (attached; one per student)
Paint a Picture Photo Set (attached; one per group of 3-4 students)
Paint a Picture Primary Source Document (attached; one per student)
Student devices with Google Docs (optional)
Use the attached Lesson Slides to guide the lesson. Begin by displaying slide 3, showing the lesson's Essential Questions. Explain to students that as part of their study of the Industrial Revolution, they will be exploring these questions: How did the industrialization of the American economy in the 19th century impact workers? Should governments regulate businesses to protect the rights of workers?
To begin this exploration, invite students to participate in a Paint a Picture strategy. This activity will use a series of photographs to paint a figurative picture in the students' minds of working conditions during the Industrial Revolution. Place students in small groups of 3–4, then distribute a copy of the attached Paint a Picture Photo Set to each group and the Paint a Picture Chart to each student. Display slide 4 and ask students to work with their groups to first write down in the "observations" column of their charts what they see. Next, ask students to continue working together to write down in the "inferences" column of their charts what they can infer or conclude about how industrialization impacted workers based on their observations.
As students finish their photo analyses, use slides 5–9 and ask student groups to share their observations and inferences for each photograph with the whole class.
Display slide 10. Invite students to continue painting a picture of working conditions during the Industrial Revolution by exploring a primary source document—an excerpt from a report published by Massachusetts lawmakers after investigating the working conditions at the Lowell Mills, a 19th century textile mill in the city of Lowell, Massachusetts. Distribute a copy of the attached Paint a Picture Primary Source Document to each student and ask them to read the text. After reading, ask students return to working with their groups and use the Categorical Highlighting strategy to highlight any information that shows what the working conditions in the Lowell Mills were like. This strategy encourages students to read for and select information from a certain category or categories within a text. In this case, the category is "working conditions."
After students have finished highlighting, invite student groups to share out some of the information they selected. This discussion should summarize major points that students have observed from the text about working conditions and experiences in the Lowell Mills.
Next, display slide 11. Have students, working with their groups, use the information from their charts and from the text to create a 2–3 sentence response to the following question: Based on your inferences from the photos and the information from the text, what conclusion can you make about how industrialization of the American economy impacted workers? Students should use evidence from the photos and/or text to support their claims.
Once student groups have finished, call on each group to share their responses, summarizing major points about how workers during the Industrial Revolution were often oppressed by their working conditions.
Display slide 12. Explain to students that workers began organizing to protest working conditions they felt were unjust. Students can work individually or as a group to use the RAFT strategy. In this RAFT, the "role" is a factory worker, the "audience" is a business owner or Congress, the "format" is a letter, and the "topic" is working conditions. Ask students to answer the following question in their letters: If you were a factory worker during the 1800s, what issues regarding your working conditions would you protest or fight to change? To answer this question, students should compose a letter of complaint in the voice of a worker and should include at least three specific issues they are protesting, with explanations of how to improve their working conditions. Students can write this letter on notebook paper, in a composition book, or on a Google Doc.
Once students have finished their letters, display slide 13. Pass out a copy of the Issues that Workers Protested Chart to each student. Ask students to share out the issues they discussed in their letters. As students share, make a class list. Consider typing students' issues into the chart on the slide and having students write them down on their charts in the "Issue" columns. Slide 14 shows examples that students may mention. Before moving on to the next section of the lesson, make sure students have filled in the "Issues" column on their charts.
Continue to slide 15. Show students the video interview with Oklahoma State AFL-CIO President, Jimmy Curry. (The full URL for the video is listed in the Resources below and linked on slide 15). AFL–CIO stands for the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations. In the video, Mr. Curry explains the influence of labor organizations, how labor organizations have worked throughout history, and how they continue protecting workers. As students watch the interview, ask them to take notes in the right-hand "Resolutions" column of their chart about how labor organizations addressed have addressed the issues recorded on left side.
After the video, display slide 16. Ask for volunteers to share their notes on how how labor organizations helped to fight each issue. Sample responses can be seen on slide 17.
Display slide 18. As a follow-up, ask students the question on the slide: Should governments regulate businesses to protect the rights of workers? Give student groups 3–4 minutes to discuss in small groups, and then ask groups to share out their answers. Remind students that there is not a right answer, but they need to support their answers with evidence and reasoning. Students can use information they learned in the lesson, and can draw from their own previous knowledge and experience.
Conclude the discussion by noting that many of the protections we take for granted upon entering the workforce exist only because those who came before us fought for those rights to be secured through the creation of new laws.
Have students turn in the Paint a Picture activity responses from the Engage and Explore sections, and the RAFT strategy from the Explain section. These can serve as assessments for this lesson.
AFL-CIO. (n.d.). About Us. AFL-CIO. Retrieved from https://aflcio.org/about-us
K20 Center. (n.d.). Categorical highlighting. Strategies. Retrieved from https://learn.k20center.ou.edu/strategy/fc74060730ea745c8c4f356aa204c85d
K20 Center. (n.d.). RAFT. Strategies. Retrieved from https://learn.k20center.ou.edu/strategy/d9908066f654727934df7bf4f5071366
K20 Center. (2020, February 27). ICAP—Impacts of industrialization on workers [Video File]. YouTube. Retrieved from https://youtu.be/XPpiKKsClTY
Oklahoma State AFL-CIO (2016, August 23). Oklahoma State AFL-CIO. Oklahoma State AFL-CIO. Retrieved from https://unionhall.aflcio.org/oklahoma-state-afl-cio