Teacher Directions:

Grade Level:  8

Length Early Industrialization, 1840-1860

Lesson Purpose:

During this lesson(s), students will be analyzing primary source documents emphasizing young people in factory labor (mill workers during 1840-1860). Students will be introduced to hours of labor, ages of laborers, reasons for working, and working conditions. Extension of this information is found through reading Lyddie by Katherine Patterson and researching modern day child labor issues. After this intensive study, students will be asked to write a poem or song exhibiting empathy for these young laborers.

Goals: Students will add to their previous knowledge of farm life in the 1800's while building the concept of mill life. Students will analyze a myriad of primary sources, listen to time period music, and create a poem or lyrics for a song. This lesson links to the California State History-Social Science Framework: 8.52.1 Inventions between 1790 and 1850 that transformed manufacturing, transportation, mining, communication, and agriculture that affected how people worked and lived. 

Information Literacy Skills:

E/LA Standards:

Reading Comprehension:

Writing Applications(genres and their characteristics): Students write narrative, expository, persuasive, and descriptive text of at least 500 to 700 words. Student writing demonstrates a command of standard English and the research writing demonstrates a command of standard English and the research, organizational, and drafting strategies outlined in Writing Standard 1.0

H/SS Standards:

Length of Lesson: approximately 4-5 days

8.12.Students analyze the transformation of the American economy and the changing social and political conditions in the United States in response to the Industrial Revolution, in terms of:

  1. patterns of agricultural and industrial development as they relate to climate, natural resource use, markets, and trade, including their location on a map
  2. the reasons for the development of federal Indian policy and the Plains wars with American Indians and their relationship to agricultural development an industrialization
  3. how states and the federal government encouraged business expansion through tariffs, banking, land grants, and subsidies
  4. entrepreneurs, industrialists, and bankers in politics, commerce, and industry (e.g., Andrew Mellon, John D.Rockefeller)
  5. the location and effects of urbanization, renewed immigration, and industrialization (e.g., effects on social fabric of cities, wealth economic opportunity, and the conservation movement)
  6. child labor, working conditions, laissez-faire policies toward big business and the rise of labor movement, including collective bargaining, strikes, and protests over labor conditions

Resources or materials needed:


Other Resources:

Background Information that might be helpful:

This lesson is interactive. The class is encouraged to be loud when making machine sounds. When analyzing the mill bell schedule, realize students may or may not be accustomed to analyzing information within primary source documents. Allow time for students to thoroughly analyze data and to debrief. When writing the poem or song, for students to be successful with this type of writing, much research and reading is required. Remember to be encouraging as students write. Remind students they should use brainstorms, notes, research material, etc. 


Literature Link: Lyddie by Katherine Paterson http://www.carolhurst.com/titles/lyddie.html) is a historical fiction account of a young girl that begins her life on a farm. Her father leaves for the West and never returns. Her mother loses her mind; thus, she alone is left to hold the family together. She finds her way to a mill in Lowell, Massachusetts. Lyddie earns and saves toward her goal of paying the farm debts and saving the land. She envisions returning and gathering her sisters and brother, so they all can live on the farm once more.

The novel Lyddie may be read either as an assignment outside the History-Social Science class or within the Language Arts class. Either way, the students' understanding of the concept Industrial Revolution will be greatly enhanced. For additional activities related to the novel go to SCORE Language Arts site for the Lyddie CyberGuide http://www.sdcoe.k12.ca.us/score/lyddie/lyddietg.html


Background Information that might be helpful:


Lesson sequence:


  1. DUPLICATE: Copy class set of primary sources, mill bell schedule, and poem or song activity.
  2. CREATE TRANSPARENCY: Copy mill worker's sketch onto an overhead transparency.
  3. FAST FORWARD: Set Tape #4 to Mill Worker's Songs.


  1. Discuss the mill bell schedule. Point out the hour girls (operatives) were to begin work, followed by the breakfast break, the lunch break, and the quitting time. Operatives had to walk to and from the boardinghouse during these breaks.
  2. Read aloud the page of primary sources. Discuss the atmosphere within the mill factory. Note the darkness (small dusty windows) in the factory. Note the lint in the air from the clothing that is being processed. Note the humidity level that is purposely created by buckets of water in the factory, so the threads won't break. Note the fact that the long hours, little food, lack of rest, sunshine and fresh air lends itself to contracting Tuberculosis, especially due to the lint, humidity, and lack of proper ventilation. The girls are working, breathing and living in these conditions.
  3. Display transparency of mill worker sketch. Ask volunteers to stand in position of people in sketch. Instruct students to think and feel as worker would feel. Have the class make loud machinery noises, such as klackety-klackety, klackety, and knock, knock, knock, and pachinga, pachinga pachinga, etc. While the class continues the loud noises, instruct the operative in a loud voice, "You need to control two looms now. Control all three now. Now you must keep up with four for the same wages as before."
  4. Debrief. Ask the operative to explain how he or she felt while the class listens. Ask the operative: "How were you feeling? What did your feet and arms feel like? Did you enjoy your work? What did you think about as you worked?" Ask the overseer: "How were you feeling? What did you feel like? Did you enjoy your work? What did you think about as you demanded the mill girls to work harder?"
  5. Review farm life. Create a Venn diagram (add a link to SCORE Language Arts & Venn Diagram instructions) contrasting a young girl's life and job on the farm with a young girl's life and job in the mill.
  6. Play mill songs.
  7. Debrief. Discuss working conditions that led to lyrics of the songs.
  8. While mill music plays, have students quietly and individually create a brainstorm, or concept map using sensory feelings and words concerning mill life and work. Instruct students they may use quotes from passages in the primary sources.
  9. Hand out directions for poem or song lyrics. Instruct students to write a poem of mill life and work. Students may use their Venn diagram, brainstorm, concept map, and primary sources. Students need to reflect on farm life within their song or poem.