Labor History Lesson Plans

Some of the lessons listed below are in PDF format. If you are unable to open the documents, you
will need a free copy of Adobe Reader.

West Virginia Labor History
Ten Lesson Unit.
Each lesson includes historical background material, teaching objectives, a lesson plan, articles or worksheets, and additional activities. West Virginia Labor History

Labor Unions and Working Conditions: United We Stand


Work with primary source documents from American Memory to study the working conditions of U.S. laborers at the turn of the century. Answer the question, “Was there a need for organized labor unions?”

Youth, Unions and YOU: A Secondary Teachers Guide to Labor Studies in B.C. Schools


This guide, while designed for British Columbia schools, is an excellent source for a much broader audience. The lessons are organized by subject and grade level as well as by theme such as “Workers and Unions,” “Workers and the Law,” and “Global Social Justice.”

A Short History of American Labor – a Lesson Guide by Paul F. Cole


This lesson guide is designed to accompany 
A Short History of American Labor.
 It includes lesson goals, objectives,
key concepts, key terms, key people, key events, key legislation, and questions for inquiry and discussion.

African-American Women as Wage Earners-Servitude to Service


In this lesson, students examine how the employment position of African-American women changed due to policies
established after emancipation. At one point students are asked to speculate on how these women might have benefited
from membership in the labor movement of their time.

Child Labor in America


Developed as a part of the Library of Congress’s “Leaning Page” program, the 2-3 weeks of 45-60 minute lessons
are great for use in middle and high school. They are intended to help students develop an understanding of the
importance of historical inquiry and recognize the factors which contributed to the Industrial Revolution in the
United States.

Comparing Plantation and Factory Rules

This activity asks students to consider the working conditions of African-American slaves and white northern factory workers by examining a range of primary documents from the Smithsonian, including; mill regulations, excerpts from DeBow’s, a magazine for slave owners, and a southern plantation owner’s work rules.

Florence Kelley and the Illinois Sweatshop Law

Using information from eight historical documents, students are presented with short-answer questions and a
general essay to help them analyze and understand the resources they are using. This work with the document
based questioning format should capture student interest and improve their performance when faced with this
ever more popular method of assessment.

Heroes of American Labor

A Saturn-UAW instructional program that uses biographical sketches placed within a chronological framework to
tell the story of the labor movement. The entire offering also contains: notes to teachers, suggested research
questions, items for class discussion, student assignments and student activities. In addition, teachers are
directed to the Saturn web site for additional instructional materials.


Labor and Civil Rights: 2 Movements, One Goal? A. Phillip Randolph: Civil Rights and Labor Leader


The George Meany Memorial Archives created this group discussion activity to help students: 1) better understand
the individual’s role in social change; and 2) exchange information and experiences.


Labor and Civil Rights: 2 Movements, One Goal? Protest for Social Change



The George Meany Memorial Archives created this role-playing activity to help students: 1) get a feel for society
in the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s 2) gain insights into other people’s prejudices, mannerisms, and behaviors and 3)
consider how other people reacted to social change.

Lawrence Textile Strike (1912) 

Eight historical documents are used to test the students ability to work with historical resources. Short answer questions follow each of the documents and an essay, based on at least six of the documents, completes the assignment.

Lessons in Labor History


Prepared by the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction in collaboration with the Wisconsin State AFL-CIO; the
Wisconsin Federation of Teachers, AFT, AFL-CIO; the Wisconsin Education Association Council, NEA; and the Wisconsin
Labor History Society.

Lowell Strike of 1834 and 1836


In this activity, students work in small groups to read primary documents that reflect a variety of viewpoints on the 1834
and 1836 labor strikes by young female factory workers in Lowell, Massachusetts. They then plan and act out a five to seven
minute “talk show.”

Mary Harris “Mother” Jones

Paterson New Jersey Silk Industry and Strike of 1913


One of a number of labor history lessons developed by the National Park Service and located at: Teaching with Historic Places Lesson Plans. This lesson examines
the causes and effects of the 1913 Patterson silk strike and the role the IWW played in the strike. Many primary resources are used to examine
the lives of a silk owner and a skilled silk worker and
evaluate their roles in the strike.

Photographs of Lewis Hine: Documentation of Child Labor


This “Teaching with Documents Lesson Plan” was developed by the staff at the National Archives & Records Administration. The well
developed lesson plan contains a correlation to the National History Standards and the National Standards for Civics and Government.
Once at the NARA web site you’ll find many other interesting lessons.

Pullman Strike of 1894

This lesson is a role-play in which students examine the work of the original strike commission appointed by
President Cleveland.

San Antonio Pecan Shellers Strike (1938)


Ten historical documents form the basis of this two part task designed to test the students ability to work with
original resources. Short answer questions follow each of the documents and an essay, based on at least six of
the documents, completes the assignment.

Sweatshops Then and Now


The goal of this lesson is to compare more contemporary accounts of garment work with those of the early
twentieth-century shirtwaist workers.

Triangle Factory Fire 


More than a lesson plan, this web site is run by Cornell’s Kheel Center and is devoted entirely to the Triangle
Factory Fire. The site contains documents, photos and illustrations, audio, names of victims, tips for student
projects and more. Teachers will find what they need to create a number of interesting lessons.

United We Stand

This lesson uses the Library of Congress’s American Memory Collection of original resources to help students
answer the question – What were the working conditions in the United States at the turn of the twentieth century that gave rise to the labor union movement?

What is Child Labor?


This well developed lesson plan on child labor contains the Child Labor Quiz from the International Labor Organization.

Who Really Built America


Another Library of Congress “Learning Page” lesson designed for grades 7/8. The objectives include the analyses
of historical data and gaining a personal perspective on work in an emerging industrial society.

Wisconsin: Lessons in Labor History (click to download .zip archive)

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