Reform in U.S. Child Labor and Education in the Early 20th Century

These lessons will extend the Read180 Level B Curriculum, Workshop 4 – Stolen Childhoods, to build background knowledge for students regarding U.S. experience with child labor and the government’s role in creating laws that address the exploitation of children and provide access to public education for all children. Students will extend their understanding of the purpose of the U.S. Census, covered in Workshop 1 of the Read180 text by using it as a tool to examine how reforms in child labor and education impact literacy levels in early 20th century U.S.

Instruction: Note that Read180 is a reading intervention class for below-grade level readers and is based upon a format and structure consisting of an activator, whole group lesson and three 20-minute rotations for Read180 computer-based software, small group instruction, and independent reading.

Lesson Objective

Students will:

(a) Develop background knowledge of the social and economic conditions that made child labor acceptable in the U.S. by completing a close reading of primary sources

(b) Acquire greater understanding of the origins of child labor in a post-industrial U.S. society by reading and discussing a related article

(c) Apply and extend understanding of the purpose of the U.S. census to determine impact of child labor laws on education levels by reviewing and comparing statistics from the 1900 and 1940 Census



  1. Day 1
  2. Activator: Students will work in table groups (4 students each) to brainstorm on the purpose of work and education – information will be recorded on poster paper. Students will then look for any common purposes between the two categories and place a check next to them.
  3. Whole Group: Students will complete a gallery walk of photos child labor in the U.S., reading accompanying captions and respond to questions that prompt students to complete a close reading
  4. Small Group Instruction: Teacher will lead a discussion/review of the gallery walk photos & captions with emphasis on: sourcing, close reading and contextualization.
  5. Summarizer: Consider the quote below, made by Lewis Hine, the photographer of gallery walk photos. Mr. Hine used his camera to inform people about child labor:
  6. “There is work that profits (benefits) children, and there is work that brings profit (money) only to employers. The object (purpose) of employing children is not to train them, but to get high profits from their work.” — Lewis Hine, 1908
  7. What do you think Mr. Hine mean by this? Explain in your own words.
  8. Day 2
  9. Activator: (1) Predict: Why do you think employers made large profits from child labor? (2) React: Do you think child labor is fair? Why/why not? (3) Use your color & number to find your match; share your prediction and reaction.
  10. Whole Group: Reading – “Child Labor in the U.S., Then and Now.” Students are randomly assigned 1-2 pre-identified vocabulary words and their definitions. As the teacher conducts a think-aloud, students will be asked to share their assigned word/definition with the class. (assignments can be made based upon word number – see handout that follows)
  11. Rotations: (Read180, Small Group & Independent Reading)
  12. Small Group: Students will work in pairs to re-read the article and answer comprehension-based questions.
  13. Summarizer: 3-2-1 List 3 interesting things you learned today about child labor: Identify 2 new words you read/learned today What is 1 question you have about child labor in the U.S.?
  14. Day 3
  15. Activator: What do you think are the reasons for illiteracy? Turn to an elbow partner and discuss your thoughts….Pairs then are asked to share their partners’ ideas with the class.
  16. Whole Group: Students will read an excerpt from “Children’s Lives at the Turn of the 20th Century”. What changes occurred in U.S. education between the late 1800s and 1920? How do you think this impacted illiteracy in the U.S.
  17. Primary Source Activity: Students will complete a close reading of the 1900 and 1930 U.S. Census data related to U.S. and Region/State illiteracy rates and complete the analysis guide.


Each day, students are asked to complete a summarizer to check their understanding of the day’s reading or analysis. Additionally, students will create a poster to assess their understanding of child labor through a multiple measure approach. The poster serve requires students to follow a rubric.


My classes consist of students with special needs and/or English Language Learners. To meet their learning needs, it is essential to differentiate all materials. For this extended lesson, I provided visuals such as photo collages of child labor in flipcharts; gallery walk incorporating primary source documents/photos; adaptation of article from (comprehension questions/text boxes immediately follow each paragraph); graphic organizers for brainstorming activity, primary source analysis/close reading, and grading rubric for extended lesson project.


Bureau of the Census, “Current Population Reports,” February 12, 1963,

“Child Labor in the U.S. – Then and Now,”, accessed January 15, 2013.

“Children’s Lives at the Turn of the 20th Century,” Library of Congress, Teaching with Primary Sources,

Lewis Hines Photos, Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Online Catalog, National Child Labor Committee Collection,

Post a Comment

Your email is never published nor shared. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>