In this unit, students explore Lewis Hine’s photographs of children working in Virginia, along with other primary and secondary sources related to child labor. Through reflection and collaborative conversation, students consider the benefits and drawbacks of children working. They also work together to propose some reforms based on what they know about child labor.

Each lesson includes a specific structure for critical thinking and/or collaborative conversation, with the goal of supporting students’ engagement with each other in deep, sustained conversations about academic content. Once students are familiar with these structures, they can be used again and again with any content.

The lessons in this unit are designed with multilingual students in mind. Each lesson contains a language objective to guide intentional language development. Language objectives can be useful for all classrooms, including those that do not contain students who are learning English. All students, regardless of their language background, can benefit from some practice with the expectations for how to use language in the academic context of a social studies classroom. An intentional focus on language development is particularly important for students who are simultaneously learning the social studies content and the English language.

This unit can encompass the following Standards of Learning:

  • USII: The student will apply history and social science skills to the content by
    • 1. synthesizing evidence from information sources, including, but not limited to artifacts, primary and secondary sources, charts, graphs, and diagrams to understand events in United States history;
    • c. developing questions, enhancing curiosity, and engaging in critical thinking and analysis; 
    • h. engaging and communicating as a civil and informed individual with persons with different perspectives; 
  • USII.3: The student will apply history and social science skills to understand how industrialization changed life in rural and urban America after the Civil War by
    • c. evaluating and explaining the impact of the Progressive Movement on child labor, working conditions, the rise of organized labor, support for eugenics as a social policy, immigration policy, women’s suffrage, and the temperance movement

This lesson exposes students to a variety of resources, both primary and secondary, related to child labor in Virginia. You may choose to use some, or all, of these resources, depending on the needs of your students.

If students are unfamiliar with the format of de Bono’s 6 thinking hats and of thinking with different perspectives, it might be beneficial to model the process of applying the thinking hats to a more familiar topic first before they try it out with new academic content.

  • What can we infer about the artifacts we find?
  • Content: I can analyze primary and/or secondary sources.
  • Language: I can use objective and emotive language when expressing various perspectives.

Child labor: noun

  1. When children have jobs, especially if they work for low pay and in unsafe conditions

Reform: noun

  1. A change that makes something better

Objective language: noun

  1. Language that fairly communicates facts, observations, and evidence

Emotive language: noun

  1. Language that communicates a positive or negative perspective and that can cause an emotional reaction
  1. Prior to beginning the unit, distribute the anticipation guide. Students should complete page one independently, circling Agree or Disagree for each statement. If they aren’t sure about their answer, that’s fine. They should pick the answer they think is the closest match to their current opinion. They should NOT complete page two yet. They will do this at the end of the unit.
  1. Discuss with students how the language choices we make can impact our communication. Use the Objective Vs. Emotive Language slides to introduce objective and emotive language, and discuss with students when it might be appropriate to use each type. (For example, objective language should be used when stating facts, but emotive language could be used when expressing an opinion or trying to persuade.) Give students opportunities to create sentences using objective language and also some sentences using emotive language. This could be done whole-group or in pairs.
  1. Provide students with a variety of resources related to child labor (see below). You might give students access to all of the resources and let students choose which ones they want to explore. Alternatively, you could assign students to a resource or tell students that they need to review all of the resources at some point during the lesson.

    As students explore the resources (see below), they should complete the first page of the de Bono’s 6 thinking hats handout, reminding students when it is appropriate to use objective versus emotive language. It is recommended that they complete the handout while discussing their answers with a partner. This will give students opportunities to practice using objective and emotive language in spoken communication before they need to write.

    Collect students’ thinking hats papers, and review them to determine whether students need additional support with analyzing sources or with the use of objective/emotive language.

    Google Docs Version of de Bono’s Six Thinking Hats
    – PDF Version of de Bono’s Six Thinking Hats: Page 1 and Page 2

  • The deBono group. (n.d.). SixThinking Hats. The de Bono group.
  • Hine, L. (1911). Various photographs of child labor in Virginia [Photographs]. Library of Congress.
  • Freedman, R. (1994). Kids at work: Lewis Hine and the crusade against child labor. Clarion Books, pp. 21-23, 54-57.
  • Fitzgerald (personal communication, January 15, 1925).
  • Riverside & Dan River Cotton Mills, Inc. (personal communication, June 22, 1910).
  • University of North Carolina. (n.d.). Southern Oral History Program Interview Database. Southern Oral History Program.!danville!virginia/field/projec!all!all/mode/exact!any!any/conn/and!and!and/order/title

Additional Recommended Reading:

  • Kids at Work: Lewis Hine and the Crusade Against Child Labor, by Russell Freedman
  • The Traveling Camera: Lewis Hine and the Fight to End Child Labor, by Alexandra S. D. Hinrichs
  • Lewis W. Hine: America at Work, by Peter Walther
  • Lewis Hine: Children at Work, by Vicki Goldberg

Counting on Grace, by Elizabeth Winthrop

This lesson focuses on using objective language to encourage students’ discussion to be civil. Especially when topics are controversial and people might have strong opinions, teaching students how to converse in a non-emotional and factual manner can be beneficial.

Furthermore, the protocol of Structured Academic Controversy assigns students to a role- pro or con- that does not necessarily align with their personal opinion. This is intentional. Students might feel more comfortable discussing controversial topics when it is not obvious to their classmates what their true opinions are. In addition, it can help students to be more open-minded and understand a topic at a deeper level when they are tasked with arguing a perspective other than their own.

There is a text provided for students to use during the Structured Academic Controversy. The teacher might prefer for students to use some of the resources from the previous day’s lesson (see below) for developing Pro/Con reasons instead of the provided text. Alternatively, the students could be tasked with completing their own research about child labor to develop the Pro/Con reasons.

These are the resources from the previous lesson:

It might be helpful to give students a certain amount of time for each step in Structured Academic Controversy, especially if the students are not already familiar with the protocol. This way, you can chunk the directions and make sure students understand what to do.

  • Should children be allowed to work?
  • Content: I can synthesize information from primary and secondary sources to engage in civil discussion with people with different perspectives
  • Language: I can use objective language when expressing a perspective

Child labor: noun

  1. When children have jobs, especially if they work for low pay and in unsafe conditions

Objective language: noun

  1. Language that fairly communicates facts, observations, and evidence
  1. Use the Objective Vs. Emotive Language slides to review objective and emotive language. Discuss with students why using objective language when discussing controversial topics might be beneficial.

2. Follow the protocol for Structured Academic Controversy, which was first developed by David and Roger Johnson at the University of Minnesota. It will be helpful to explain a general overview of the protocol before students begin. These slides can provide a visual aid for following the protocol.

  • Put students in groups of four. Two of the students will be assigned to Pro and two will be assigned to Con. Distribute the Structured Academic Controversy handouts (Pro and Con).
  • Pro and Con pairs silently read their position statements and identify 4 main points. With their partner, they agree on what the 4 main points will be. Then they decide who will say what when presenting their argument.
  • The Pro pair presents their best arguments. Then the Con retells (but does not refute) Pro’s arguments. After that, the Con pair presents their best arguments. Then the Pro pair retells (but does not refute) Con arguments. The goal in this step is not to win or to convince anyone you are right. It is to try to understand the opposite perspective.
  • Students can discuss the topic freely from any point of view, including their own. They should make sure to use objective language during the discussion to keep the conversation civil. If you’d like, you could request that groups try to come to a consensus about the topic. Is there anything related to child labor that all four students can agree on?
  • As students are engaging in conversations with each other, visit each group and listen to what they are saying. Consider whether students are able to apply ideas from sources to a civil discussion- paying attention to whether their wording is objective or not.
    • Hine, L. (1911). Various photographs of child labor in Virginia [Photographs]. Library of Congress.
    • Freedman, R. (1994). Kids at work: Lewis Hine and the crusade against child labor. Clarion Books, pp. 21-23, 54-57.
    • Fitzgerald (personal communication, January 15, 1925).
    • Riverside & Dan River Cotton Mills, Inc. (personal communication, June 22, 1910).
    • University of North Carolina. (n.d.). Southern Oral History Program Interview Database. Southern Oral History Program.!danville!virginia/field/projec!all!all/mode/exact!any!any/conn/and!and!and/order/title

    Recommended Reading:

    In this lesson, students need to develop thought-provoking questions that will spark conversation around potential reforms related to child labor. The quality of the questions that students write will impact the quality of the discussion, so the teacher should consider how much support students might need with writing higher order thinking questions. The teacher might choose to adjust this lesson plan by providing students with more opportunities to practice writing high-quality questions. The teacher might also choose to take a more direct role in guiding students’ question writing, either as a whole group or in small groups, if that is what would be most beneficial for students.

    It might be worthwhile to model and practice the Fan & Pick process with questions unrelated to the academic content (such as their hobbies or current events) prior to using it in this lesson to make sure students understand the procedure. Once they have learned the process, they can use the Fan & Pick structure with any content in the future.

    This lesson also provides suggestions of optional follow-up activities. These suggestions could be used or adapted depending on the amount of time the class has to spend on the unit, the students’ needs and interests, and the teacher’s goals.

    • Should child labor be regulated?
    • How can we determine when reforms are needed?

    Content: I can develop questions that help me engage in critical thinking.

    I can explain the impact of reforms on child labor and working conditions.

    Language: I can write questions using a Wh- question word plus a verb.

     Child labor: noun

    1. When children have jobs, especially if they work for low pay and in unsafe conditions

    Reform: noun

    1. A change that makes something better

    Explain to students that they will be pretending to be part of a committee in 1911 that is proposing reforms related to child labor. To do so, they will be engaging in conversations with their classmates, and they will need to develop some guiding questions for that conversation.

    It will be important that the questions students develop lead to critical thinking and extended discourse, so they might benefit from some direct instruction about how to craft such questions. These slides are a suggested resource for teaching students about crafting higher order thinking (HOT) questions. They will want to develop questions that end up in the orange or red sections of the chart, rather than yellow, to have a greater chance of writing questions that lead to higher order thinking.

    After introducing the concept of HOT questions, have students use the HOT Questions Practice handout to practice writing such questions about a topic that is not necessarily related to the content they are learning about in class. It might be easier for students to think of HOT questions about topics that are more familiar to them.

    Here are two more optional resources about HOT questions:

    These resources could be displayed in the classroom or at students’ desks so they have a reminder about how to craft their questions.

    *After students have had an opportunity to practice writing HOT questions, instruct the students to write 5 HOT questions they think would be helpful to discuss with the committee proposing labor reforms- with the goal of being able to make concrete recommendations for reforms they would like to establish. The students should write each question on a separate index card or small piece of paper.

    Next, each student will select their two favorite (or most thought-provoking) questions they wrote and bring those index cards to a group of 4 students. The group will then have 8 different index cards with 8 different questions on them. An option would be to give each group 2 additional teacher-created question cards in case there is a particular question the teacher would like the groups to discuss.

    Use a Fan & Pick structure for students to discuss their answers to the HOT questions they created. With this structure, students have a Fan & Pick mat on the table in the center of their group. Each student has a defined role. The process is:

    • Student 1 takes the index cards with questions on them, fans them out upside down, and says, “Pick a card, any card.”
    • Student 2 picks one of the cards and reads it out loud.
    • Student 3 answers the question.
    • Student 4 responds to what student 3 said. Then, student 3 asks, “Does anyone else want to respond?” This gives students 1, 2, and 3 an opportunity to participate in the discussion, building off what their group members have said. All four students may take as many turns responding to each other as they would like.
    • After the students have decided they are finished discussing that question, they remove the question card from the stack and rotate the Fan & Pick mat so that they each have a new role.
    • Students continue rotating the mat and discussing their questions until the teacher tells them they are out of time.

    If the students run out of topics to discuss, they could retrieve some of the other question cards they made that were not their favorite questions. As students are discussing their suggested reforms and the ways these reforms would impact child labor, they could record their group’s suggestions on a piece of paper. 

    The teacher could choose to have groups share their suggested reforms (and reasons behind them) with the whole class. 

    Optional addition to the lesson: After students have an opportunity to propose their own labor reforms, the teacher could choose to have them read about actual reforms that were proposed and adopted. See the Recommended Reading section for a few resources, such as legislation that was passed related to child labor reforms.

    Distribute the Child Labor Reforms Exit Card. Students will need to identify at least two potential reforms and the impact they would have on child labor. They will also need to write one question (ideally a HOT question) that they still have about child labor and reforms.

    Optional follow-up lessons:

    • Students could research the questions they wrote on the Child Labor Reforms Exit Card.
    • Students could develop HOT questions to interview a classmate. The topic of the interview would be somewhat flexible but should align with how the students see their own role in Virginia’s history. Just as the kids who engaged in child labor in the early 1900s were a part of Virginia’s history, today’s students are also a part of what will be considered Virginia’s history in the future. These interviews could be recorded as videos or as podcasts, with the goal of helping students to see that children can be an important part of making history.

    At the end of the last lesson in the child labor unit, students should complete the back of the anticipation guide. They previously completed the front during lesson 1. Now, they will compare their responses and reflect on whether any of their responses changed. They will also consider the pieces of evidence they used to determine their answers at the end of the unit. It is recommended that students reflect upon their responses and evidence through discussion with a partner, but the teacher could also choose to have students reflect independently.
    *The idea of having students develop their own inquiry questions is adapted from Project Zero’s Creative Question Starts visible thinking routine.


    • Harvard Graduate School of Education. (n.d.). Creative question starts. Project Zero.

    Recommended Reading/Listening/Viewing: