K-12 Teaching and Learning From the UNC School of Education

LEARN NC was a program of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Education from 1997 – 2013. It provided lesson plans, professional development, and innovative web resources to support teachers, build community, and improve K-12 education in North Carolina. Learn NC is no longer supported by the School of Education – this is a historical archive of their website.

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  • Children at work: Exposing child labor in the cotton mills of the Carolinas: In this lesson, students will learn about the use of child labor in the cotton mills of the Carolinas during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. They will learn what life was like for a child worker and then write an investigative news report exposing the practice of child labor in the mills, using quotations from oral histories with former child mill workers and photographs of child laborers taken by social reform photographer Lewis Hine.
  • Work and protest, 1920–1934: In response to declining demand in the 1920s, textile mill owners cut wages and demanded longer hours from their workers. Labor unrest increased, and there were widespread strikes from 1929 to 1934.
  • Work in a textile mill: Article describes the various kinds of work in a textile mill, the experiences of millhands in and out of the mills, and what various workers earned.

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The following resources and lesson plans have been provided by the University of North Carolina Libraries. To learn more about this topic, read the Child Labor in the Cotton Mills story from UNC Libraries.

Lesson plans

Children at work: Exposing child labor in the cotton mills of the Carolinas by Dayna Durbin Gleaves
Grades 8-12 Social Studies
In this lesson, students will learn about the use of child labor in the cotton mills of the Carolinas during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. They will learn what life was like for a child worker and then write an investigative news report exposing the practice of child labor in the mills, using quotations from oral histories with former child mill workers and photographs of child laborers taken by social reform photographer Lewis Hine.
Cotton mills from differing perspectives: Critically analyzing primary documents by Dayna Durbin Gleaves
Grades 9-12 English Language Arts and Social Studies
In this lesson, students will read two primary source documents: a 1909 pamphlet exposing the use of child labor in the cotton mills of North Carolina, and a weekly newsletter published by the mill companies. Students will also listen to oral history excerpts from mill workers to gain a third perspective. In a critical analysis, students will identify the audiences for both documents, speculate on the motivations of their authors, and examine the historical importance of each document.
Labor unions in the cotton mills by Dayna Durbin Gleaves
Grades 9-12 Social Studies
In this lesson, students will learn about the labor union movement in the U.S., specifically the union influence on the cotton mills of North and South Carolina. Students will listen to oral histories from former mill workers explaining why they did or did not become involved with the union and then will be asked to make that decision themselves. They will provide an explanation for their decision by giving a speech to convince their classmates to join or not join, drawing on the oral histories and what they’ve learned.
Take action: Working to stop child labor today
Grades 9-12 Social Studies
In this lesson, students will first learn about child labor in the cotton mills of North and South Carolina from the 1880s through the 1920s by listening to oral histories from former child mill workers. They will then research child labor in today’s world. Students will brainstorm and implement actions to stop child labor around the world, such as educating themselves and others about the issue, letter writing campaigns to governments and companies, and donating to organizations that work to stop child labor.