Giving Voice to Child Laborers Through Monologues

6 - 8
Lesson Plan Type
Estimated Time
Eight 45-minute sessions, plus time for research and presentations
  • Preview
  • |
  • Standards
  • |
  • Resources & Preparation
  • |
  • Instructional Plan
  • |
  • Related Resources
  • |
  • Comments


Students learn about child labor, as it occurred in England and the United States during the Industrial Revolution and as it continues around the world today. Selected websites describe the conditions under which children worked during the Industrial Revolution. Each student gathers information at these websites and prepares and presents a monologue in the "voice" of someone involved in the debate over child labor in England. After dramatically assuming that person's point of view on the issue, he or she responds to audience members' questions. Students then explore and discuss the conditions of contemporary child laborers and compare them to those of the past.

From Theory to Practice

  • Activities in this plan allow students to make personal connections with social issues.

  • By preparing cue cards to guide their monologues, students learn to maintain focus on critical facts that reveal their characters' viewpoints.

  • Monologues provide the grist for discourse as students defend their characters' views, responding to audience questions with specific information they have gathered.

  • Students are engaged in sharing opinions and working with peers to make sense of their world.

Common Core Standards

This resource has been aligned to the Common Core State Standards for states in which they have been adopted. If a state does not appear in the drop-down, CCSS alignments are forthcoming.

State Standards

This lesson has been aligned to standards in the following states. If a state does not appear in the drop-down, standard alignments are not currently available for that state.

NCTE/IRA National Standards for the English Language Arts

  • 1. Students read a wide range of print and nonprint texts to build an understanding of texts, of themselves, and of the cultures of the United States and the world; to acquire new information; to respond to the needs and demands of society and the workplace; and for personal fulfillment. Among these texts are fiction and nonfiction, classic and contemporary works.
  • 3. Students apply a wide range of strategies to comprehend, interpret, evaluate, and appreciate texts. They draw on their prior experience, their interactions with other readers and writers, their knowledge of word meaning and of other texts, their word identification strategies, and their understanding of textual features (e.g., sound-letter correspondence, sentence structure, context, graphics).
  • 4. Students adjust their use of spoken, written, and visual language (e.g., conventions, style, vocabulary) to communicate effectively with a variety of audiences and for different purposes.
  • 5. Students employ a wide range of strategies as they write and use different writing process elements appropriately to communicate with different audiences for a variety of purposes.
  • 7. Students conduct research on issues and interests by generating ideas and questions, and by posing problems. They gather, evaluate, and synthesize data from a variety of sources (e.g., print and nonprint texts, artifacts, people) to communicate their discoveries in ways that suit their purpose and audience.
  • 8. Students use a variety of technological and information resources (e.g., libraries, databases, computer networks, video) to gather and synthesize information and to create and communicate knowledge.
  • 12. Students use spoken, written, and visual language to accomplish their own purposes (e.g., for learning, enjoyment, persuasion, and the exchange of information).

Materials and Technology

  • Chart paper

  • Computers with Internet access

  • Index cards

  • Journals

  • LCD projector

  • Overhead projector and transparencies



Student Objectives

Students will

  • Study photographs to gather facts, make inferences, generate questions, and evaluate bias

  • Research relevant websites, then demonstrate understanding through the ReQuest strategy

  • Write substantive comments about, and reactions to, observed injustices both past and present

  • Gather, sort, and synthesize information in the process of preparing a monologue script, including taking effective notes to serve as a guide in presentations and for answering questions

  • Deliver convincing monologues, assuming the viewpoints of their characters and responding thoughtfully to questions

  • Compare child labor conditions during the Industrial Revolution with those that exist today using a graphic organizer

Session 1

1. Begin the class with an explanation of the terms revolution, industry, and Industrial Revolution. Briefly discuss any industrial changes you have previously covered in class.

2. Explain that a major change in social structures that occurred during the Industrial Revolution was the increase in child labor outside of the home. As soon as they were capable, children had typically been included in daily family chores in agricultural areas or in family businesses, but during this time period they began to work for wages and for employers who were not family members.

Productivity and profit were goals of these employers and child laborers were a means to efficiently achieve those goals. Economic progress brought social injustices. Political influences were divided between supporting progress on the one hand and, on the other, correcting injustices that methods for achieving progress seemed to incur.

3. Review the characteristics of a primary source. Be sure students understand the concept of bias and the value of checking multiple sources to gain objectivity.

4. Project The History Place: Child Labor in America 1908-1912 onto the screen and go to the third photograph under the second category, "The Mill." Read the caption aloud before clicking on the photograph to enlarge it.

Model an examination of facts the photo reveals and share aloud your interpretations and reactions. Observations will relate to the children's surroundings, items that give clues to the kind of work they do (e.g., tools, clothing, other objects), and the context of the photograph (what is happening in the picture). Raise questions, make inferences, and give your personal reaction to what is revealed. Record these observations, questions, and reactions on the Analyzing a Photographic Document chart.

5. Have students work in groups of three to analyze the other photographs from the site you have selected in the same way (see Preparation, Step 3). Each group will record their thoughts on a copy of the Analyzing a Photographic Document chart.

6. Have each group share with the class the photograph they selected and their chart analysis.

7. Project onto the screen and read aloud (or have a student read aloud) from the website, History of Child Labor. This passage should address some of the questions students have posed.

Session 2

1. Introduce the steps for the ReQuest strategy (see Preparation, Step 6). If you have created a chart, post it where students can view it during the rest of the lesson.

2. Project Spartacus Educational: Child Labour onto the screen, and scroll to "Life in the Factory." As a class and using the ReQuest strategy, read five of the ten categories listed. Read aloud the introductory paragraphs at the top of each category, then answer and ask questions of the students. Next, prompt students to predict what kinds of people will be quoted on the rest of the page and what sort of information they might provide. Read the rest of the selection together and discuss reactions to the information provided.

3. Have students work in five groups to read the remaining sections, one per group. In each group, one student will assume the teacher's role in the ReQuest strategy; one will record the group's questions, answers, and predictions on the Life as a Child Laborer ReQuest handout; and one will present the group's work.

4. Circulate to assist students and groups as needed. Let them know that all students in each group will be responsible for the information delivered by the group's presenter.

5. Have each group presenter share his or her group's work. The rest of the class should take notes while listening, then question group members and ask for clarifications.

Session 3

1. Explain that the Industrial Revolution moved to America in the late 1700s and brought with it results that were similar to those experienced in England.

2. Project Samuel Slater: Father of the American Industrial Revolution onto the screen, and use the ReQuest strategy to collaboratively read the first three selections in the bulleted list.

3. Direct students to these pages, which trace the lives of children working in coal mines and textile mills:

Students should read the pages independently.

4. After reading, have students write in their journals responses to the following prompts:

  • What injustices do you see in this story? Explain.

  • How do these injustices eventually affect the whole community?
5. Have students share their journal entries with partners. Ask for volunteers to read to the whole group.

Session 4

1. Direct students to the website, Spartacus Educational: Child Labour. Have them scroll below the menu of all topics and click on Child Labour Simulation (Spartacus Educational). Provided here are biographical sketches of real people who were involved in the debate over child labor in the Industrial Revolution of England.

2. As students explore the links to the various characters, tell them to be sure to keep scrolling to the end of pages for information, particularly where it suggests a character was interviewed. (Information may be missed when it appears that the selection is complete.)

3. Let students know that they will use the information in a slightly different way. Rather than prepare for a debate, students will prepare and present monologues.

4. Explain that a monologue is a form of dramatic entertainment or comedic solo delivered by a single speaker. Many people today are familiar with the comedic monologues of late-night talk show hosts, but the students' monologues will be in the dramatic category.

5. Have each student choose a character from the website and take notes to write a monologue script expressing that character's role and viewpoint. Explain that they should also integrate information from previous readings and discussions that relates to their characters' viewpoints.

6. Explain that students will be evaluated on these criteria:

  • Preparation of a monologue script that carries the appropriate voice and tone of the character and that includes interesting, specific facts and ideas

  • Presentation of the monologue in a dramatic fashion, assuming the role and opinions of the character and using cue cards as guidance

  • Knowledgeable answers to audience questions and requests for clarifications, using cue cards as guidance
7. Let students know that after they have written their monologue scripts, they will need to prepare cue cards and use these as prompts when presenting. Cue cards will help them recall the script and not miss important points. Information on cue cards is briefer than research notes and follows key ideas in the script. Show the class a sample cue card with a model of how it's used to guide a monologue.

8. Have students work independently on research, scripts, and their cue cards (which should be written on index cards). Circulate to assist as needed. Additional time outside of class may be needed to complete the first draft of a script and cue cards. Give a due date for the draft and cards and conduct Session 5 at that time.

Session 5

Give students time to rehearse their monologues within small groups. Students should improve their scripts and cue cards as necessary to make adjustments suggested by classmates.

On scheduled dates, have students present their monologues in class. Try to group the presenters so that at least one person from each category of characters is represented. Videotape the performances and allow classmates to sign out the tape to view their peers' performances.

Session 6

1. After every student has presented their monologues, bring students together and ask if they believe child labor still exists in the world today. Discuss.

2. Project Child Labor During the Industrial Revolution onto the screen. As a class, complete the Analyzing a Photographic Document handout for this picture.

3. Have students work in groups of three to analyze other photographs from the site in the same way. Each group will record their thoughts on a copy of the Analyzing a Photographic Document handout.

4. Have each group share with the class the photograph they selected and their analysis.

Session 7

1. Project "Young Migrant Workers Toil in U.S. Fields" onto the screen. As a class and using the ReQuest strategy, read the article. Read aloud the first six paragraphs, then answer and ask questions of the students. Next, prompt students to predict what they will learn in the rest of the article. Read the rest of the selection together and discuss reactions to the information provided.

2. Direct students to Child Labor and the Global Village: Photography for Social Change. Read aloud the Child Labor: Frequently Asked Questions, pausing to answer questions as necessary. Have students view and read about the six photographs posted on the site independently.

3. Ask students to respond to the following prompts in their journals:

  • What similarities do you see between child labor today and child labor during the Industrial Revolution? What differences?

  • What do you think should be done about child labor?

Session 8

Bring the class together to discuss what they have learned using the Venn Diagram. Begin by having students brainstorm facts they have learned about child labor, past and present. Have the students determine whether each idea relates only to child workers of the Industrial Revolution, only to contemporary child laborers, or to both. Project the Venn diagram onto the screen and complete it as a class. Print it when you are finished and distribute copies to students.


Extension activities can be done in the Language Arts, Social Studies, or Independent Work Time block. Previous lessons have prepared students to work with relative independence on the following activities.

  • Have students work together (with partners, in triads, or small groups) to construct a PowerPoint presentation or bulletin board that reveals current child labor abuses and suggests ways to correct them. Students can deliver PowerPoint presentations to other classes; a bulletin board could be displayed in the school or in a community building (e.g., library, city hall). A scoring rubric for PowerPoint presentation or bulletin board is available.

  • Have students construct a poem following directions found at Work, Lyddie! Work! (Scroll to directions for "The Life of a Mill Girl Poem or Song." Poems can also be adapted as "The Life of a Mill Boy.")

  • Make these resources available for independent reading:

    • So Far From Home: The Diary of Mary Driscoll, an Irish Mill Girl by Barry Denenberg (Scholastic, 1997)

    • Esperanza Rising by Pam Muñoz Ryan (Scholastic, 2000)

    • The Circuit: Stories From the Life of a Migrant Child by Francisco Jiménez (University of New Mexico Press, 1997)

Student Assessment / Reflections

  • Use the Analyzing a Photographic Document and Life as a Child Laborer ReQuest activities to assess student's ability to:

    • "Read" and comprehend photographic primary documents, gathering literal information, making logical inferences, and establishing questions for further research

    • Generate a variety of question types—both thin (literal) and thick (e.g. critical, creative, inferential) related to the reading

  • Use the scoring rubric for journal entries, monologue script, and monologue delivery to assess student's ability to:

    • Respond to questions with accurate, complete information that is supported by evidence

    • Write substantive journal responses that addresses the injustice of child labor as identified in particular readings; accurately compares past and present examples of child labor; and reflects clarity of message, voice, and technical accuracy

    • Write a monologue that creatively and dramatically represents a character's point of view on child labor, as well as reasons for the character's stand on the issue

    • Convincingly present a monologue and knowledgeably respond to audience questions

  • Informally assess students' ability to compare past and present examples of child labor during the discussion in Session 8. You may also choose to have students fill out the Venn Diagram independently for assessment.