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Learning about Child Labor in Coal Mines through Photo Analysis

Lesson Overview

Overview: Child labor became a big part of American culture due to the increase of numbers during the great migration. Students will analyze photographs and answer questions regarding child labor during the Progressive Era. The photos depict boys around the ages of nine to twelve working in the coal mines making less than a dollar per day.
Grade Range: 6-8
Objective: After completing this activity students will be able to:
  • Students will understand child labor during the time of immigrations.
  • Students will analyze primary source documents to have a greater understanding of child labor. 
Time Required: One class period of 45 minutes
Discipline/Subject: United States History/Social Studies
Topic/Subject: Immigration, American Expansion
Era: Progressive Era to New Era, 1900-1929



Illinois Learning Standards:
Common Core Standards:

                                  2.RH: Determine the central ideas or information of a primary or secondary source:
                                          provide an accurate summary of the source distinct from prior knowledge or

                                  7.RG: Integrate visual information with other information in print and digital text


Handouts: Library of Congress items, Let's Wrap It Up Sheet (available on PDF)
Other: iPad or Smart Board, Collage Materials (paper, magazines, crayons, colored pencils, glue, construction paper, markers, rulers)
Library of Congress Items: Breaker Boys, Woodward Coal Mines, Kingston, PA
  Coal breaker boys
Online Resources: Child Labor Library of Congress Exhibit



1. Students recently finished studying child labor during the great migration.  
2. Gain students attention by discussing age of themselves and younger siblings.    
 3. Pass out Wrap It Up sheet that has questions and pictures attached Handouts 
4. Post pictures on Smart Board or iPad with photographs of the Coal Breaker boys Smart Board, iPad, Library of Congress Items 
 5. Have students circle the main ideas, objects in the photos both on their handout and on the Smart Board/iPad Library of Congress Items Smart Board, iPad
 6. Conduct whole class discussion on what you see, how you feel about children in the workplace relate to your own family, discuss why photographs are important.  
7. Students will complete the Let's Wrap It Up Worksheet answering:
  • Three important points.
  • Ideas that are square with me.
  • Going around in my head.
  • Things I still need to think about. 
 8. In a large group, review the child labor photographs discussing why boys of such an age had to work and answer any questions student may still have. Online Resources 
 9. Students create a collage to share what they have learned about immigration, processing, child labor. Other 



Students will formally and informally be assessed by classroom observation and completion of the Let's Wrap It Up Worksheet and collage.