Lesson Plan: The Girl Who Spoke Out for Workers’ Rights

A step-by-step guide to teaching this article in your classroom


Students will be able to describe job conditions of U.S. textile factory workers in the early 1900s.


RH.6-8.1, RH.6-8.2, RH.6-8.4, RH.6-8.7, RI.6-8.1, RI.6-8.2, RI.6-8.9, SL.6-8.1, SL.6-8.2, W.6-8.3, W.6-8.4, WHST.6-8.7, WHST.6-8.9


• Incorporate this article into a unit focusing on the Industrial Revolution.

• Include this piece in a lesson on the history and purpose of labor unions.

• Use this article to spark a discussion about the role of government in protecting workers’ rights.

• Offer this piece as part of a look at the history of child labor in the United States.

Before Reading


Study the illustration of the child laborer accompanying this article as a class. Ask: How old does she look? Where might she have worked? What might her working conditions have been like? What clues do her clothes and hair offer about her work?


Review the definitions of some of the challenging vocabulary words in this article, including advocates, riveting, searing, tedious, and toiled.

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Read & Analyze


Have students read the article on their own, writing down any comments or questions.


Have students write their answers to each question, or use these prompts to guide a discussion.

  • CLOSE READING: In what ways was Camella Teoli’s job dangerous?
    (Hair could get caught in the machinery. The factory air was thick with fibers that workers inhaled, which irritated their lungs. The machines had no protective guardrails.)

  • MAIN IDEA: Why did factory workers in Lawrence, Massachusetts, go on strike in 1912?
    (They were tired of low pay and terrible working conditions. They wanted to be paid more.)

  • EXPLICIT INFORMATION: Why did some families send their children to work in factories?
    (Some families were so poor that they needed their children to help earn money, even though children made as little as 11 cents an hour.)

  • SUMMARIZING: Why were many factory jobs at that time filled by immigrants?
    (There was a large influx of immigrants to the U.S. starting in the 1880s. They needed to find work, but many had little education, some could not speak English, and most did not have a choice of jobs outside of factories.)

  • CAUSE AND EFFECT: What caused the Lawrence strike that went on to include about 25,000 workers?
    (After Massachusetts lawmakers shortened the workweek by two hours for women and children, factory owners cut women’s pay accordingly. When the women realized it, they walked out of the factories chanting “Short pay! Short pay!”)

  • CLOSE READING: What factors helped the Lawrence workers win better pay and conditions?
    (Possible answers include: A national labor union helped translate strike leaflets and speeches to unite the workers despite language barriers. Congress heard about the strike and held hearings in which the workers got to testify.)

  • MAKING INFERENCES: Why might it have taken nearly three decades after the Lawrence strike and Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire for Congress to pass the Fair Labor Standards Act?
    ​(Possible answers include: The manufacturing industry had more money and influence on Congress than factory workers had. At the time of the strike and fire, it was common for children to work, many families needed their children to work, and factory workers were used to long hours, so many people may not have pushed for a 40-hour workweek or limits to child employment much before then.)

Extend & Assess

As a class, read the skills sheet Analyzing a Primary Source: “Some Horses Live Better Than We Do.”  Then have students work with a partner to answer the questions. Ask: What part of the testimony did you find most powerful? Why? How do you think John Boldelar’s experience as a child laborer compared with Camella’s?

Reinforce students’ social-emotional learning by having them imagine they are Camella or another young worker in a textile factory in Lawrence, Massachusetts, in the early 1900s. Ask: What are your working conditions like? What sounds do you hear? What do you smell? What do you see? How do you feel several hours into your work shift? Then have students write a journal entry from that perspective, describing their job and emotions about it. Students should include details from the article as supporting evidence.

Find out how well students understood the article by assigning the skills sheets Know the News—The Girl Who Spoke Out for Workers’ Rights. Go over the answers as a class.


Lower Level Have students work in small groups to list the steps that helped Lawrence factory workers win better pay. Ask: Which step had the biggest impact? Why?

Higher Level Have students research and write a report about factory workers today in Bangladesh or another country. Ask: How does their situation compare with that of the Lawrence workers?

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