Lesson Plan: Overview

Goin' On Strike


Grade Level: 5th

Men carry guns outside the Chiquola Mill in Honea Path during the textile strike of 1934.

Academic Standards

Social Studies Standard 5-3: The student will demonstrate an understanding of major domestic and foreign developments that contributed to the United States’ becoming a world power.

5-3.5 Explain how building cities and industries led to progressive reforms, including labor reforms, business reforms, and Prohibition.

Social Studies Literacy Elements
No literacy elements available for this lesson plan.
Essential Questions

1. Why did the building of textile mills lead to the formation of labor unions, and what conditions in the workplace led these unions to encourage employee strikes?

2. What were the general outcomes of these strikes, and how did they address/resolve the problems within textile mills?

Historical Background Notes

In the late 1800’s, a movement called Mechanization was born.  Machinery and technology made agrarian life easier and called for little human physical need.  Therefore, more work could be done, but with less people (Foresman, 217, 2006).  Those farmers began searching for a new life and a new career.  They moved away from the farm and into cities that embodied factories and mills.

In South Carolina, the textile and cotton mills were the norm.  Cotton being the cash crop it was, South Carolina was one of the first states to develop cotton mills for the sake of manufacturing goods consumed by this fiber (Kohn, 6, 1975).  This along with the rise of big business and mechanization, many people flocked to the mills to work.

These workers were called “operatives.”  Operatives coming from the farm were not prepared for the vast differences between farm labor and mill labor.  Many of these differences were seen as a major hardship within this workforce. 

One notable difference was the pace of the work schedule.  On the farm, workers could pace themselves and were not specifically checked on as far as what work was completed and what work was not.  In the mills, however, the workers had to follow a rigid pace and tasks were to be completed in a timely manner. (McLaurin, 45, 1971).  Many found this work schedule difficult to follow. 

Physical demands on operatives were also much different in the mills.  According to Kohn, the first year of the mill is the hardest.  Operatives were not used to working in such confined areas or to standing on hard floors in one area for long periods of time (p.26).  Other physical demands, such as, poor ventilation, dangers from machinery, and cramped work areas also caused concern among operatives.

Factories and mills became known as sweatshops where working conditions proved to be inhumane.  Workers earned low wages, worked 12-hours or more days, and worked 7 days a week.  Children were placed in the mills to do physical labor, and some places did not provide safe conditions for operatives (Foresman, 193, 2006).  Discrimination was also a constant battle to overcome, especially in the mills.  Many positions were seen as more skilled.  These positions held more respect and higher wages. 

Although working conditions proved difficult for these operatives, they still remained in the mills.  The thought of earning cash and being taken care of by mill companies, instead of growing just enough crops to sell for food, seemed to outweigh the bad.  Some also thought that they could earn enough money and then return to their farms.  When that didn’t happen and operatives realized they were working in the mills for good, they decided that they wanted to improve working conditions (McLaurin, 45, 1971).  After this realization, many decided to join labor unions.

In hopes to improve the working conditions listed above, these former farmers — particularly from South Carolina — rushed into unions without much organization, understanding of labor principles, experience, or financial backing that labor unions need (McLaurin, 50, 1971). Workers went on strikes and demanded improvements from mill owners.  This deemed to be unsuccessful in the beginning. 

The outcome of these initial strikes were met with a stiff hand from mill management. These manufacturer moguls saw the unions as a huge threat to their control of all operations within the mill.  They quickly made a decision to punish any operatives who had joined the union by locking them out of the mill, firing them and also removing their families from their mill-owned homes (McLaurin, 49, 1971).  This harsh reaction to the threat of unions was in large part done to quickly cease any thoughts operatives had in joining the union from there on out.

Unions continued to resurface, only to be dispersed quickly due to unmet demands and disorganization.  It wasn’t until the American Federation of Labor (AFL) and Samuel Gompers became involved that strikes became highly successful.  The AFL and Gompers could back small-time unions not only methodically, but financially as well.  With this support and membership of unions on the rise, laws were able to be passed, and some conditions were improved  (Foresman, 197, 2006).  Working hours were shortened, safety in the workforce was improved, and eventually, there was an end to child labor in the South.

Cultural Institution Partner
Anderson County Museum


Primary Sources

“Lowenstein ‘No’ to Pay Boost Forces 3,400 Out in Rock Hill,”  Textile Labor (July 7, 1956).

“Lowenstein Turns ‘Law’ on Organizers in Lyman,” Textile Labor (July 7,1956).

"Photographs of Child Labor." Photograph. Collection of Anderson County Museum. Anderson, South Carolina. Photographs taken by Lewis Hine.

“Shot at Chiquola Echo Still.” Anderson Independent, 6 September, 2009.

"Textile Labor," Magazine Cover (July 1956): Vol. XVII, No. 7.

“Traveling Trunk.” Collection of Anderson County Museum. Anderson, South Carolina. Materials included - jump rope, wooden spools, wooden spindles, 2009.

United States.  Accident Report from Clifton Mills.  Special Collections Unit.  Clemson:  Clemson University Libraries, 1948.

United States. Commerce and Industries of the State of South Carolina:  Labor Division.  South Carolina Library.  Columbia:  University of South Carolina, 1919.

“We’re Striking For You, Too,” Textile Workers Union of America (1956).

Secondary Sources

Foresman, S.  Growth of a Nation.  New York:  Pearson Education, Inc., 2006.

Kohn, August.  The Cotton Mills of South Carolina.  Spartanburg:  The Reprint Publishers, 1975.

McLaurin, Melton A.  “Early Labor Union Organizational Efforts in South Carolina Cotton Mills, 1880-1905.”  South Carolina Historical Magazine, vol. 72 no. 1 (Jan. 1971): 44-59 (McLaurin).


• Spiral notebook

• Colored pencils

• Primary sources (see Primary Sources section above)

• “Travel Trunk” materials (wooden spools, wooden spindles, jump rope, pictures of child laborers, newspaper clipping of Chiquola Mill shootings)

• Butcher paper (5 pieces)

• Props for skits/Tableau

• Highlighters

• Skyscraper question sheet (see Student Assessment section below)

• White plain paper

• Construction paper

Lesson Plans


The rise of urbanization, mechanization, immigration, and big business were discussed in previous lessons as a preface for the following lesson. Students will have read pp. 192-197 before this lesson to familiarize themselves with such terms as child labor, labor unions, strike, etc.

1. As an introduction, the teacher will use the items in the “Treasure Trunk” (see Tools section above - “Travel Trunk”) to show students machinery and materials used in a textile mill during the late 1800’s and early 1900’s. These items include three wooden spools, two wooden spindles, and one jump rope made from textile scraps. All “Treasure Trunk” materials were gathered and checked out through the Anderson County Museum. (Day One)

2. Students will be divided into groups of three. Each group will get a primary source to read. Some groups will get an accident report from the Clifton Manufacturing Co., some groups will get a wage log to review stating wages of workers within Clifton, and some groups will receive a set of pictures of child laborers. Each group will review their source and record ideas (on butcher paper) about what life was like in mills based on what they have observed from their source. They will use a bubble map to record their thoughts. After each group has shared, the class will record their ideas about mill life on a circle map on the board. (Day One)

3. Skyscraper Questions: Students will use the skyscraper method to develop questions to understand what a labor union is and why they are formed. (Basement question- what is a labor union? What do they do? Who is in them? 5th Floor question- Why were labor unions formed? What occurrences happened that led to unions? Top Floor question- How did labor unions help solve problems in textile mills?). Questions and answers we will use to be written on the RIGHT side of student’s spiral notebooks. (Day One)

4. Hand out various newspaper clippings to groups of students. There will be 8 groups of three or four students. The newspaper clippings discuss various labor unions that took action across South Carolina and what demands they helped laborers meet in various mills. Students will use highlighters to find the following details in the clippings (Day Two):
• Yellow - actions taken by the strikers/laborers
• Pink or Purple - actions taken by the lawmen or members of the management of mills
• Blue or Green - demands made by laborers
• Orange - results of the strike

5. Then, students will receive a picture of employees on strike at the Lowenstein plant in Rock Hill, SC. Students will perform a Tableau using the picture. (Day Two)

6. Note booking activity: Students will pretend they work in the textile mill and make their own “picket sign” that shows a demand. They will draw and color a picture of their picket sign on the LEFT side of their spiral notebook. Below the picture, students will write a short one-to-two paragraph diary entry describing why they have demanded X, how long they intend to strike, and how they feel about working in the mill under X conditions. (Day Two - may be finished for homework).

7. Students will participate in a grade-wide field trip to the Anderson County Museum on January 6th to tour the Textile and Industry Exhibit.

Teacher Reflections

I have always enjoyed teaching United States History. It is my favorite subject to teach. If I didn’t get to teach it every single day, I would not enjoy my job as much as I do. Before this institute, I did not worry a whole lot about how to connect what I’m teaching to South Carolina. My state social studies standards do not require me to correlate the curriculum to South Carolina history. That is a requirement for third grade teachers. Therefore, it is not something I have put much thought into over the past 6 years.

I have also never really understood the enormous effects that primary sources could have, not just on teaching the content, but on capturing student’s attention and producing interest. From time to time, I would show pictures or pull up interesting Power Points related to the topics discussed in class, but after taking this course, I have realized the power behind primary sources. They are truly a staple to any social studies curriculum and instruction. It allows the learner to see and live history rather than reading about it. It also supports different learning styles (kinesthetic, visual, audio, etc.).

This course has definitely influenced me to think about how I can use a primary source to teach history in the future. This course has made me familiar with the resources out there that I can use in my classroom. I have never thought about using any cultural institutions in the area to support my teaching. After visiting these museums, I now know I have been missing out. Even worse, I have deprived my students of such a wonderful asset to their learning. I definitely plan to use these places in the future to teach Social Studies. For them to see these exhibits at museums is an excellent way for them to connect to the material visually. The fact that they relate to our local areas only serves as a bonus and allows an opportunity for student connections.

This course has also influenced me to start using more actual pictures of the time period we are discussing. During my lesson, I showed students pictures of children working in textile mills in South Carolina. The students immediately sympathized with the children and began comparing their lives now to these children in the past. The students also came to the realization that children shouldn’t be working in such dangerous conditions, and it conveyed to them why the formation of labor unions were so important. I was really thrilled that they could make these inferences just by looking at these pictures.

This course has also made me think about how important it is to get students up and moving. I realized that students are going to grasp content if you present it in many different ways. For example, using a primary source to complete a Tableau can help students remember the information. Not only are they visually studying the source, whether it’s a picture or an actual document, but they are responding to it kinesthetically. Primary sources will also help students relate to the material and they allow learning to be more meaningful. For example, if you give students a copy of President Roosevelt’s address to the nation after Pearl Harbor, they are going to truly understand the meaning behind his speech. Furthermore, if you listen to a copy of this speech, it may strike a chord with students, and they will actually be able to sympathize with the people during that time.

Dr. Anderson’s lessons were also very influential on my knowledge of content. Reconstruction has always been a topic that I have rushed through when teaching. I have always thought that there simply wasn’t a lot of information on the topic because it was a short time period, unlike the Immigration years or the Cold War years. After listening to Dr. Anderson’s lectures, I realized I have been leaving out quite a bit of material in my own teaching. He covered the topics that I cover, but he went into more detail.

When it was time to teach Reconstruction at the beginning of this school year, I made sure to include some of his main points in depth and propose some of the central questions that he proposed (i.e., Do you think Reconstruction was the beginning or the end?). His concept of making sure that students see the “big picture” was highly influential on my teaching, and I believe my students gained more from this type of thinking. Instead of recalling facts, students were able to learn the material using higher-order thinking skills.

Mrs. Finley did a great job sharing a variety of activities and strategies with the participants. I LOVED the note booking strategy. Not only is it a wonderful reflection tool, but it will definitely come in hand at the end of the year when it is time to review for the PASS test. I also like the assortment of activities that can be done in the notebook. History can become bogged down with facts that student will forget after they study. I think the notebook helps engage the learner in the content and will helps reinforce concepts, not just historical facts.

The notebook can also be a useful tool in supporting our standards and assessment procedures. For example, we are required to use the statewide “support documents” to assist in assessment of our students. I find it easier to cover those requirements from the documents by using the notebook. If the standard states that students should summarize the 13th Amendment and how it enhances African Americans' political, social, and economical opportunities, it may be hard for students to do this because this is highly conceptual. The notebook, however, allows the students to summarize in pictures, charts, letters, diary entries, etc. It takes the information from hard to conceptualize to putting it in a student’s point of view.

I also loved the hands-on activities that Mrs. Finley shared with us. She showed us so many ways to use the primary resources through a variety of activities. She demonstrated how to use the primary sources and teach with these sources through group collaborations, technological activities, discussion and questioning activities, games, music, etc. I loved the diversity and the plethora of activities!

The only suggestion that I might give for both the Master Scholar and the Master Teacher would be to combine their time and activities together. Instead of the Scholar lecturing for 3 hours and then the Teacher conducting activities after lunch, they should both work together. For example, the Scholar could lecture on a particular topic for 30 to 40 minutes, and then, the Teacher could share a lesson or strategy that supports exactly what the Scholar just lectured on. After the Teacher is finished, then, the Scholar could continue with the next part of his lecture. Breaking it down this way could possibly help the institute participants stay focused, and it allows them to relate the material they’ve just learned to their own classroom immediately, instead of three hours later.

The cultural institutions were great tools to use for instruction. I thought that most of the institutions that we visited correlated with our standards very well. I thought the Anderson County Museum, Pickens County Museum, and The Heritage Center in Walhalla were particularly valuable resources. I thought their exhibits and artifacts covered our standards very well while also relating to South Carolina history. I took my fifth graders on a field trip to the Anderson County Museum, and I would definitely consider the other two institutions for future field trip opportunities. They could relate to the artifacts that pertained to topics that we have already discussed, and I plan to use the artifacts in the museum as a reference throughout the rest of the year. For example, when we begin discussing World War II, I can remind students of the uniform of a WWII soldier or the weapons used during the war that were on display. That way they can make a visual connection to the material learned in class.

The only improvement that I would suggest about the cultural institutions is to maybe eliminate one. I didn’t care for the Art Museum in Greenville. There was not a whole lot of art that I would have been able to use to teach 5th graders. I believe it is too abstract for them, and there were not a lot of pieces that correlated with 5th grade social studies standards. I also felt that the museum staff was neither friendly nor welcoming. They seemed to have trouble allowing adults into their museum. I would hate to see their reaction to 50 ten year olds. I did not take away much from that institution.

I feel there were many strengths in the lesson I taught. One strength would obviously be using primary sources. The students loved the picture of the men on strike at the mill and the pictures of the child laborers. I think that really helped them when they had to draw a picture of their own strike in their notebooks. It served as an excellent guide. I also feel that the “skyscraper” questions were very beneficial. With this questioning strategy, students were encouraged to use higher order-thinking skills. I like this because it helped them to see the “big picture” once again.

Some weaknesses in my lesson would have to be the news articles that I chose for students to read. Some students had a hard time reading them because the articles were well above their reading levels. I was able to see this when students were supposed to be highlighting details and experienced trouble with this. Next time, I may want to find articles that are an easy read.

Another weakness that I will address in the future would be adding in more of the strategies that Mrs. Finley taught us over the summer. Even though I did include some, there were many more that would have been beneficial and would have kept students motivated. For example, Round Robin would have been great for when students were in groups. They could have each shared their primary source with other group members instead of all the people in each group having the same source. This deprived students of all the information evident in the other primary sources.

There is an abundance of evidence from my classroom that I could provide to show how effective primary sources are to my instruction and student learning. From using actual photos to artifacts from museums to Tableau performances, students have really responded to my using primary sources as a tool. One piece of evidence that has really illustrated their positive response to this instruction is their note booking. For example, in my lesson I showed students a picture of a group of mill workers on strike in Rock Hill, South Carolina. After reenacting this picture in a Tableau, students then drew their own picture of a strike in their notebooks. Looking at the real photo helped them illustrate what a real strike looked like. Students were also able to summarize what a labor union was and how they affect businesses.

Student Assessment

The note booking activity will be graded using the following rubric:

Notebook Rubric

Skyscraper Questions:

Basement Question- My question was a basic question that recalls facts and details?

Fifth Floor Question- My question requires me to explain, classify, locate, describe, etc.?

Top Floor Question- My question requires me to see the “big” picture?  The answer is debatable and must be composed.

       5       4       3       2       1

       5       4       3       2       1

       5       4       3       2       1


My picture was neatly colored.

My picture illustrated what a strike would look like.

       5       4       3       2       1

       5       4       3       2       1


My paragraph reflected the picture in word form.

I had demands listed in my paragraph.

My paragraph was free of spelling and grammar errors.

       5       4       3       2       1

       5       4       3       2       1

       5       4       3       2       1



Examples of Students Work

No examples available for this lesson plan.


Ginger Hines
Forest Acres Elementary
Easley, South Carolina