You are here


What Are Working Conditions, and How Do They Affect Workers?

You are here:

This unit focuses on the historical era of industrializing America, and builds students’ background knowledge about what working conditions are and how they affect workers. The unit begins with a lesson that engages students in the guiding questions about working conditions that connect all three units in the module. Students then read the novel Lyddie, about a girl who goes to work in the Lowell mills, with an emphasis on CCLS RL.7.3, which is about how plot, character, and setting interact in literature.

As students read the novel, they build their stamina and capacity for independent reading of complex texts. In class, they do a variety of close reading, fluency, and vocabulary exercises with critical passages from the text. This work with particular passages builds the text-based discussion skills referenced in SL.7.1, as it pushes students to collaborate to analyze specific passages from the novel.

For the mid-unit assessment, students read a new chapter of the book and answer selected- and constructed-response items about how working conditions in the mill affect Lyddie. In the second part of the unit, students evaluate Lyddie’s choices around joining the protest over working conditions. As students read, they track factors in her decision, and then they craft an argument about whether or not she should sign the petition.

The end of unit assessment is an argument essay about this question. This essay follows a similar process to that used in Module 1, Unit 2, but it pushes students to greater independence with the process of crafting and revising an extended analytical essay. As with the Module 1 essay, the first draft is graded for content and evidence, and the second draft is graded for organization and conventions (this time with a particular focus on L.7.1, sentence structure). As students read Lyddie, they are encouraged to generate questions about how working conditions have or have not changed. These questions will drive students’ research about the modern-day garment industry in Unit 3.


Each unit is made up of a sequence of between 5-20 lessons. The “unit at a glance” chart in the curriculum map breaks down each unit into its lessons, to show how the curriculum is organized in terms of standards address, supporting targets, ongoing assessment, and protocols. It also indicates which lessons include the mid-unit and end-of-unit assessments.

Big Ideas & Guiding Questions

  • What are working conditions, and why do they matter?
  • How does reading one section of a text closely help me understand it better?
  • Working conditions include multiple factors and have significant effects on the lives of workers.
  • Closely reading and discussing one excerpt of a longer text helps to deepen your understanding of the text as a whole.

Content Connections

This module is designed to address English Language Arts standards. However, the module intentionally incorporates Social Studies and Science content that many teachers may be teaching during other parts of the day. These intentional connections are described below. 


Texts to buy

Texts that need to be procured. Please refer to Trade Book List for procurement guidance.

Cover Text Quantity ISBNs
by Katherine Patterson
One per student
ISBN: 9780140373899

Texts included in the unit

Texts that are included in the lesson materials.

Cover Text Quantity Publisher
Common-wealth Club Address
by César Chávez
"Are Your Clothes Made in Sweatshops?”
by Oxfam Australia
Harvesting Hope: The Story of Cesar Chavez
by Kathleen Krull
HMH Books for Young Readers, 2003
ISBN: 978-0152014377
“An Apparel Factory Defies Sweatshop Label, but Can It Thrive?”
by Steven Greenhouse
The New York Times, 2010
“In China, Human Costs Are Built Into an iPad”
by Charles Duhigg and David Barboza
The New York Times, 2012
“Ethical Style: How Is My T-Shirt Made?”
by Tabea Kay
GOOD, 2012
Cesar Chavez, “The Wrath of Grapes,” speech given in May 1986
by Cesar Chavez
César Chávez, “Statement at Pacific Lutheran University,” speech given in March 1989
by César Chávez



ELA G7:M2A:U1:L9

ELA G7:M2A:U1:L18

End-of-Unit Assessment

Optional Activities

Invite a local historian of your community to speak to your students about what was happening during the time in which Lyddie is set (1830s). The historical context of Lyddie (industrialization, farm to factory) can also be seen in other communities.


  • If your school is near an old mill town, consider taking your students to visit the site.
  • For an online fieldwork experience, visit the website of the Lowell National Historic Site at
  • Lyddie takes place within the context of an industrializing United States and the movement of people from farms to factories. A museum exhibit about this part of your community’s history would provide students with a useful frame of reference.



  • Consider partnering with the social studies teacher for a cross-disciplinary investigation of this time in history.
  • Consider partnering with the science or technical drawing teacher for an investigation of exactly how the water-powered mills worked.

Our newest K-5 curricula is available on a new site,
This website will be decommissioned in June 2018. Sign up for updates.