Lesson Plan

Women and Children in the Mill Village

Lesson Plan Image
Grade Level:
Upper Elementary: Third Grade through Fifth Grade
Social Studies
Lesson Duration:
30 Minutes
State Standards:
HP 1; HP 1 (3-4)-1; HP 2; HP 2-2; HP 2 (3-4)-3; HP 3; HP 3-1;
Additional Standards:
D2.Eco.3.3-5; D2.Eco.4.3-5; E 1 (3-4) –1; E 2 (K-2) – 2; D2.Geo.1.3-5; D2.Geo.2.3-5; D2.Geo.8.3-5; D2.His.1.3-5; D2.His.16.3-5
Thinking Skills:
Understanding: Understand the main idea of material heard, viewed, or read. Interpret or summarize the ideas in own words. Applying: Apply an abstract idea in a concrete situation to solve a problem or relate it to a prior experience. Analyzing: Break down a concept or idea into parts and show the relationships among the parts. Evaluating: Make informed judgements about the value of ideas or materials. Use standards and criteria to support opinions and views.

Essential Question

What roles did women and children play in the mill communities?


1) Students will analyze turn of the century photographs of life in mill villages in the Blackstone River Valley.

2) Students will cite evidence from the photographs, infer information, and draw conclusions by filling in the graphic organizer "I see… I think… I feel… I wonder…"

3) Students will assess the work of others through sharing out loud their findings.


About These Materials:  

Rhode Island is a state with an extensive history, as it is part of the original thirteen colonies owned by England and played a crucial role in the development of America as a nation. Rhode Island was extremely influential in the United States Industrial Revolution; English immigrant Samuel Slater built a mill that made cotton thread along the Blackstone River Valley area of Rhode Island. With the funding from Moses Brown, this idea began a shift from agriculture to industry throughout parts of New England. Numerous other investors developed mill complexes that dotted Rhode Island’s rivers and utilized water power in new ways. Canals created a new mode of transportation while dams allowed human control of the rivers. This created major changes in how people moved over land and also how people were able to obtain goods and other basic needs. One of those investors was Captain Wilbur Kelly, whose influence in and around the area of Ashton will be the focus of this unit.  

The Rhode Island Historical Society, in partnership with Blackstone River Valley National Historical Park, developed academic lessons that can be used on-site at the grounds of the Kelly House and the Ashton Mill complex as well as in the classroom if unavailable to go to the site itself. The project consisted of conducting archival research, reading secondary sources, and local educators creating interactive lessons for students which focus on historical context, ELA strategies, and STEM education. This unit provides a well-rounded learning experience for students at the upper elementary level. It intends to showcase a narrative of Rhode Islanders who used the Blackstone River Valley for commercial purposes. Educators could teach this unit during an exploration of famous Rhode Islanders, the Industrial Revolution, or the study of environment and geography in Rhode Island. 


View this set of videos for an overview of the history of the Wilbur Kelly and Ashton Mills. 

See this timeline of the history of the property from before European contact to the present. 

See this video by the Blackstone River Valley National Historical Park about canal construction. 

How to Use These Materials 

The lessons do not need to be completed as a whole or in any particular order. A teacher may decide to teach the lesson on “The Rhode Island System” in the classroom before a class visit to the Kelly House, visit the Kelly House to walk the property and see what they have learned, run the “Testing the Water Quality of the Blackstone River” lesson while at the property, and follow up in the classroom with the “Project Zap” lesson. A teacher may decide to take pieces of one lesson and combine it with another. The lessons are for teachers to use as is fitting for their curriculum. There are endless possibilities. The lessons below give tips for running the lesson at the Kelly House Museum and property and in the classroom. Some of the lessons have additional suggested extension activities to deepen the lesson further. 





Download Analyzing Photograph Worksheet

Lesson Hook/Preview

Some history texts tend to be dominated by a narrative that consists of mostly wealthy, adult, men and their accomplishments. However, in this lesson, students will practice close looking at a set of images where everyday women or children are the main subjects of the photographs.  


1) If on-site, students can utilize the barn as a "classroom" so there is a hard surface for students to write on. If this activity is in the classroom, students will have their desks. 

2) Talk to students briefly about the life of women and children in mills (use the sources provided to build teacher background knowledge). 

3) Put students in small groups (or individually if preferred) and give them 3-4 of the laminated pictures that depict life in mill villages. Make sure students have enough time to thoroughly analyze the photographs. A teacher may want to model how to analyze the photograph so students know what to look for. 

4) Give students the provided graphic organizer "I see… I think… I feel… I wonder." Students can individually fill out the sheet or there can be designated roles in a group (speaker, writer, manager, etc) where everyone has a given task to complete. 

5) Have students share out loud their findings. 

6) To make the assignment more visual and interactive, the teacher can recreate the graphic organizer on a giant piece of oversized paper. Give students four different color Post-its (one color for each category). Display one to three photographs (one at a time) for students to analyze. Make sure the photographs are also oversized so students can see the photo. Allow students to come up to the photograph to get a closer look. Students should write their analysis on the designated colored Post-its. The teacher should have their students bring their ideas to the front and place them in the correct category. Then share the findings out loud. 



Labor: another word for work

Assessment Materials

This activity allows students to look at the past through a medium they are very familiar with - photographs. Visuals tend to help transport students back into the past more so than written text. If this assignment can be done on site, then it gives students an opportunity to see photographs in the area they were taken in, and then students can see how much life has changed over the century.

1) What do you wear to school? How is it different from the children in the pictures? 

2) What do you like to do for fun? Based on the pictures, what do children do to keep themselves busy? 

3) How are these pictures similar to life today? How are they different? 

4) Do the people in the picture pose or smile differently depending on the type of photograph being taken (like being posed for a school photo)? And, do the way people are posed for the photograph help tell a certain story that the photographer wanted to convey? 

Enrichment Activities

Extension: For an activity using Hine’s images of child labor in Rhode Island, see this album through the Library of Congress’ Teaching with Primary Resources program. The album includes an activity plan that utilizes the images and other documents. https://tpsteachersnetwork.org/album/84371-child-labor-in-rhode-island 


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Last updated: January 4, 2024