Building Background Knowledge: Who Changes Working Conditions? | EL Education Curriculum

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ELA 2012 G7:M2A:U2:L1

Building Background Knowledge: Who Changes Working Conditions?

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Long Term Learning Targets

  • I can analyze the interactions between individuals, events, and ideas in a text. (RI.7.3)
  • I can effectively engage in discussions with diverse partners about seventh-grade topics, texts, and issues. (SL.7.1)

Supporting Targets

  • I can define "agent of change" and apply that knowledge to working conditions.
  • I can explain the significant facts about the life and work of Cesar Chavez.

Ongoing Assessment

  • Building Background Knowledge Worksheet


AgendaTeaching Notes

1.  Opening

A.  Entry Task (5 minutes)

B.  Reviewing Learning Targets and Introducing Agents of Change (5 minutes)

2.   Work Time

A.  Building Background Knowledge on Cesar Chavez (15 minutes)

B.  Introducing the Text--Modified Tea Party (15 minutes)

3.   Closing and Assessment

A.  Turn and Talk (5 minutes)

4.   Homework

A.  Continue reading in your independent reading book for this unit at home.

  • In this lesson, students are introduced to the guiding question of Unit 2: Who changes working conditions? The students will think about this individually, in groups, and as a class. Students will capture their thinking on a class anchor chart.
  • Students are also introduced to Cesar Chavez. Consider adapting the Building Background Knowledge Worksheet (see supporting materials) to suit the source you choose. Building students' understanding of the context in which Chavez gives his speech will help their comprehension of the speech, and allow them to move on to the structural analysis of a complex text that is the core cognitive work of this unit. This lesson recommends using the picture book Harvesting Hope: The Story of Cesar Chavez by Kathleen Krull; alternatives are listed below. Consider what will be best for your situation.
  • Alternative sources for building background knowledge:
  • PBS publishes a documentary called Fight in the Fields. Consider showing appropriate clips that will help the students understand basic facts about Chavez's life, the United Farm Workers cause, and the role of unions historically.
  • Other options:
  • -- 
    The information on Chavez's background begins at 1:33 and runs until 4:30;
  • --
    This video has good images and runs 1:50 long;
  • -- If you look at the "About Cesar" section, there is a photo gallery of images. Select some to share with your students.
  • This lesson also includes time to discuss the issues of language and ethnicity with students, as the words we use to refer to groups have changed over the years. If you are new to this type of conversation with students, consider talking in advance with a colleague about how to facilitate this part of the lesson.
  • Because this unit requires a lot of in-class reading, many lessons--including this one--include an activity that involves movement to give students a physical break. When you implement lessons with these types of activities, make sure to review your expectations for how and when students move around the classroom just before starting the activity. Descriptions of what you should and should not hear and see will help students be successful.
  • For homework in this unit, students are usually reading in their independent reading book. The plans assume that you have launched the independent reading program with your students, and that all students have books to read and understand the routines of reading and logging their reading. See two separate stand-alone documents on The Importance of Increasing the Volume of Reading, and Launching Independent Reading in Grades 6-8: Sample Plan, which together provide the rationale and practical guidance for a robust independent reading program. If you have not launched independent reading yet, you could either work the launch into this unit, by adding days, or you could pause and launch the program before starting this unit.


agent of change, consumer, boycott, union, migrant worker, Chicano, Anglo, Mexican-American, Latino, Hispanic


  • Two images of working conditions, one modern and one historic; found in advance by teacher; suggested images:

-   Modern day: a Google image search for "factory today working conditions" will yield a number of possibilities. Choose one that will interest your students.

-   Lowell:

  • Entry task: Working Conditions Then and Now (one per student)
  • Agents of Change anchor chart (one per student and one to display)
  • Building Background Knowledge worksheet (one per student)
  • Harvesting Hope: The Story of Cesar Chavez (or an alternative background source; see Teaching Notes for a list)
  • Quote Cards (one copy for every four students)
  • Quote Cards (for teacher reference)
  • Additional Quotes (one per student; used during group work)


OpeningMeeting Students' Needs

A. Entry Task (5 minutes)

  • Display the two images of working conditions. Distribute or display the entry task: Working Conditions: Then and Now. Direct students to complete it individually and silently.
  • Debrief the entry task. Listen for students to understand that the technology has changed, the protective clothing has changed, the number of workers needed has changed, but the workers are still young women.

B. Reviewing Learning Targets and Introducing Agents of Change (5 minutes)

  • Direct students' attention to the learning targets for the day, and tell them that first they will learn about agents of change. Ask a student to define agent (someone who works for someone else). Discuss examples of agents, such as Hollywood agents, FBI agents, and real estate agents. Introduce the phrase agent of change--someone or something that works to change a situation. One major agent of change in the textile industry has been technology, as students saw in the photos. But they are going to be thinking about the people or groups of people that are agents of change.
  • Display the Agents of Change anchor chart and distribute a copy to each student. Define the word consumer, and make sure students also understand the other words. Instruct students to turn and talk to the person next to them about how workers or business owners can be agents of change for working conditions:

*   "What were the mill girls in Lyddie trying to do?

*   "How did the response of the owners to their petitions affect working conditions?"

  • Listen for students to notice that workers can organize to demand better conditions, and that businesses can make conditions better or worse depending on how they respond to those demands.
  • Tell students they will start reading a speech today that will explore this very important question: Who changes working conditions? They will learn about how the government, business, workers, and consumers all affected working conditions in one particular industry: agriculture. Express your excitement to hear their thoughtful ideas and analysis of this topic.
  • ELLs may be unfamiliar with more vocabulary words than are mentioned in this lesson. Check for comprehension of general words that most students would know.
  • Guiding questions provide motivation for student engagement in the topic and give a purpose to reading a text closely. Consider posting this one.

Work Time

Work TimeMeeting Students' Needs

A. Building Background Knowledge on Cesar Chavez (15 minutes)

  • Now tell students that one major agent of change was Cesar Chavez. Direct their attention to the learning target about him, and distribute the Building Background Knowledge Worksheet. Use whichever source you have selected to help students understand the life and work of Cesar Chavez. Consider reading sections of Harvesting Hope: The Story of Cesar Chavez by Kathleen Krull, which is the recommended option, as it provides an opportunity for students to enjoy listening to a story and viewing some beautiful artwork.
  • Students should hold their thinking on the Building Background Knowledge Worksheet.
  • Consider briefly reviewing the vocabulary that Chavez uses in the Commonwealth Club speech that students will read, as the terms we use to discuss ethnicity have changed over the years. Depending on the needs of your students, clarify current and past usage of the terms: migrant workerChicanoAngloMexican-AmericanLatino, and Hispanic.
  • This read-aloud builds a familiarity with the structure of a two voice poem in a way that hearing it read by one person or reading it silently cannot do.

B. Introducing the Text--Modified Tea Party (15 minutes)

  • Distribute a quote card to each student. Explain that each student has a quote from the Commonwealth Club Address by Cesar Chavez, and that there are four quotes in all. (Note: For this activity to work, you must distribute the cards in sets of four, so you may need to give some cards to pairs of students. For example, if you have 29 students in your class, you would create seven sets of four cards each, and then you would give the last card to a pair of students instead of to an individual student.)
  • Ask the students to read their quotes silently. Clarify any unknown vocabulary. Give students a chance to think about the words they don't know first--but even if no one asks, make sure you define boycott and union, as these are terms that are central to Chavez's speech.
  • Next, preview the Tea Party protocol. Tell students that in a tea party, it's best to have a variety of people to make the conversation interesting. They need to mix and mingle in order to form groups of four in which each person has a different quote. When they have done so, they should sit together. You may wish to make this a silent exercise or play music to provide an auditory clue that they are to move around, and you may also wish to give them a specific time limit.
  • After students have formed groups, refocus whole class for the next set of instructions. Group members need to help one another match their quotes to the agent of change on the Agent of Change anchor chart.
  • Model this process by saying something like: "For example, my quote from the speech is, 'Instead of enforcing the law as it was written against those who break it, Deukmejian invites growers who break the law to seek relief from the governor's appointees.' So, this quote is about laws, and more specifically about laws being broken and the governor not enforcing the law. I think that if we are talking about laws, we are talking about governments as agents of change. When governments outlaw certain working conditions, they will change. Of course, if they don't enforce those laws, the working conditions will not change. So I will write, 'Government passes and enforces laws' and put my card on this section of the anchor chart."
  • Direct students to begin to match their quotes to the appropriate square on the anchor chart. When they think they have completed the task and everyone in their group can explain their reasoning, ask them to raise their hands. As groups finish, hand out the Additional Quotes worksheet, which they can discuss as they wait for everyone to finish.
  • After a few minutes or when everyone is done, cold call on several students to share where their group placed the cards and what they added to their Agents of Change anchor chart. Add those ideas to the displayed Agent of Change anchor chart.
  • ELLs may be unfamiliar with more vocabulary words than are mentioned in this lesson. Check for comprehension of general words that most students would know.
  • Ensuring that students have opportunities to incorporate physical movement in the classroom supports their academic success.
  • Many students will benefit from having the time available for this activity displayed via a timer or stopwatch.
  • Research indicates that cold calling improves student engagement and critical thinking. Prepare students for this strategy by discussing the purpose, giving appropriate think time, and indicating that this strategy will be used before they are asked questions.

Closing & Assessments


A. Turn and Talk (5 minutes)

  • Ask students to turn and talk:

*   "Given what you learned about Chavez today and after previewing the quotes from his speech, who do you think Chavez sees as an agent of change?"

  • Remind students of the expectations and deadlines regarding independent reading for homework.


  • Continue reading in your independent reading book for this unit at home.


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