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Analyzing Persuasive Techniques in Historical Media Messages: Child Labor

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This post is by Rebecca Newland, the 2013-2015 Library of Congress Teacher in Residence.

[Printed page of text: “Hymn for the Working Children” by Fanny J. Crosby.] 1913.
Before 1938, child labor was a controversial topic, as arguments raged over the benefits and harms of children working in factories, on farms, and in the streets as news and delivery boys. Persuasive messages filled the media, asking the American people and legislators to protect children by requiring education and limiting working hours. In 1938, passage of the Fair Labor Standards Act curtailed child labor as one way of putting adults back to work.

Raise student awareness of the role of media messages in swaying public opinion by introducing persuasive strategies that have long been used to influence audiences:

  • appeals based on emotion (pathos);
  • appeals based on logic (logos); and
  • appeals based on the credibility of the author or the author’s sources (ethos).

Help students develop skills in recognizing and critically analyzing media messages in primary sources. ReadHymn for the Working Children.” Select questions from the Analyzing Sheet Music and Song Sheets Teacher’s Guide paired with the Primary Source Analysis Tool to support students in analyzing the song.

Focus students on the songwriter’s views on the issue of child labor. Ask what details, words, or lines from the song convey those views. Next ask students to identify which of the persuasive strategies have been used in the song. Consider providing current advertising or news items that use the same mode or modes.

Help students build proficiency in identifying the strategies and their effect using a pair of items:

Cartoon, 1914

The day book., April 13, 1915, LAST EDITION, Image 8

Begin by analyzing the cartoon, supported by questions selected from the Analyzing Political Cartoons Teacher’s Guide. Again ask students to identify the details in the cartoon that convey the creator’s point about child labor. Ask: What persuasive strategies did the artist use?

Next, offer the news article. Ask students to read and analyze, looking for use of ethos, pathos, and logos.

Further the conversation about use of persuasion as seen in primary sources by asking:

  • How do the cartoon and article work together to support a view of child labor?
  • What persuasive strategies do you think are most effective in these items? What makes you say that?

Challenge students with one final item, perhaps as an assessment or culminating activity. Because Lewis Hine’s report on “Child Labor in the Canning Industry of Maryland,” uses all three strategies, it is ideal for assessing mastery.

How do you support students in thinking critically about media messages?

Comments (2)

  1. I generally like your lessons and wanted to tell you that this is particular lesson is excellent. The title enticed me to consider if I can use it with my social studies methods students and the students in my diversity course. I certainly can and will use it not only for the content, but also for the strategies being used with the primary documents and their positions within a well planned and meaningful lesson.

  2. Thank you for lesson. It is always great to find more ideas for paired text activities with an image and print text. This will be shared with many teachers!

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