The Triangle Factory Fire Tragedy: An Inquiry Unit

Teaching Activity. By Miriam Laska. Urban Dreams at OUSD. A lesson for high school on the media coverage of historic events, using the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire as an example.

  • Time Periods: World War I: 1910 - 1919, 20th Century | Themes: Labor, Media | Reading Levels: High School | Resource Types: Teaching Activity PDFs


Full Lesson on OUSD Website.
Essential Question

What caused the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire Tragedy of 1911?

  • Students will become familiar with the large variety of written and visual sources that are available to them to arrive at conclusions.
  • Students will have experiences identifying primary and secondary sources and in determining their reliability by questioning the purpose and perspectives of the authors.
  • Students will understand that there may be different interpretations of the same event depending of the sources being used.
  • Students will understand that present laws are connected to events in the past.

Description by lesson author Miriam Laska: “As a high school Social Studies teacher of English Language Learners, I wanted my students to have an inquiry experience using our new computers. The computers would connect students to a wide array of primary source documents – both printed and visual allowing students to become investigators of historical events, not just consumers of a textbook account. However, I was concerned that though many had the technology skills to access materials on the web, their comprehension skills limited their understanding of what they were able to find. Solving that dilemma was the inspiration for this unit.

“‘The Triangle Factory Fire Tragedy’ is the result of that concern. My goal was to present a lesson using an assortment of sources from online sources: primary, secondary, written, and visual. Students would be able to locate these sources and most importantly, be able to understand them because I have edited the material so that it would be comprehensible for English Language Learners.”

The material in this inquiry has been adapted for the reading level of intermediate English Language Learner. Other students with lower reading skills would also benefit from this material.

Though the Instructional Calendar contains a seven-day lesson, several lessons could be eliminated if a shorter time period is needed. I believe the following lessons could be dropped without sacrificing the historical or academic quality of the lesson: Heaven Will Protect the Working Girl (Day 4), Background articles (Day 5), and Blame Shifted On All Sides (Day 6).

I Overview
II Essential Question
III Lesson Plan
Day One
Day Two
Day Three
Day Four
Day Five
Day Six
Day Seven
IV Concluding Assignment
V Student Materials
VI Handouts

This lesson was produced as part of the Urban Dreams project of the Oakland Unified School District Office of Instructional Technology.


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