Industrial Revolution RPG

by

I love the Industrial Revolution and the grit and grime of the 19th century.  It’s hard for textbooks to do it justice and treat the workers of that era as more than just flat statistics or a few sepia-tone photos of sad-looking child laborers.  I strove to bring the era to life for my students through a role-playing game in which our classroom would become a Victorian mill town.

Creating this game took a lot of research, which I am happy to share with you.  The game is not perfect and I would welcome any suggestions on how to improve it.  I had the game observed by two colleagues who gave wonderful feedback, so this is the second draft of the game.  I’m including instructions and the sheets students would receive as part of the game.  You can copy, paste and print them as you see fit.  Colorful paper might make them easier to handle, and half-sheets of paper will be gentler on the Earth.

Mill Town Schedule

Monday – Friday:

Wake up: 4:30am

Work begins: 5:00am

Lunch break: 12:30pm

Lunch ends: 1:05pm

End of work: 7:00pm

Saturday:

Wake up: 4:30am

Work begins: 5:00am

Lunch break: 12:30pm

Lunch ends: 1:05pm

End of work: 5:30pm


(Based on the Work Schedule at the Lowell Mills)

Positives: The students (9th graders, honors) loved it and found it memorable.  It’s also a great way to utilize boisterous students who like to seek attention by giving them larger roles in the game.  My two most active students threw themselves into their roles with gusto and did not attempt to disrupt the class.

Negatives: It takes a whole class period, which may be hard to fit in the curriculum.  It also might be hard with shy students or classes who may not buy into the spirit of an RPG.

Characters in the Game:

Mill Manager: 1 student

Mill Manager’s family: 2-3 students

Overseer: 2 students (depending on class size)

Overseers’ families: 4 (2 families, 2 students each)

Shop Keepers: 2 (depending on class size)

Landlord: 1

Families: 8 (2 families – 4 students each, can vary on class size.  Give the students a common “last name”– colors such as Green, Scarlett, Brown, White, Black, Gold, etc can make it easy to remember)

Single workers: the rest of the class

Banker/Mayor (teacher)

Police Officer (another teacher, aide, student teacher, etc)

How the Game Works:

Before you Begin: Before class, the desks or tables should be moved into several stations.  The room will need a Mill with ample space for students to ‘work’, a shop, a jail, a bank, luxury “housing” with lots of seats/space, tenement housing which should be crowded (not enough chairs for the students, sloppily arranged), and a “Graveyard” for students whose characters have died.

The roles should be chosen by the teacher ahead of time so that students are put in roles they will be good at (strong math students as the shopkeepers, leaders as the mill overseers, etc).

All the materials, handouts, etc should be ready to go when class begins.  This takes organization, but it’s a lot of fun and interesting.

Step 1: The teacher will welcome every student to Mill Town as they arrive.  When the class has assembled, the teacher will run through the purpose and rules of the game and assign roles.  Putting the rules on PowerPoint or the overhead projector may help.  Students will get into their assigned “families” and familiarize themselves with the stations around the room.

Step 2: The Mill Owner and Overseers will hire their employees.  Students will line up and be assigned jobs.  Favoritism may occur, but that’s part of Victorian life, right?  For added realism, some jobs should be male-only.  Note that females are also always paid less. (See Wage Chart)

At the same time, the shop keepers and landlord will settle into their locations.  They need to have lists of prices and a supply of money for making change.

Step 3: Start Life

The first work bell will be rung (this could be a real bell, a buzzer, or just an announcement) and the workers will report to work, children will report to work, and non-working adults will stay home.   Workers will be paid at the start of the work day.  At work, students will be trained at a task which they will perform until the bell rings again.

At mealtimes, students will use their “money” from their first paycheck to purchase food at the shop.  They must record this food on their Daily Log.  When the bell rings, they must return to work whether they have had time to purchase food or not. When the end bell rings, they may buy food and must pay for lodging for the night.

The police officer will patrol for vagrant adults (not at work during work time or not in lodings at “night”) or children not at school, and will arrest them.  Families will have to pay for their release.

The police officer and mayor will also distribute Chance! cards and will make sure students report to jail or accept other consequences (illness, “death”, winning money, etc).

Continue game play for several “days”.  Some students should be in and out of jail, families should be running short on money, and some workers may be “killed”.  When students “die” they should go to the graveyard area and fill out a Reflection Sheet (at the end).

Step 4: Ending the Game When the game is declared over (after several “days” in Mill Town), all students will fill out this sheet and then discuss them as a class.  You’ll want to discuss with the class who had life the easiest, whose life was hardest, if they thought it was fair, and why they think it was that way.  Remind the class that the wages, prices and laws are based on actual history.

Game Materials: There are several items needed for this game.  I will include the text of the various cards and handouts after these descriptions.  Let me know if you want any of these in a Word document.

1) Name tags for each person saying their role (and family if they have one)

2) Money (pounds, shillings and pence)

I printed out the words “1 Pound”, “1 Shilling” and “1 Pence” on paper and cut them out.  I used very small pieces (dozens on a page), but you can use your own system.  Colored paper makes them easier to differentiate.

3) Chance! cards for events that happen

Chance Card!

Congratulations!  If your children are in school, they have entered a poetry contest and won the second prize: 10 shillings.  You may only collect if you have a child in school.

Chance Card!

Uh oh, you have gotten arrested!  Pay 3 shillings bail to the police officer, or you’ll have to stay in jail until someone can raise the money for you.

Chance Card!

Oh no!  If you are a factory worker, your finger got caught in a machine and severed, and will have to stay home from work today without pay.  If you don’t work in a factory or are at school today, don’t worry: all your fingers are still attached.

Chance Card!

You aunt needs help.  Her husband has died and she needs help supporting her four children.  If you have any extra money saved, you must give her at least half of your savings.  She is your favorite aunt, after all.

Chance Card!

*cough*  You’ve got tuberculosis.  You will have to buy medicine from the shop to cure you.  If you cannot afford to buy the medicine, flip a coin to see if you will survive.

Chance Card!

*gasp!*  You’ve got cholera!  You will have to buy medicine from the shop to cure you.  If you cannot afford to buy the medicine, flip a coin to see if you will survive.

Chance Card!

Congratulations!  Your child has been accepted to Oxford.  The tuition is 1 pound (20 shillings) per week, and will give your child many job opportunities.

Chance Card!

Uh oh.  When you were working at the factory, your hair was caught in a machine and you were killed.  If you are not a factory worker, this didn’t happen and you’re still alive.

Chance Card!

Oh no!  While you were working in the factory, your machine broke and the overseer is docking your wages for today.  If you are a factory worker, you will not be paid today.  All other workers are unaffected.

Chance Card!

Walking down the street today, you found a pound laying in the gutter.  Flip a coin to see if you also contracted cholera.  If you do get cholera, you either have to buy medicine or flip a coin to see if you survive.

Chance Card!

I’m so sorry for your loss—Grandma died.  On the bright side, she left you some money in her will.  The inheritance she left you is equal to two days wages.  Collect at the bank.

Chance Card!

CHOLERA EPIDEMIC! If you live with more than two people in a room, each member of your household must flip a coin to see if they live.

Chance Card!

You meet a man missing both his arms.  He tells you that he was a train switch operator and that he lost his arms in a train collision.  You are moved by his plight, and give him half your savings.  If you have no savings, give him some of the food you bought today.

Chance Card!

Oh no!  You have gotten arrested!  Pay 2 shillings bail to the police officer, or you’ll have to stay in jail until someone can raise the money for you.

4) Coin to flip The Police Officer/Mayor will use this for some decisions on the chance! cards

5) Materials for student “jobs”: cardboard loom, yarn for winding and weaving

To do this, I actually brought in yarn and cardboard “looms” that can be easily made for students to do basic weaving and I asked students to wind yard onto pencils to simulate the job of winders.  The students did this with great gusto, although it required some tedious preparation on my part (cutting out “looms,” balling yarn, etc).  This part of the job might be altered.

6) Worksheets for students (Sheet 1: Goal of the Game/Important Rules; Sheet 2: Daily Status Log; Sheet 3: Post-Game Reflection Questions) – These are included at the end of this post

7) Job Description Cards (Print these out onto small papers to hand out to students.  Jobs can be doubled up as necessary depending on the class size)

Mill Manager: You run the mill.  You hire and fire employees, and determine how much they will be paid.

Responsibilities: hiring and firing employees, paying employees

Overseer: You are in charge of the everyday task of running the mill.  You make sure all employees are on task and doing their job well.  You ring the bell in the morning to begin the work day, dismiss employees for their lunch break, and ring the bell at the end of the day.

Responsibilities: disciplining employees, make sure everyone is doing their job, with the Mill Manager you will decide if an employee gets fired

Landlord: You own several buildings in Mill Town, including an apartment building and several houses.

Responsibilities: rent lodging to workers and their families

Shopkeeper: You own and operate the Company Store in Mill Town.  You sell food, household goods and other necessities to the people of Mill Town.

Responsibilities: selling food and other supplies.

Power Loom Attendant: A generation earlier, individual weavers would work one loom to produce cloth by hand.  Your job is to attend four power looms, ensuring that threads do not break or get tangled, and loading and unloading thread.

Responsibilities: stringing looms, untangling yarn, fixing broken yarn

Spindle Cleaner: During the spinning process, cotton fuzz and dust builds up on the threads and the machinery.  If unattended, this fuzz and dust can jam the machine and cause it to break.  Your job is to remove the fuzz from the machines, which often involves crawling into or under machines while they are running.

Responsibilities: Cleaning up the factory floor and work spaces

Winder: Your job is to attend the machines that wind thread onto bobbins.  One machine can handle hundreds of bobbins at a time, and you have to make sure that no threads get tangled, and remove them if they break.  These machines move very quickly and are extremely dangerous: watch out for your fingers.

Responsibilities: Winding yarn onto the “bobbins.”

Weaver: This job was once done completely by hand, but now you have machinery to aid your task.

Responsibilities: Weaving yarn onto the loom

8) Table of Wages & Prices for all students; Larger Price Sheets for Shopkeepers and Landlord; Mill Payroll sheets for Mill Owner

Chart of Wages

Based on the residents of Halstead, England in 1860

Accessed from: http://www.womeninworldhistory.com/textile.html

Job

Men’s Wages

Women’s Wages

Children’s Wages

Mill Manager

55 shillings/day

n/a

n/a

Overseer

4 shillings/day

2 shillings/day

n/a

Power Loom Attendant

2 shillings/day

n/a

n/a

Spindle Cleaner

1 shilling/day

8 pence/day

4 pence/day

Winder

2 shillings/day

1 shillings/day

5 pence/day

Weaver

1 shilling/day

10 pence/day

n/a

Conversation rates:   20 shillings = 1 pound                       12 pence = 1 shilling

Table of Prices

Based on The Book of Household Management Accessed from : http://etext.library.adelaide.edu.au/b/beeton/isabella/household/chapter35.html

Lodging: Prices
Rent – 1 room 1 shillings/day
Rent – 2 bedrooms, kitchen & bath 3 shillings/day
Mortgage – 1 house 10 shillings/day
Food:
Broth for 1 person 1 pence
Bread for 1 person 1 pence
Tea for 1 person (enough for 1 day) 1 pence
4 apples 2 pence
1 quart of milk 2 pence
Potato soup for 1 person 2 pence
Beef stew for 1 person 3 pence
Roast duck for 1 person 6 pence
Roast beef for 1 person 8 pence
Other:
Coal (for heating) for 1 room 3 pence/day in winter
Candles for 1 room 1 pence/day
Set of clothing for 1 person 1 pound (20 shillings)
School for 1 child 1 shilling/week
Medicine for 1 person 1 shilling

Conversation rates:   20 shillings = 1 pound                       12 pence = 1 shilling

Mill Payroll Sheet:

Job

Name

Wages:

Day 1

Wages:

Day 2

Wages:

Day 3

Wages:

Day 4

Wages:

Day 5

Wages:

Day 6

Wages:

Day 7

Mill Manager

Overseer 1

Overseer 2

Power Loom Attendant

Winder

Winder

Winder

Winder

Winder

Winder

Weaver

Weaver

Weaver

Weaver

Weaver

Spindle Cleaner

Spindle Cleaner

Sheet 1 (for all students):

Goal of the Game: to survive the Industrial Revolution, and learn more about life in industrial England.

Important Rules:

  • You must eat every day, or you will die.
  • If you go without heat for more than 3 days, you die.
  • If your are in a family, you must choose what’s best for your family members.
  • If you can afford to send your children to school, you must send them to school.
  • Everyone must have a job or be in school, or they will be arrested.
  • When at work, you must work.
  • You must obey the Mayor, Police Officer, Mill Owner, Manager and Overseers.

Sheet 2 (for all mill employees, foreman and owner – shopkeepers, landlord, etc are exempt)

Daily Status Log

Name:

Occupation:

Day # What did I eat?

(include each meal)

Where did I sleep?  (how many rooms, how many roommates) Other expenses Remaining money
1
2
3
4
5
6
7

Sheet 3 (for all students, given to them once they have “died” or after the game is over)

Post-Game Reflection Questions:

1)      How did you decide what you would buy?

2)      If you were in a family, how many of your family members had to work?  How did you decide?

3)      If you were in a family, did your kids go to school?  How did you decide?

4)      Did you rent your own room or share?  How did you decide?

5)      Did you feel like you had enough money to get what you needed?  Why or why not?  How did this make you feel?

6)      Were you injured?  Did you die?  How did this happen?

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Mill Manager: You run the mill.  You hire and fire employees, and determine how much they will be paid.

Responsibilities: hiring and firing employees, paying employees

Overseer: You are in charge of the everyday task of running the mill.  You make sure all employees are on task and doing their job well.  You ring the bell in the morning to begin the work day, dismiss employees for their lunch break, and ring the bell at the end of the day.

Responsibilities: disciplining employees, make sure everyone is doing their job, with the Mill Manager you will decide if an employee gets fired

Overseer: You are in charge of the everyday task of running the mill.  You make sure all employees are on task and doing their job well.  You ring the bell in the morning to begin the work day, dismiss employees for their lunch break, and ring the bell at the end of the day.

Responsibilities: disciplining employees, make sure everyone is doing their job, with the Mill Manager you will decide if an employee gets fired

Landlord: You own several buildings in Mill Town, including an apartment building and several houses.

Responsibilities: rent lodging to workers and their families

Shopkeeper: You own and operate the Company Store in Mill Town.  You sell food, household goods and other necessities to the people of Mill Town.

Responsibilities: selling food and other supplies.

Power Loom Attendant: A generation earlier, individual weavers would work one loom to produce cloth by hand.  Your job is to attend four power looms, ensuring that threads do not break or get tangled, and loading and unloading thread.

Responsibilities: stringing looms, untangling yarn, fixing broken yarn

Spindle Cleaner: During the spinning process, cotton fuzz and dust builds up on the threads and the machinery.  If unattended, this fuzz and dust can jam the machine and cause it to break.  Your job is to remove the fuzz from the machines, which often involves crawling into or under machines while they are running.

Responsibilities: Cleaning up the factory floor and workspaces

Winder: Your job is to attend the machines that wind thread onto bobbins.  One machine can handle hundreds of bobbins at a time, and you have to make sure that no threads get tangled, and remove them if they break.  These machines move very quickly and are extremely dangerous: watch out for your fingers.

Responsibilities: Winding yarn onto the “bobbins.”

Winder: Your job is to attend the machines that wind thread onto bobbins.  One machine can handle hundreds of bobbins at a time, and you have to make sure that no threads get tangled, and remove them if they break.  These machines move very quickly and are extremely dangerous: watch out for your fingers.

Responsibilities: Winding yarn onto the “bobbins.”

Winder: Your job is to attend the machines that wind thread onto bobbins.  One machine can handle hundreds of bobbins at a time, and you have to make sure that no threads get tangled, and remove them if they break.  These machines move very quickly and are extremely dangerous: watch out for your fingers.

Responsibilities: Winding yarn onto the “bobbins.”

Winder: Your job is to attend the machines that wind thread onto bobbins.  One machine can handle hundreds of bobbins at a time, and you have to make sure that no threads get tangled, and remove them if they break.  These machines move very quickly and are extremely dangerous: watch out for your fingers.

Responsibilities: Winding yarn onto the “bobbins.”

Winder: Your job is to attend the machines that wind thread onto bobbins.  One machine can handle hundreds of bobbins at a time, and you have to make sure that no threads get tangled, and remove them if they break.  These machines move very quickly and are extremely dangerous: watch out for your fingers.

Responsibilities: Winding yarn onto the “bobbins.”

Winder: Your job is to attend the machines that wind thread onto bobbins.  One machine can handle hundreds of bobbins at a time, and you have to make sure that no threads get tangled, and remove them if they break.  These machines move very quickly and are extremely dangerous: watch out for your fingers.

Responsibilities: Winding yarn onto the “bobbins.”

Weaver: This job was once done completely by hand, but now you have machinery to aid your task.

Responsibilities: Weaving yarn onto the loom

Weaver: This job was once done completely by hand, but now you have machinery to aid your task.

Responsibilities: Weaving yarn onto the loom

Weaver: This job was once done completely by hand, but now you have machinery to aid your task.

Responsibilities: Weaving yarn onto the loom

Weaver: This job was once done completely by hand, but now you have machinery to aid your task.

Responsibilities: Weaving yarn onto the loom

Weaver: This job was once done completely by hand, but now you have machinery to aid your task.

Responsibilities: Weaving yarn onto the loom

Weaver: This job was once done completely by hand, but now you have machinery to aid your task.

Responsibilities: Weaving yarn onto the loom

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One Response to “Industrial Revolution RPG”

  1. Dayna Says:

    We played a similar RPG in 8th grade, but it was Ellis Island. We all had to line up, and we were dealt cards to assign us to our families, skills, nationalities, etc. We then had to go through a series of tasks at different stations to determine if we were allowed to enter the USA or not. You might also be given a card indicating a certain disease which would make you miss a turn to go to “quarantine”.

    For example, at one station we had to answer demographic questions to pass through. Sometimes they were in English, sometimes they were in Spanish or French (the 2 languages taught at our school, so students might have been unfamiliar with them or only slightly familiar), and sometimes they were in gibberish. If you couldn’t answer them, you had to sit out a turn and try with a different random language.

    Another station was a “physical exam” , where we had to do a certain number of stupid human tricks (wiggle ear, roll tongue, etc) that only some people can do. You had to get a certain percentage to pass that station.

    Some were more based on your abilities, for example you had to complete a certain number of math problems in the time allotted for that station in order to move on.

    I really enjoyed that lesson. It was effective at demonstrating the mix of skill with arbitrariness. It also had some interdisciplinary elements which the other teachers liked.

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