Grade Range: 6-8

ACF Lesson Plan: Coal Camps and Mining Towns


Students will look at the history of the coal mining industry by researching coal mining towns.


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Students will:

  1. gain an understanding of the historic role of the coal mining companies and the establishment of mining towns;
  2. research and consider the relationships between miners, their families, and coal companies; and
  3. create a fictional short story about a person or persons in a mining town.

National Standards:

National Council for the Social Studies (NCSS) Standards

  • Culture
  • Time, Continuity, and Change
  • People, Places, and Environment

National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) Standards

  • Students employ a wide range of strategies as they use different writing elements to communicate with diverse audiences for a variety of purposes.

Time Needed:

Two class periods, with time in between for research and writing


  • Picture book In Coal Country, by Judith Hendershot
  • Pen and paper
  • A computer with Internet access
  • Reference books
  • KWL Research Chart

Discussion Questions:

  • Where and when did coal mining towns exist?

  • Who lived in them?

  • What role did coal mining play in the lives of those who lived in the towns?

  • Do you think these towns still exist?

  • Use the 5 W’s, Who, What, Where, When, and Why about coal mining towns.


  1. Using the KWL Research Chart for students, give students time to fill out their own chart before combining their information into the class KWL Research Chart.

  2. Begin by providing students with a brief history of coal mining towns. Explain that Pennsylvania was the largest coal mining state during the 19th and early 20th centuries, until West Virginia surpassed it in 1930. Wyoming has since surpassed West Virginia in mining productivity. In all three of these states, mining towns— known as coal patches or coal camps—were very common from the late 1800s to the early 1900s. These communities were created by coal companies so that workers could live near the mines. The coal companies built and owned everything, including schools, churches, stores, theaters, and residential structures. Ask students to list the pros and cons of living in such towns. Encourage students to think about what other employment options existed for some of these people, who had limited education and skills; what happened when the coal mines closed down; and how small communities such as these created a sense of family among the residents.

  3. Read the book In Coal Country, by Judith Hendershot

  4. Divide the class into three groups. Assign each group one of the following coal mining states: Pennsylvania, West Virginia, or Wyoming. Tell students that they will be researching coal patches, or camps, in their assigned state. They are to find out as much as they can about the history of mining in that state, as well as the development (and demise, if relevant) of the mining communities. In their research, students should seek answers to the following questions:
      • What camps or patches existed in this state? When were they built?
      • What coal companies owned the camps or patches?
      • What services in the camps were owned and run by the coal companies?
      • What types of coal were mined?
      • Who (what ethnic groups) populated the communities?
      • When did the communities flourish? Did the mines stop producing? If so, when?
      • What does the community look like now?

  5. Provide students with the following Internet links to begin their research. Encourage them to study the photos on these Web pages to get a feel for the appearance of each community before they begin gathering information. Give students ample time to conduct research and document their findings in their journal.

Black Diamonds (Pennsylvania’s anthracite mining history).

The Coal Region.

Wallace, Anthony F.C., and Paul A.W. Wallace. “The Old Country in the New World.” American Philosophical Society (Pennsylvania coal camps).

Perryopolis, Pennsylvania (history and pictures).

West Virginia
West Virginia Coal Mining.

“Coal Mining Tipples.” WVePostcards (West Virginia postcards with pictures of mines and mining towns).

McGehee, Stuart. “Mining Life.” Matewan (history of a West Virginia coal mining town). life.htm

“Coal Camp Photos.” Wyoming Tales and Trails (coal camps).

“Mining in Hot Springs County.” Hot Springs County (Wyoming) Museum and Cultural Center.

  1. Once the groups have completed their research, have them work in pairs within their state groups to create short fictional stories about a historic coal patch or camp. Encourage them to write about realistic characters and settings. They should rely on their research data to provide accurate locations, time periods, and ethnicities for their characters. Allow them to be creative about the plot of their story, but tell them they must include some authentic details about the characters’ work and home life.


Have students read their stories to the class sharing their information. After sharing stories, have them discuss differences in the mining history and culture of the three states.


Research can also be conducted on the coal camps of other mining states, such as Illinois, Virginia, Ohio, and Kentucky. The following links will serve as a good beginning in this research:

Duncan, Wayne. “The Coal Camps of Southwestern Virginia.” Hills and Hollers, My Mountain Home.

Joyce, Richard. “Early Days of Coal Mining in Northern Illinois.” The Illinois Labor History Society.

Roberts, Peter. “Images from Anthracite Coal Communities.” Anthracite Coal Communities, from Ohio State University Department of History Web site.

“Kentucky Coal History.” Heritage.


In preparing to write the short stories, pair students who have strong writing skills with other students who may be more creative but need help in writing their stories.

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