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The story of Charlotte Collyer: learning through drama.



There is a rich seam of cross curricular learning within the core ideas outlined here as a series of Drama and English activities. They are based on the story of Charlotte Collyer and her family, who were on board the Titanic when it sailed across the Atlantic on its maiden voyage in 1912. Find out more about them at on the People button and find Mrs Charlotte Annie Collyer: a second class passenger.

The activities could be organised into a series of two or three lessons. These could be extended if pupils are offered opportunities to read further or to research via the internet or the library.
   The Perfect Summer

   The almost endless sunshine between May and September
   1911 made it one of the hottest of the twentieth century.
   All previous records were broken when, in the middle
   of August, the temperature hit 100 degrees Fahrenheit.
   It was the perfect summer.

   A long run of cloudless days had made the people
   believe that the pattern of unbroken sunshine would last
   all summer. Yet by late August there were signs that the
   perfection would not last. The rumble of thunder and
   several dramatic storms interrupted the long months of
   heat and clear skies.

   It was a summer when, as one writer put it, 'We danced
   on the edge of an abyss'.

   It was as if time was running out.

(Adapted from the opening lines of The Perfect Summer by
Juliet Nicholson.)

Resources needed

* Copies (one per student) of the edited introduction from The Perfect Summer by Juliet Nicholson (see Figure 1).

* Image of postcard of family group (see Figure 2).

* Copies of the facts sheet about the Collyers (see Figure 3). NB The facts about the Collyers are a mixture of real, known facts (e.g. they lived in Bishopstoke) and 'facts' invented for the sake of the drama (e.g. father makes little origami figures for his daughter). The facts should be separately printed on strips of paper so that they can be 'placed' and moved independently.

* Nameplates (large bold print on single A4 hsheets) for Mrs Charlotte Collyer, Mr. Harvey Collyer, Marjorie Collyer.

* A copy of the book The Arrival by Shaun Tan. You will need to be able to display a number Of--pages from the book.

Warm up/Orientation

* In varying small groups ask the pupils to 'Make me' a photograph of:

--three friends saying goodbye;

--four people who care for each other but who are afraid to say what's on all their minds;

--five family members posing for a photo before one or two of them emigrate,

--two friends celebrating.

* In groups of three, the pupils describe a family photograph that each remembers clearly--above others--a photograph that sticks stubbornly in the pupil's memory for perhaps no good reason. Choose one of these photographs and, in their three, re-create it or part of it. See and discuss these 'photographs' or tableaux.


At the seaside--The Perfect Day within The Perfect Summer

Give out the edited introduction from The Perfect Summer by Juliet Nicholson. Starting at any chosen word, the class walks slowly around the room reading the passage aloud. After the text has been thoroughly read a few times and in different ways--e.g. sadly, as a news item, as a | sermon--each student chooses a short phrase and writes it on a slip of paper. These are images or phrases that the pupil likes or that they find effective. Display these on the floor at the end of the room--or stick them on the wall in a classroom. These strips and phrases will be used again in The Arrival work later (see below).

* Show the seaside photograph of the family group on the beach (Figure 2). Tell the class that this photograph was taken at the height of the summer heat in August 1911. Look at it very closely. Notice things. Share observations.

* Introduce the characters represented in the photograph: Mrs Charlotte Collyer (wife), Mr. Harvey Collyer (husband), Marjorie Collyer (daughter).

* Place three chairs in roughly the appropriate positions (to the photograph) to represent the three members of the Collyer family. Place nameplates at the foot of the appropriate chairs.

* Hand out the fact slips to individual/pairs of pupils and ask them to come out and place the slip where it is most appropriate--i.e. near the character to whom it mostly relates. The more important the fact is, in the opinion of the pupils, the nearer it should be to the nameplate. When the pupils have placed the slip they should say it out loud. Say it with 'attitude'--as someone with an attitude towards the Collyers--positive or negative. Pupils will want to ask questions and discuss the 'fact slips'. Try to be non-committal and don't give too much away.
Figure 3


* Charlotte Annie Tate was born in Hampshire in 1882.

* Marjorie is the Collyer's only child.

* Marjorie is often called a 'Daddy's girl'.

* Harvey Collyer is an agricultural seed merchant.

* The Collyer family live in Bishopstoke in Hampshire.

* Harvey is a sexton and clerk at Bishopstoke Parish Church.

* Harvey and Charlotte like to take part in the local
Rector's operettas.

* Harvey Collyer married Charlotte Annie Tate in 1903.

* Charlotte has suffered badly from TB (tuberculosis) recently.

* Harvey worries greatly about his wife's health.

* Harvey has some family friends who live in Payette,
Idaho, USA.

* The couple have lived in Hampshire all their lives.

* Charlotte and Harvey's parents live close by.

* Marjorie loves it when her father makes little folded paper
figures for her.

* Charlotte is worried about money and about Harvey's job.

* Marjorie loves to draw and paint.

Postcards from 'The Perfect Day'

* Split the group/class in two. One group goes to the Charlotte chair, one to the Harvey. Choose someone to be that person's closest, most trusted friend. Is that person a member of their family or friends in Bishopstoke? At work? Through church? Old school friend? When Charlotte was very ill with TB, who did they both speak to or rely on? Create that person. Sit them in Charlotte and Harvey's chairs.

* Ask two volunteers to take on the roles of Charlotte and Harvey. They should stand behind their respective chairs whilst their friends sit in those chairs. The two separate groups now 'script' the words of the postcard that Charlotte and Harvey have sent to the friend, separately, at the end of their perfect day. It must contain just four sentences--each with a separate piece of news plus a short ending, e.g. 'All my love, your dearest friend/ son/sister ...' Groups then sit down, leaving the friends and the Charlotte and Harvey figures.

* Charlotte and Harvey recite their postcards, each giving a line alternately, right through to the endings.

* The drama can be fluid here: thought-track the friends; improvise a conversation between Charlotte and Harvey at the end of the 'perfect' day; use choral voice--after each line a person goes to the character, touches their shoulder and voices the thoughts that are really behind each line of the postcard.

Using The Arrival by Shaun Tan

* Explain to the class that time has moved one year and some things have changed. After The Perfect Summer there has come a time of worry and difficulty for the Collyer family. Say that the picture you're going to show them gives some clues about their problems and what is happening in the family's life just one year after The Perfect Summer.

* Display page 2 of The Arrival with the nine separate drawings. In pairs ask pupils to choose one of the pictures and make a set of three tableau images around this one picture. The three tableaux should tell a simple, clear story in themselves. Discuss these with the group.

* Finally, display the picture of the young couple at the kitchen table with the suitcase on page 3 of The Arrival. This picture incorporates eight of the nine images the pupils have just been working with. Ask the pupils to work in threes as Charlotte, Harvey and Marjorie. Imagine that Marjorie has just entered at the point shown in the picture. Choose one of the strips that the pupils wrote and retained from 'The Perfect Summer' exercise earlier. The trios should use the image or phrase on their chosen strip as a title for their improvisation--and should try to work the phrase into the dialogue if they can.

* Alternatively, ask the trios of pupils to improvise a scene between the three characters using any ONE of the objects in the illustration. Pupils may also include just one other object--the photograph of the family from the summer before.

* Pupils work should be presented and discussed. Pupils will be eager to know more about what happened to this family group and can be set the task of researching the family's history on the internet (see Introduction above).

Mick Connell

Senior School Effectiveness Adviser--English and the Arts, Rotherham LA
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Title Annotation:Primary and Secondary
Author:Connell, Mick
Publication:NATE Classroom
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Mar 22, 2010
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