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A Night to Remember Project
by Cheryl Krauter
9th Grade Language Arts Teacher
Duncan Polytechnical High School
4430 East Garland Avenue
Fresno, CA 93710

After a successful unit (the previous year) that included writing and producing original and adapted radio drama scripts, I wanted to combine a literature unit where the entire class focused on a single piece of literature. I selected A Night to Remember, the classic 1955 documentary by Walter Lord.

Part I

Early in the school year, my students chose one of a list of names out of an envelope. Names were separated by gender. Then I explained that they held the name of someone who really had been a passenger or member of the crew of the Titanic. I modeled what I expected the students to do by having them ask me questions about their character. I gave them an answer, mostly off the top of my head, but in some cases I could answer factually, because the answer had been in the book. I then asked them to ask themselves several questions about their character.

We spent the next three weeks reading A Night to Remember. We followed along with the excellent taped reading available from Recorded Books, Inc. This approach has made many titles accessible to my challenged readers.

Throughout the reading each student kept a log of times their person was referred to. In some cases they were only mentioned a couple of times. This necessitated an on-going discussion of the varying lifestyles and responsibilities of different social classes at that period of American social history. We Acreated@ lives where few facts existed. My students took the exploration of these real lives seriously and expressed a growing sense of Aownership@ of their person.

Before we finished the book, each student wrote a letter in the first-person to someone back home. The information revealed was a culmination of class discussions and factual information from the book. They were to reveal:

  1. Their level of education.

  2. The reason they were on board.

  3. A special possession they had brought along.

  4. Their level of wealth.

  5. Their feeling about the voyage so far.

The letter was dated April 14, 1912, 4:00 P.M. This meant that they were unaware that they were in any danger, since the ship did not experience trouble until late that evening.

With a firm sense of their Acharacter's@ personality and Titanic's environment, each student was ready to participate in the dynamic process of producing believable dialogue, succinct narration, and engaging sound effects. They were ready to write a radio drama.

 

Part II

Pairs, or groups of three, writers selected one another. They understood that their assignment was to create a story of an on-board encounter of their Acharacters@ at any time prior to anyone's knowledge of impending disaster. They were to:

  1. Be cognizant of their person's class, job and family responsibilities, and perceived personality.

  2. Include two manual sound effects.

  3. Have an AAh ha!@ moment, in which a piece of dialogue inadvertently foreshadowed the ship's fate.

Worksheet

Sequencing the Encounter, took two class periods. This exercise required the writers to get a firm Amovie in your head@ of the encounter they were preparing to script.

This worksheet involved the following:

  1. Selecting a title for the scene

  2. Setting (Where does this scene take place? Include time of day, if important?)

  3. Characters (Who are the characters in this scene. You may realize later that you need to add more characters or that you need to eliminate characters. This analysis is only to give you a place to begin.)

  4. Summary of the scene (What information does the scene communicate to the listener? Think your scene through. In your mind, try to see your scene as a movie from the scene's beginning to its end.)

  5. Visualizing sound effects for the scene (It is not important that all your sound effects be included at this time. They can be added as you become aware of a need for more.)

AAnd the Academy Award for Scriptwriting Goes ToY,@ took forty minutes per day for about nine class periods. All drafting was word processed, which made editing fun and allowed writing partners to share duties equally. Previous to the entire unit, students had read along with several radio dramas, so they were familiar with script format. Also, as a class we read and discussed APandora's Box@ (a sample script) pointing out how sound effects, music, dialogue, and transitions were represented in the script format. We discussed the importance of visualizing the final product while emphasizing the idea that a script is never finished until the final tape is recorded.

Part III

The recording of the plays was delayed because the new equipment was delivered later than expected, so there was a period of about three weeks from the completion of scripts to taping time. Once all the equipment was in place at the front of the room, the anticipation was palpable. A simple drawing was held to determine order of performances. One round of recorded rehearsals was followed by the round of final recordings. This gave each group time to thoroughly review their performance to polish details for the final taping. Afterward, the students wished we had taken time for two taped rehearsals. I taped only two scripts per 55 minute period. This was partly due to my inexperience with the equipment and the fact that I served as the engineer for all the plays. This would not have occurred if enough time had been spent getting comfortable enough with the equipment to train students to do this job. The moderate pace, as opposed to trying to squeeze in a third script, seemed to contribute to a convivial atmosphere where, due to the nervousness of many of the actors, we might otherwise have had a much more stressful experience. As it was, this was one of the most positive projects I've been associated with. Students learned new writing, speaking, listening, and social skills with consistent eagerness and motivation.

This project is an excerpt from Theatre of the Mind, Writing and Producing Radio Dramas in the Classroom.

 

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Last modified: June 04, 2015