Making History Come Alive Through Listening


Teacher: Renee McQuade

Students: Grade 4, ages 9 – 10

Audio Content: The Magic Tree House: Tonight on the Titanic by Mary Pope Osborne

Location: Carnell Elementary, Philadelphia Public Schools

Renee McQuade faced an interesting challenge as she approached her social studies lesson on the Titanic. Her predominately urban, working class students often have trouble connecting to material. Getting them to build connections to an almost century old, luxury cruise ship seemed like a stretch. How could she make this historical event relevant and relatable, and make the story come alive? To help her students grasp the event and share in the experience, she downloaded Tonight on the Titanic from

Use of Technology. During the first lesson, McQuade used her own iPod and speakers to broadcast the audio to the class. However, her speakers were not quite loud enough for everyone to hear. Students were forced to move their chairs closer and gather around the iPod and strain to listen. For the second lesson, McQuade put the audio book onto a CD and played it through a stereo. It took her almost three hours to download the audio book from’s website because her computer told her that a file which was already on her iPod had to be deleted. She hadn’t been properly instructed how to deal with that obstacle.

Classroom Lesson. McQuade played Tonight on the Titanic over the course of two lessons. The listening activity occurred between her reading and social studies lesson, thereby merging the subjects’ concepts. She incorporated the audio as a read-aloud activity, a social studies lesson, a writing activity and a review of the assigned reading strategy for the week. Her usually rambunctious class of 34 students quickly fell silent and listened intently as the book played. The students often laughed and gasped in unison, evidence that they were paying attention and were engaged. Every ten minutes, Ms. McQuade would stop the book and open the room up to discussion, giving the students a chance to share their reactions and to discuss questions such as “What problems are present in the story so far?” “What elements led to the sinking of the Titanic?” “What was the Titanic like?” and “Who can describe what has happened up to this point?” During English lessons, McQuade had been teaching her students how to recognize persuasive language and write with the purpose to persuade. She thought of a unique way to reinforce the concepts they had been learning and exercise them in a social studies activity. Following Tonight on the Titanic, the students were given broad instructions to write a letter to the White Star Company, urging them not to send the Titanic on its voyage. Students were to cite specific examples from the audio to support their case.

Summary/Results. Because of the lessons they learned from the audio book, students were able to include specific reasons and details in their letters to the White Star Company. Dating their fictional correspondence April 10, 1912, the students wrote emphatically, expressing themselves in a creative fashion and making each letter uniquely their own. One student wrote that they were from the future, sent back through time to prevent the ship from its tragedy. Most importantly, they were able to exercise their persuasive writing skills and successfully reiterate the elements present in the story, Tonight on the Titanic. McQuade described how pleased she was with the way her students were drawn into the story and the way they retained the information. Many students who do not usually participate in class were excited about their assignment, including a number of rich details from the story in their letters.

Teacher’s Quote. “It was definitely a worthwhile experience. [The students’] letters really showed they were listening.”

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