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Titanic Artifact Activity

While the 1997 film provided moviegoers with an idea of the lifestyles of the first, second, and third class passengers who sailed aboard the ship on its maiden, and only voyage, the real stories and real artifacts show a much richer picture of what life was like at the dawn of the Twentieth Century. With this activity, students will investigate the lives and legacies of the passengers aboard the Titanic by analyzing their stories and the things they left behind when the great liner sank.


  • Students will be able to develop opinions and views about the passengers aboard the Titanic through use of online and video evidence.
  • Students will be able to research information regarding the ship, passengers, and crew.
  • Students will be able to write a short biographical sketch of individuals onboard the Titanic.
  • Students will gain an appreciation for the historical significance of the Titanic, as well as gain an appreciation for historic preservation of the artifacts and remains of the ship.

Estimated Time
50-75 minutes

Necessary Materials

  • Lost Liners video
  • TV and VCR

Relevant National Standards:
This lesson addresses the following national history standards established by Mid-Continent Research for Education and Learning http://www.mcrel.org/standards-benchmarks/

  • Understands the historic perspective.
  • Understands various meanings of social group, general implications of group membership, and different ways that groups function.
  • Knows about the diversity and unity that characterize life.
  • Understands conflict, cooperation, and interdependence among individuals, groups, and institutions.
  • Understands that group and cultural influences contribute to human development, identity, and behavior.

Teaching Procedure

  1. The teacher shows Lost Liners, specifically the segment on the Titanic (fast forward to 19:10 - 50:00 for the main segment). During the viewing, students should take careful note of the opulence of the ship, as well as information regarding passengers onboard.

  2. Once the segment has concluded, the teacher may open class discussion in regard to the social structure of passengers on the Titanic. Ask students if First Class passengers were traveling for the same reason as Third Class passengers. Ask them also to describe what daily life might have been like for First Class, Second Class, and Third Class passengers. For example, "What kind of food would you find on a Titanic menu if you were a first class passenger?" or "Would you say that third class accommodations on the Titanic were less comfortable than what immigrants coming to American might be used to in their own homes? In what ways?" In addition, the teacher may want to ask students to compare what they saw in "Lost Liners" to the 1997 film, Titanic.

  3. Once the discussion is concluded, the teacher should divide the class into groups or teams. Using information about the Titanic from this Web site, the Online Resources listed below, or other accessible resources (conventional textbooks, video, magazine articles about the discovery of the wreckage, etc.), students should investigate the passengers and artifacts. In their research, students should be directed to follow these guidelines:

    • Search for information/artifacts from at least three passengers.
    • Identify their gender, social position, and occupation
    • Try to identify the purpose of their booking passage on the Titanic. (Were they coming to America to start a new life, for leisure, for business, etc.?)

  4. One way to accomplish this would be to have students view artifacts taken from the wreck site and determine if they are similar to articles that they might be likely to take with them on a long trip. (In some instances, for example, toothpaste containers, clothing, jewelry, the answer would be yes, in other instances, for example, porcelain recovered from the site, the answer would probably be no.)

  5. After performing research, each team should share with the rest of the class some information regarding any three artifacts they found. Each team should explain what the artifacts are, whether they might have been used by someone in first class, second class, or third class, and what the value of such an artifact was to the person who owned them as well as their value today.

  6. Next, the teams should develop a character sketch of a passenger onboard the Titanic. Students should use the following questions to develop all the biographical data they'll need:

    • What was the name of character?
    • Was this character a survivor or fatality?
    • What was his or her occupation?
    • Did the passenger travel First, Second, or Third Class?
    • Relevant information regarding passenger and Titanic (act of heroism, famous remark, etc.)
    • If the character survived, what information about that person's life after the sinking?
    • What sources did you use to gather this information?

  7. Once the "character sketch" is complete, the groups should report to the class what they discovered about their subject. Based on the sketches from all the groups, the teacher may direct the class to come up with specific conclusions about the sinking. Some issues to be determined might include:

    1. Which class (First, Second, Third) had more fatalities? (Students may wish to do subsequent research to determine this.)
    2. Were the men onboard always willing to allow "women and children first" into the lifeboats?
    3. Do various accounts of the actual sinking seem to be collaborated? (For example, whether or not the ship broke into two parts before submerging?)
    4. What type of impact did the sinking have on the lives of those who survived the sinking?

Assessment Recommendation
The following rubric may be used to evaluate student research and participation:

  • Research (maximum 20 points): How much research did the group complete? Did the group use credible sources to gather information? Was the research constructive to character sketch?
  • Presentation skills (maximum 20 points): Was development of the character clear and comprehensive enough to denote a specific, unique individual?
  • Speaking ability (maximum 20 points): Was the group able to express themselves in a manner understandable to the audience?

Extension Activities:

  • Once the teacher and students have completed the character sketch forms, the teacher may wish to have students conduct a role-playing exercise in which members of the class interact as passengers and crew of the Titanic. For example, a skit might be produced which re-creates Bruce Ismay of the White Star Line Company discussing with Captain Smith the desire of the Titanic's owners to increase speed and show the power of the ship, regardless of the dangers of icebergs.
  • Conduct a debate in which students decide whether or not the crewmembers manning the lifeboats should have returned to save any remaining passengers still alive in the water.
  • Students could plan their own voyage of a lifetime by planning a trip to Mars. If they were traveling First, Second, or Third Class, what personal items would they bring? How long would they stay? Students might speculate how people 100 years from now would view and interpret these items.
  • The teacher may wish to create a "time capsule" of artifacts from our time period, and have the students role play 22nd Century archeologists, having the students determine what the items are and what their significance would be.

Items the teacher may consider including:

  • A compact disk
  • A videotape
  • An American coin (perhaps a new Sacajawea dollar?)
  • A picture of a well-known movie actor or pop star
  • An ad from a magazine or newspaper (McDonalds, Microsoft, for example)
  • Non-perishable food (what might be considered "trendy" food of the late 20th Century)
  • A lava lamp
  • A Walkman or personal CD player

The teacher can have the students divide into teams and report to the entire class what they see these items as (in terms of being anthropologists and archeologists from 100 years from now).

Online Resources


The Blame Game

Bigger, Faster, Stronger . . . Higher

Titanic Artifact Activity

Hypothermia on the High Seas

Lost Liners Scavenger Hunt

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