Expressions of Childhood

Ask students to define childhood. Create a chart of their definitions to keep in the classroom.

As a class, create a soundscape that depicts childhood as they have defined it. Begin with one student making a repeatable noise that represents childhood to him/her and continue adding sounds in, one student at a time. Try the exercise more than once.

Ask students where in the world they might hear their particular soundscape of childhood?

Have students read the material in the Background and Themes sections of this study guide entitled: The Origins of the Workhouse, Entering and Leaving the Workhouse, Workhouse Clothing, Working in the Workhouse, and Themes: Conceptions of Childhood. (Optional: have students conduct more research on their own about workhouses).

Have students create a soundscape of childhood in the workhouses of Victorian England. What are the differences/similarities between the two soundscapes?


Culminating Exercise: Writing Across History

Divide the class into two. Group one will write a letter from the perspective of a child living in a workhouse to the children of the future. Group two will write a letter from the perspective of a contemporary child in school to the children of the workhouse.

Ask students to consider what kind of information the opposite group might find beneficial. What does each group value? Worry about? Hope for?

Send a copy of the letters to the NAC!

Put students into pairs, one student from group one and one student from group two and have them read their letters aloud to the class. When each pair has read their letters discuss with the class any reoccurring themes and/or ideas that have come up in the letters. Why is this the case?


Extension: Radio Play

Record the soundscapes of childhood.

Record the students reading their letters to one another and create a radio play.

Edit the sound file to blend the soundscape with the letters.

Invite another class to hear your radio play.



What was it like to write to someone in the past/future? Was it easy or difficult to express yourself? Why? Ask students to think about what they might write to child of the future. What would they want them to know? 





Understanding Character with Life-sized Character Sketches

Divide students into groups of 4-5. Give each group one of the following characters: Oliver, The Artful Dodger, Fagin, Nancy, Bill Sikes, Mr. Brownlow (or another character of their choice from the play).

They will also need a piece of chart paper for brainstorming, a 6’ by 3’ piece of craft paper and pencil crayons, pastels, and crayons. (Optional: magazines and other visual images, scissors, and glue to use for collage-making.)

Give students three minutes to brainstorm in their groups everything they know about their character.

Prompt students with the following questions:

How old is the character?

What emotions do they experience during the play?

What are their fears? Hopes?

What are some words students could use to describe the character?

How do they change from the beginning of the play to the end?

When students have finished brainstorming they can begin creating their character sketches.

Have students draw a loose body outline on the craft paper (they can trace someone’s body or they can just draw it out).

Using the ideas from the brainstorming exercise, ask students to begin creating the life-sized character sketch. Ask them to think about how they might depict their character’s attributes on the sketch. i.e. what colours could they use to represent emotions? Where on the character’s body might they place the depiction of the emotion? (For example, would they put an image depicting fear near the heart?) Are their words from the play that could be used on the sketch (for example writing “MORE” on Oliver’s stomach)? How can status/class be depicted?

The end result should be a fully realized character sketch not a literal drawing of the character.

Have each group present their character sketch to the class. Why/how did they choose the colours/images/words they did for their characters?



Exercise 1: Animating the Character Sketches

Have students create three tableaux that reveal something they have learned about their character through this character sketch exercise. They may use other characters from the play in their tableaux.

The Ontario Arts Curriculum defines Tableau as a group of silent, motionless figures used to represent a scene, theme, or abstract idea (e.g. peace, joy), or an important moment in a narrative. Tableaux may be presented as stand-alone images to communicate one specific message or may be used to achieve particular effects in a longer drama work. Important features include character, space, gesture, facial expression and level.


Exercise 2: Character at the Crossroads

Have students work individually but keep with the same character from the character sketch exercise.

Ask them to think about and choose a moment from the play when their character is at a crossroads. For example, when Nancy decides to go and see Mr. Brownlow, the moment before Bill Sikes kills Nancy etc.

Have students write a monologue from their character’s perspective about being at a crossroads.

The Ontario Arts Curriculum defines Monologue as "a long speech by one character in a drama, intended to provide insight into the character."

Culminating Exercise: Performance

Prepare students to perform their monologue for the class by asking them to work again in their character groups. In their groups, they will read their monologues aloud to each other for some initial feedback. Ask students to keep their criticism constructive by using the phrase “I heard…” as opposed to “I liked/didn’t like”. For example “I heard a character that was heartbroken/I didn’t hear a solution to a problem.”

After students have received feedback, give them an opportunity to make any changes they wish to their monologue.

Next, have students work in pairs to rehearse their monologues.

When students are ready to perform their monologues, hold a performance day in your class. Hang up all of the character sketches and use them as a backdrop. Students will take turns performing their monologues.

Debrief: How did it feel to write from the character’s perspective?  Does assuming the role of another person change your understanding or opinion of that person?


Exercise 3

Try creating a scene by “conducting” the monologues. Ask for volunteers (one student from each character group) to come forward. Devise hand signals for starting, stopping, louder, quieter and begin by having one student start their monologue.

Debrief: Did the “conducting” work? What would students change? Try the “conducting” exercise again but this time have students try the “conducting”.

Invite another class to see students’ monologues/scenes!