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Into the Dark Water

In this narrative nonfiction feature, students will learn about the Titanic disaster from the point of view of a young survivor. They will identify text features that help them better understand this tragic event.

By Lauren Tarshis
From the September 2017 Issue

Learning Objective: In this narrative nonfiction feature, students will learn about the Titanic disaster from the point of view of a young survivor. They will identify text features that help them better understand this tragic event.

Lexiles: Starter, 490L, 580L, 870L
Guided Reading Level: N
DRA Level: 28
Topic: History,
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Activities (5)
Quizzes (1)
Answer Key (1)
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video (2)
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Can’t-Miss Teaching Extras
How Did It Happen?

For years, scientists have worked to recreate exactly how the Titanic sunk. Here’s a video of James Cameron and his team creating new CGI of how the ship sank. They explain what’s happening, so your students will understand.

Baby On Board

Students will be interested to know that at 2 months old, Millvina Dean was the youngest passenger to board the Titanic, and to survive its sinking. It’s been written that passengers on the Carpathia lined up to hold baby Millvina for a few minutes at a time.

Titanic Town

Let your students know about Titanic’s connection to Ireland: The ship was built in Belfast, in Northern Ireland, over three years. It took 15,000 workers to build it! It’s not hard to figure out why Belfast got the nickname “Titanic Town.”

Titanic, the Sequel

A billionaire from Australia named Clive Palmer is currently building a replica of the original Titanic that will launch in 2018. The ship is called—what else?—The Titanic II. Passengers will get to wear costumes that look just like the clothing worn back in 1912. One big difference between this ship and the original: more lifeboats this time!

An Expensive Cracker

With your Storyworks Jr. subscription, you get access to past content, including this short nonfiction text about a cracker that survived the sinking of the Titanic. You’ll never guess how much someone paid for it!

Learning Extensions

Keep the learning going in your classroom! Check out this collection of learning extensions we've created on the Storyworks Ideabook.

Reading Workshop Minilesson

Our education editor, Rebecca Leon, created this fantastic minilesson to go along with this story.

More About the Article

Content-Area Connections

Social studies: world history, United States history, geography
Science: engineering, environment

Key Skills

Text features, vocabulary, key details, author’s purpose, text evidence, drawing conclusions

Step-by-Step Lesson Plan


Watch a Video/Preview Text Features (25 minutes)

This story is accompanied by a Video Read-Aloud, in which the article is narrated by Lauren Tarshis as exciting photos and footage help students visualize the historic events. This video can be shown as a “first read” to preview the story for the class.

Direct students to look closely at the title, subhead, photos, and caption on pages 4 and 5. How do the photos help them understand who and what they will read about?

Point to the advertisement on page 4 from the early 20th century. Ask students: Which facts about the Titanic does this ad from long ago give you?

Point to the photos and map on pages 6-9. Discuss the captions. Encourage students to explain how these visuals help them imagine what it was like to travel on the Titanic. Call on volunteers to compare and contrast the photos of the fancy restaurant and the dining hall on pages 6 and 7. Ask: What do you think it was like to eat in these very different places?

Introduce Domain-Specific Vocabulary (15 minutes)

We have highlighted in bold the words that may be challenging and defined them on the page. Preview these words by projecting or distributing our vocabulary activity and completing it as a class. You can also play our Vocabulary Slideshow.

Highlighted words: elegant, first-class, transatlantic, iceberg, gasping, eerie

Set a Purpose for Reading (5 minutes)

Read the Think and Read and Think and Write boxes on pages 4 and 9, which support the featured skill. Make sure students know that “text features” means the pictures, captions, map, and parts of the story other than the text.

Read aloud the Pause and Think box on page 6. Tell students that these questions will help them check whether they’ve understood what they read.


Reading and Unpacking the Text

First read: Read the story as a class. At the end of each section, use the Pause and Think question to quickly check students’ comprehension.

Second read: Distribute the close-reading and critical-thinking questions to the class. Preview them together.

Close-Reading Questions (30 minutes)

  • Read the first section. What information about the Titanic disaster is included in the first paragraph? (key details) The ship will sink in a few hours, and more than 1,500 people will die. But everything was fine at 11 p.m. on April 14, 1912.
  • Why does this first paragraph hook you—make you want to read the rest of the article? (author’s purpose) You want to find out why the Titanic sank.
  • In the first section, the author describes what it was like to eat in the Titanic’s first-class restaurant. Which photo on page 6 helps you understand this experience? What does it show? (text features, text evidence) The top photo on page 6 shows the fancy restaurant for first-class passengers. This photo shows large tables and comfortable chairs in the beautiful dining room.
  • In “A Simple Question,” Jack finds out that his father had not boarded a lifeboat. What does Jack say about why his father stayed on board the Titanic? (key details) Jack says that he should’ve known that his father would never have left the ship without him.
  • Why do you think Jack wrote his book about the Titanic in honor of his father? (drawing conclusions) Jack wanted to honor his father because he had died while searching for his son.

Critical-Thinking Question (10 minutes)

  • Think about the title of this article and the photo on page 5. What is the connection between the title and the photo and Jack’s experiences? (text features)  The title and photo both connect to the sinking of the Titanic . The title connects with Jack’s experiences when he jumped into the ocean. He says, “Down and down I went, spinning in all directions.” The photo shows what Jack might have looked like when he jumped.


Distribute our Text Features activity sheet. Have students work in pairs to complete the activity.

Call on a volunteer to read the Think and Write box on page 9. Have students write their paragraphs in class or as homework, and share them in small groups.

Differentiate and Customize
For Reading Partners

Have pairs of students discuss what the photos on pages 6 and 7 tell them about the events in the article. Then have them write a headline for their own newspaper article from the past about the sinking of the Titanic.

For Struggling Readers

Read the article aloud while students follow along in their magazines. Ask students to answer the Pause and Think question at the end of each section. Encourage them to point to the details they found to answer each question.

For ELL Students

Read aloud the paragraph on page 8 that describes the Titanic sinking. Then ask students to draw pictures of this scene, with the front of the ship underwater and the bottom rising in the sky.

For Advanced Readers

Ask pairs of students to role play an interview between a newspaper reporter and Jack Thayer. The interview takes place after Jack and his mother have returned to Philadelphia. Call on pairs to present their interviews in class.

For On Level Readers

Which text features helped you understand what it was like to be a passenger on the Titanic? Answer in a paragraph, citing at least two text features.