Illustration by Steve Stone

I Survived the Sinking of the Titanic

George thinks he’s the luckiest boy alive to be on this grand ship. But then disaster strikes.

By Lauren Tarshis, adapted from her book I Survived the Sinking of the Titanic, 1912
From the September 2019 Issue

Learning Objective: As students read this historical drama, they will identify the causes of this maritime tragedy and its effects on different passengers.

Think and Read: Cause and Effect

As you read, look for facts about what caused the ship to sink and how the characters in the play were affected.

Scene 1

On board the Titanic, April 14, 1912

N1: The Titanic has been at sea for four days. It has almost completed its first voyage, from Southampton, England, to New York City.

N2: This is the most elegant ship ever built. And the safest. The Titanic’s designers say it is unsinkable.

N1: George, Phoebe, and Aunt Daisy are traveling in first class back to New York after a vacation in London.

Phoebe: Georgie, don’t you want to come for tea?

George: Nah, I’m heading out to explore the ship.

Phoebe: You must have seen every inch of this ship by now!

Aunt Daisy: Well, enjoy your adventure. Just don’t be late for dinner!

N2: George runs off. He soon discovers the engine rooms and the first-class swimming pool. Then he finds himself on the third-class deck. A little boy comes up to him.

Enzo (pointing to himself): Enzo!

George: George.

Enzo (thrilled): Giorgio!

Marco: You’re Enzo’s first American friend. We’re from Italy, but soon we’ll be Americans.

N1: George and Marco talk for a while. Then George notices how late it is and jumps up.

Enzo (grabbing George’s legs): No go, Giorgio!

George: Sorry! I have to go. I hope we’ll see each other again!

Marco: Something tells me we will.

Shawshots/Alamy Stock Photo

Some first-class suites had two bedrooms, two walk-in closets, and a private bathroom.

Scene 2

Later that night

N2: George, Phoebe, and Aunt Daisy are asleep in their suite.

N1: They don’t know it yet, but the ship has just hit an iceberg. Water is pouring through holes in the side of the ship.

N2: There’s a loud knock on the door. A voice calls from the hallway.

Steward: Hello? Hello?

Aunt Daisy (half asleep): It’s after midnight!

Steward (calling through the door): We’ve bumped an iceberg, ma’am. The captain wants everyone out on deck.

Phoebe (rubbing her eyes): Is this a joke?

Steward: Do hurry. You’ll need your life vests.

SSPL/Getty Images

So much food was served during dinners in the first-class dining room, the meal could last as long as five hours!

Scene 3

N1: There are people running, pushing, and shoving their way through the ship.

N2: In all the confusion, the family ends up downstairs instead of out on the main deck.

N1: A crowd of panicked third-class passengers are in the hallway. All they want is to get to the upper decks.

N2: No one bothered to tell them, but they know something is wrong with the ship. Many woke up to find their rooms flooded with seawater.

Enzo: Giorgio! Giorgio!

N1: It’s Enzo and Marco.

Aunt Daisy: George, who is this boy?

Marco: We are friends of Giorgio.

N2: The ship groans. It tips forward. People fall like dominoes.

N1: Meanwhile, the stairs to the upper decks are locked.

N2: And the ship doesn’t have enough lifeboats for everyone.

N1: First-class passengers are loaded into the lifeboats. But third-class passengers are forced to wait.

Marco: We must find another way up!

Aunt Daisy: It’s up to you, George. You know this ship better than any of us.

N2: George closes his eyes, trying to remember the hidden passageways he’s discovered on his adventures.

George (pointing down the hall): This way!

N1: They hurry down the hall, splashing through water that is rising quickly.

N2: They run through a maze of hallways to the packed boat deck.

Officer 1: There’s a lifeboat about to leave! The lady and children must come at once.

Officer 2 (to Marco): Sorry, sir, women and children only.

Narrator 3: Marco speaks quietly to Enzo, then hands the boy to George.

Aunt Daisy: We will watch out for him. I promise.

N1: George, Phoebe, and Aunt Daisy try not to cry as they leave Marco.

N2: The officer helps Phoebe, Enzo, and Aunt Daisy into the boat. But when George tries to follow, the officer blocks his way.

Officer 1: Women and children only, sir. No room for you. Lower away!

Aunt Daisy: No! Wait! He’s only a boy! He needs to come with us!

N1: George stands in shock as the lifeboat is lowered into the dark sea.

Emory Kristof/National Geographic Image Collection

What a room looked like after sitting on the ocean floor for more than 70 years.

Scene 4

N2: The Titanic’s bow is completely underwater. Water washes over the deck.

N1: George is frozen in fear. Then he feels a hand on his shoulder.

Marco: Giorgio! We must get off this ship!

N2: Marco pulls George to the rail.

N1: They both climb over and join hands. Then they leap into the freezing water.

N2: Marco grabs a door floating by. He helps George climb on top of it. Then he finds a small crate to keep himself afloat.

N1: George sees the Titanic in the distance. Its lights flicker out.

N2: The ship explodes before disappearing into the water. Many trapped passengers go down with it.

N1: Marco is so tired that he closes his eyes and barely moves.

N2: George is almost out of hope when he hears voices behind him.

N1: A lifeboat is nearby.

George: Marco! Marco! Wake up!

N2: Marco doesn’t move.

N1: George pulls Marco through the water, which is so cold it burns his skin.

N2: George drags Marco to the other side of the boat. He lifts himself up. Marco can barely move, but George manages to pull him into the boat too.

N1: They float in silence in the icy sea    

Ralph White/Corbis via Getty Images

From a Ship to a Rowboat

A lifeboat filled with Titanic passengers rows toward the Carpathia. The ship had heard the call for help from the Titanic’s captains before it sank. 

Scene 5

N2: George stays close to Marco, trying to keep him warm. Marco is barely breathing. Then ... 

George: Look! Is that a ship?

N1: The ship Carpathia has already picked up hundreds of Titanic survivors from lifeboats.

N2: Many of the survivors are lined up at the railing. They’re waving and shouting at George’s boat.

N1: One voice rises up over the others.

Enzo: Papa! Papa! Giorgio!

Marco (weakly): Enzo!

George: They’re all safe, Marco! And so are we. 

Bettmann/Getty Images

The world was shocked by the news of Titanic’s sinking.

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Can't Miss Teaching Extras
Check It Out

When your students read this play, let them know that it was based on Lauren Tarshis’ book, I Survived the Sinking of the Titanic. Encourage your students to enter our contest for a chance to win a signed copy of her book!

Watch This

In this 1-minute video, author Lauren Tarshis shares a surprising research strategy--one you can try with your students!

Watch This

For years, scientists have worked to recreate exactly how the Titanic sunk. Here’s a 2 1/2-minute video of James Cameron and his team creating new CGI of how the ship sank. They explain what’s happening in a way your students will understand.

From the Storyworks Jr. Archives

We’ve covered the Titanic in many ways over the years: narrative nonfiction, a poem, short nonfiction about the cracker (yes!) that survived the disaster, and another story about Titanic 2, due to set sail in 2022!

Watch This

Your students will be fascinated to see what the wreck of the Titanic looks like today, over 100 years since it sank. This nearly 6-minute video shows footage shot at an expedition to the wreck. We recommend starting at the 0:53 second mark, as the first minute is full of scientific jargon that will go over kids’ heads. Be sure to pre-screen it to make sure it won’t be too scary for your students!

More About the Article

Content-Area Connections

Social studies: Geography, world history

Social-emotional learning: Social awareness (empathy); responsible decision-making (analyzing situations, identifying problems, solving problems); relationship skills (relationship building, teamwork)

Key Skills

Cause and effect, key details, making inferences, plot, compare and contrast, figurative language, drawing conclusions

Step-by-Step Lesson Plan


Set a Purpose for Reading / Explore Text Features (5 minutes)

  • Look at pages 20 and 21 with the class. Point to the labels “Play” and “Read-aloud historical fiction.” Explain that historical fiction is a story based on real events and people in history.
  • Read aloud the title and subtitle. Then point to the illustration on pages 20 and 21. Read the caption with the class. How does the illustration help students understand the disaster that George faces?
  • Direct students to the photos and captions on pages 22-25. Ask students to compare the before and after photos of the Titanic on page 23. What might it have been like to eat in the first-class dining room?
  • Explain that the photo on page 25 shows a real headline and article from a 1912 American paper.
  • Explain that the Titanic sailed from Southampton, a city in England, and traveled to New York City. Point to each location on a map. What ocean did the Titanic travel across to reach New York?
  • Call on volunteers to read aloud the Think and Read box on page 21. Ask students to look for details as they read about why the Titanic sank and how the disaster affected different characters in the play.

Introduce Vocabulary (15 minutes)

  • There is a Vocabulary Skill Builder online that you can project or distribute. You may also play our Vocabulary Slideshow, where images and audio help students with comprehension and fluency. The slideshow will help students understand the concept of first-class and third-class. This distinction is important in order to fully appreciate the significance of the events in this play.
  • Highlighted terms: elegant, first-class, third-class, suite, iceberg, panicked, bow


Bridging Decoding and Comprehension

  • Storyworks Jr. plays provide a perfect opportunity for students to build fluency.
  • Point out that the words in parentheses after a character’s name are stage directions. These words tell a reader or an actor how to say a line or perform an action in the play. Then point to the phrases half asleep and rubbing her eyes in column 2 on page 22. Read aloud the dialogue with appropriate expression or action. Have students repeat after you.


Reading and Unpacking the Text

  • Before reading: Point out the Characters box on page 20. Explain that this is a list of all the characters in the play. After each name is a short description of the character. The narrators describe some of the actions and events in the play.
  • Direct students to the scene headings on pages 20 and 22. Ask: When does Scene 2 on page 22 take place?
  • First read: Read the play as a class.
  • Second read: Project or distribute the Close-Reading Questions. Discuss them as a class, rereading lines or scenes as necessary.
  • Separate students into groups to discuss the Critical-Thinking Questions. Then have groups share their answers with the class.

Close-Reading Questions (30 minutes)

  • In Scene 1, what do the narrators tell you about the Titanic? (key details) It has almost completed its trip from Southampton, England, to New York City in four days. It’s the most elegant and the safest ship in the world. It’s unsinkable.
  • In what ways are George and Enzo alike? How are they different? (compare and contrast) They’re both boys traveling on the Titanic. George is a first- class passenger from America. Enzo is a third-class passenger from Italy.
  • In Scene 2, why does water pour through holes in the side of the Titanic? (cause and effect) Water pours through because the ship hit an iceberg.
  • In Scene 3, what do you imagine when you read “The ship groans and tips forward. People fall like dominoes”? (figurative language) The ship made a loud noise like a person groaning in pain. It was impossible for passengers to remain standing .
  • Why doesn’t anyone warn the third-class passengers there is a serious problem with the ship? (making inferences) No one warns them because third-class passengers aren’t considered as important as first-class passengers.
  • What happens when Marco and George try to get into a lifeboat? (plot) Officers refuse to let them in the lifeboats because the boats are only for women and children. The officers probably think that George is a grown man because he’s tall.
  • In Scene 5, why does George say to Marco, “They’re all safe, Marco! And so are we”? (drawing conclusions) He knows the rescue ship Carpathia, which has saved their family members and other Titanic passengers, will save them too.

Critical-Thinking Question (10 minutes)

  • How did the sinking of the Titanic affect first-class and third-class passengers in different ways? (cause and effect) A steward told first-class passengers to go on deck with their life vests. There they were loaded into lifeboats so they could get away safely. Because no one warned third-class passengers about the danger, they panicked when their rooms flooded with seawater. A door to the deck was locked, making it harder to escape. When they reached the deck, they had to wait for lifeboats. Many passengers died because there weren’t enough lifeboats.


Cause and Effect (30 minutes)

Differentiate and Customize
For Small Groups

Divide your class into groups and assign each group one scene from the play. (Since Scenes 2 and 5 are short, one group can work on both scenes.) Remind students to pay attention to the punctuation marks and the stage directions in parentheses. When groups perform their scenes in class, record their performances.

For Struggling Readers

Read the play aloud while students follow. Ask them to circle the stage directions in parentheses. Which ones describe how a character feels? Have students read aloud with the right expression. Which stage directions describe what a character does? Have students act these out.

For Advanced Readers

Ask students to imagine they are newspaper reporters in 1912 interviewing the survivors of the Titanic after they safely land in New York City. Have them write at least three questions to ask the survivors about their experiences. Students can read aloud their questions in groups and take turns answering them.