My life in the workhouse
1 January 2009
A recount of a child’s life in a typical Victorian workhouse, complete with a virtual tour. Children can click on hot spots to reveal labels, captions and further information and to hear sound effects.
Leaflet 1 and Leaflet 2 offer extracts from Berlie Doherty’s novel and play Street Child, featuring a London workhouse. This on-screen resource can be used before or after the group reading sessions to explore the fact behind the fiction. It includes a virtual tour of a workhouse. Children can click on hot spots to reveal labels, captions and further information and to hear sound effects.
- What do the children know about workhouses? What do they expect to find in the text? What are their feelings about workhouses?
- Discuss how to navigate the text and what to click on first.
- Read the text together or read it in pairs/as a group/independently.
- Challenge the children to find specific information and to explain how they found it. Was the resource easy to use? How has the writer brought the information to life?
- Compare a daily workhouse routine with the school timetable.
- Compare the text with that in Leaflet 1 (from Street Child by Berlie Doherty). How does the purpose and language of each text differ?
Children will need to be able to: use personal strategies to learn new and irregular words; identify and summarise evidence from a text to support a hypothesis; explain how ideas are developed in the text; use organisational features to find information; shape material to write informative non-narratives; combine words, images and other features; clarify point of view.
Explore some key questions, encouraging the children to explain their opinions/answers using evidence from the text:
- Why did the family have to go to the workhouse? How might the fire have started?
- How would the family’s situation be different today? Are things better or worse now?
- What groups of people were in the queue outside the workhouse?
- How would their lives be different if they lived now?
- What is meant by the word ‘lunatic’? Would we use it to describe these type of people today? Is it a fair description or is there a better word we could use?
- How might it have felt to be separated from your family?
- How would you feel about having your hair cut short to prevent lice?
- How would you have fared in the dormitories? Would you have ended up fighting or quarrelling? Would you have liked to use the barrel?
- What does ‘there was no hot water there’ tell us about the water they washed with?
- What do you notice about the way boys and girls are treated in the workhouse?
- Why was Christmas different? Why did visitors come?
Key learning outcomes:
- To present a spoken/persuasive argument, sequencing points, defending views/participate in whole-class debate;
- To improvise/work in role to explore complex issues;
- To use evidence from a text to explain ideas;
- To infer writers’ perspectives;
- To appraise/compare/write narrative/information texts;
- To develop prediction, visualisation and empathy techniques;
- To use ICT programs to present texts/communicate ideas.
Speaking and listening/drama
- Hold a whole-class debate or write a persuasive argument ‘for’ or ‘against’ workhouses – either in role as adults from the 1800s or as historians considering whether workhouses should be reintroduced. Explore how connectives can contribute to an argument.
- Improvise the scene in which the mother tells her family they are to move to the workhouse. Develop a written script.
- Act out a school lesson in the workhouse – with the teacher as a schoolmaster/mistress.
Ideas for writing
- Research workhouses further. Create a working wall, pinning up notes, pictures and ideas collected.
- Find out more about the food inmates were given. Make up recipes using the ingredients.
- Write a short description of the outside of the workhouse, using figurative language.
- Write a diary entry of another child in the workhouse.
- Using the activity sheet below, plan and create a PowerPoint presentation to teach other children about workhouses. Use fiction and non-fiction writing skills and create ‘sound bites’, using inference and empathy skills. Alternatively, design a website about workhouses.