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Saved in time

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By Eileen Jones—playwright

In this play, written specially for Literacy Time, Eileen Jones demonstrates an interesting handling of time. Set in an English house in both modern and Victorian times, the events move from present day to past and back to present again. Children can contrast the lifestyles and relationships of the two families, and compare the more formal language used in the Victorian schoolroom to the informal chat of the modern children and their au pair.

Key learning outcomes:

  • To identify how talk varies according to context/purpose/formal or informal occasions;
  • To understand how writers use structures to create coherence/impact;
  • To appraise a text quickly;
  • To reflect on own writing, edit and improve it;
  • To experiment with different narrative form/styles.

Further reading – the schools area of the BBC website has a variety of Victorian resources.

Literacy Time Ages 9-11 No 49 (July 2007) had Victorian themed texts, while Issue 51 (November 2007) had an on-screen resource exploring child labour in the coal mines in the 1800s.

Victorian Children Brenda Williams (978-0431146317) and Victorian Homes Mandy Ross (978-0431121468) People in the past series, Heinemann Library.

Previous learning

Children should: be familiar with plays and the structure of a play script; understand how characters can be portrayed through expression and tone of the voice and brought to life using body language/facial expression.

Before reading

  • Discuss what it was like to live in Victorian times. What is a governess?
  • Do/have any of the children had an au pair or nanny?
  • Find out more about the charity Barnardo’s, mentioned in the text.
  • Look at the title Saved in time. What do the children think this means?
  • Discuss what the children know about plays and how that compares to this play?
  • Look at the different characters in the cast list; discuss how they might speak.
  • Share out the parts

Reading and responding

  • As you read, encourage the children to consider how the author makes them feel about the characters. Eg, are we meant to like the Victorian governess? Why/why not? How does what the children do and say influence how we feel about them? Which pair of children are more likeable? Why?
  • Discuss what the children think the Governess means by ‘hands and minds will not be left idle’.
  • Why does Leo say that it looks as if the train ‘was put here yesterday’? How could this be?
  • Use the SAT style activity sheet to assess comprehension and deduction skills.
  • Use the second activity sheet to compare the formality of the language of the characters.

Follow-up ideas

  • Find out more about childhood in wealthy households in Victorian times using books or the internet.
  • Discuss/predict in writing what might happen next in the play.
  • If you could ask a character in the play one question, what would it be?

Speaking and listening

  • Act out the play, using appropriate voices and following stage directions.
  • Work on some freeze frames from the play to capture how the action goes back and forth in time. For example, freeze-frame the scene where the modern family is around the table. Next, through a conscience corridor, explore what the characters may be thinking. Now freeze-frame the moment where the Victorian governess first walks into the nursery. What is she, and the two children, thinking?
  • Create an interactive display with a porthole to another dimension. In art and design sessions, design, create and decorate scenery for the place encountered at the other side of the porthole. Use the set for a role-play area and act out both improvised and scripted scenes.

More ideas for writing

  • Write original plays based on two different eras.
  • Set up a play script workshop using a word processing program. Invite individuals or groups to add/build in scenes, encouraging changes of character, time and setting. Group-read the results, then act out the play and record it using a digital video camera.
  • Collect items for a Victorian curiosity basket with artefacts or photographs. Use these as a writing stimulus – for example, a letter from one of the characters in the play, or a character sketch based on something found in the basket.
  • Create a time capsule of things a future generation of children would like to open. Write a letter to put into the capsule describing life today.


Enjoy watching the children’s plays. How do they compare to the one read?