Survival Diaries

Author: Jill Torrey Emmons

Time: 3 class periods
30 minutes to make copies and study background
Materials: Copied excerpts from expedition diaries, “Shackleton’s Journey into Antarctica," "”Thomas Orde-Lees’ diary, April 9th-10th, 1916," "Thomas Orde-Lees’ diary, April 11th, 1916" handouts


Students should now be familiar with the formats and purposes of the three major types of journal writing. In this lesson, the class will begin to study the ill-fated Antarctic expedition of Sir Ernest Shackleton, and using excerpts from the journals of the expedition members themselves. This is a wonderful true tale of survival in the face of tremendous hardship that not only provides students with a chance to learn more about journal writing, but also provides students with a compelling historical reading.

Purpose – This lesson is the apply piece of the learning cycle. Students will have the chance to apply what they have learned about the three types of journal writing to chronicle the famous expedition of Sir Ernest Shackleton to Antarctica.

Students will be able to:
1. Compose a dialectical journal entry which analyzes information presented in a text.
2. Compose a creative journal entry which develops characters, presents events in logical order, and includes sensory details.
3. Compose a personal journal entry which records the thoughts and feelings of the writer on a given topic.

National English Education Standard
Standard 1: Students read a wide range of print and non-print texts to build an understanding of texts, of themselves, and of the cultures of the United States and the world; to acquire new information; to respond to the needs and demands of society and the workplace; and for personal fulfillment. Among these texts are fiction and nonfiction, classic and contemporary works.

Standard 5: Students employ a wide range of strategies as they write and use different writing process elements appropriately to communicate with different audiences for a variety of purposes.

Teacher Background
The instructor should become familiar with the history of Sir Ernest Shackleton, the events of his 1914 expedition to Antarctica, and the diary entries written by him and members of his expedition. Also, you may want to obtain the film The Endurance: Shackleton’s Legendary Antarctic Expedition, directed by George Butler II and narrated by Liam Neeson. It is available in most video stores on VHS or DVD, and available for purchase online as well. It is a wonderfully rendered documentary, but there are many others available as well, on film and audiocassette. The film is an excellent supplement to this lesson after students have read through the diaries.

Related and Resource Websites
Shackleton’s expedition: http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/shackleton/
Diary excerpts by Thomas Orde-Lees: http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/shackleton/1914/diary.html



Day 1
1. This exciting lesson begins with the following journal prompt: “Have you ever wanted to do something only a daredevil would do? Something bold, daring, risky… even death-defying? Write about an experience you had when you decided to do something daring, or describe what daring adventure you would like experience someday. It could be anything from bungee jumping to river rafting through the Grand Canyon. Think BIG!” Allow the students about 10 minutes to ponder and write about their daring experience in their journals. Ask a few students to share what they have written, or share an experience of your own (this is very good way to build your relationship with your students). Remind students to bring their journals every day for the rest of the quarter.

2. Begin a short discussion on what it means to be a “dare-devil”. What comes to students’ minds when they hear this word? What do others often think of “dare-devils”? How would you characterize such a person? Make a list on the board of qualities that such a person might have; then create a second list of people that the class would label “dare-devils”. Perhaps the class might name modern figures such as Steve Erwin (The Crocodile Hunter) or figures from the past such as Houdini. Explain that during the week we will be reading about a man who might have been considered a dare-devil by some, and a fool by others.

3. Pass out the handout “Shackleton’s Journey into Antarctica”, and have students take turns reading the first page aloud (or independently). Once students have finished reading, refer back to the list of “dare-devil” qualities on the board, and ask the class: In what ways could Shackleton be considered a dare-devil? Answers might be “He tried to do something that had never been done before”, “His expedition required him to take great risks”, or “He had undertaken many risky ventures even when he had failed in the past”. Discuss some of Shackleton’s other qualities, and then have the class finish reading the last two pages of the handout. Use the “Questions to Consider” at the end of the excerpt to continue discussion (or have the students complete these for assessment).

4. At the end of class, have students make predictions about what happened to Shackleton and his crew (the handout does not include the outcome of the expedition, which heightens student curiosity).

Day 2
1. Before students enter the classroom, post the following journal prompt on the board: “Fear has been said to be one of the most powerful human emotions. What does fear feel like to you? Have you ever had to do something that forced you to face one of your fears? Write at least a _ page on this subject.” Allow the class about 10 minutes to write thoughtful answers to this question. Then, invite a few students to share what they wrote in their journals with the class.

2. Take a few minutes to review the reading covered the previous day. Help the class to recall the events of the voyage, up to the point where the ship Endurance became stuck in the heavy polar ice packs. Discuss the predictions students made the previous day about Shackleton and his crew. How many think they will survive? How many think that part of the crew will perish? Ask students to record their predictions in their journals. Then tell the class that today they are going to read some journal entries written by Thomas Orde-Lees, a member of Shackleton’s crew, and use dialectical journal writing to analyze their reading. Review dialectical journal format if necessary.

3. Hand out excerpts from Thomas Orde-Lees’ diary, April 9th-10th, 1916 (you may use passages selected here or select passages of your own). Ask several students to read these excerpts aloud, and then ask the class to compose a dialectical journal entry in which they summarize the facts in the diary entries and react to them. Encourage them to also write down questions, opinions, and thoughts they have as they read the entries.

4. At the end of class, collect the students' dialectical journals for assessment, and discuss issues raised by the journal entries.

Day 3
1. At the start of this lesson, have the April 11th excerpt from Thomas Orde-Lees’ diary ready to hand out to students as they enter the classroom. Instruct the class to read this exciting entry carefully (this should take 10-15 minutes, as the entry is rather long). While the class is reading, tell the students to think about how they would feel if they had experienced this day in the Shackleton expedition. How would they feel? What part of the day would be the most trying?

2. When students finish reading, briefly discuss the events which Orde-Lees addresses in his journal. You may use the following questions to direct the conversation

  • Why does Orde-Lees focus so much of his writing on weather conditions?
  • Where are the sailors at this point in the voyage?
  • What dangers are the sailors faced with in this particular environment?
  • Of all the emotions which Orde-Lees experiences, which seems to be the most predominant? Why is this?
  • Does Orde-Lees believe they will survive this journey?

3. For the second half of class, students will practice writing a creative journal entry based on the expedition. They may either create a short story about a fictional member of the crew, or write 5 journal entries in which they imagine themselves as members of the expedition. You may designate a page requirement if desired. Remind the class that a creative journal must contain well-developed characters, present events in logical order, and include sensory details.

Ask the class to share personal reactions to studying Orde-Lees’ journal entries.

None for this lesson.

Embedded Assessment
Students’ journal entries should be assessed for understanding of the journal writing formats.

PULSE is a project of the Community Outreach and Education Program of the Southwest Environmental Health Sciences Center and is funded by:

NIH/NCRR award #16260-01A1
The Community Outreach and Education Program is part of the Southwest Environmental Health Sciences Center: an NIEHS Award


Supported by NIEHS grant # ES06694

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Last update: November 10, 2009
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