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KS4 Science: A Day in the Life of a Coal Miner (1910)

Compare and contrast fossil fuels and bio-fuels

Main image of KS4 Science: A Day in the Life of a Coal Miner (1910)
Author Ryan Deneven-Lewis, Burlington Danes Academy
Topic Fossil fuels, Importance of alternative fuels
Show full lesson spec

A 10 minute film showing the work done by men and women at the coal face and pit head, with a particular focus on the various stages of one miner's day.

A Day in the Life of a Coalminer is a useful film for looking at the rigours of mine work at the beginning of the twentieth century and it also emphasises how whole families were involved in the industry. The film can be used to look at fossil fuels today, serve as a comparison to modern methods of extraction and form the basis of an comparative investigation into the benefits and disadvantages of bio-fuels.

This lesson idea uses the film to stimulate an initial discussion about fossil fuels, review how coal is extracted and assess the cost and the risk of the extracting coal. It also encourages pupils to think about renewable fuels that we may rely on in the future, how we will 'mine' them and the difficulties this may entail.

Lesson Objective

  • Explain why bio-fuels are sometimes an attractive alternative to fossil fuels
  • Understand that other natural resources can be used for fuels in particular those which are renewable eg ethanol from sugar cane


Before watching the film, give each pupil a card which has a plus sign on one side and a minus side on the other. As they watch the clip encourage them to hold up the card with the appropriate sign when they see either a disadvantage or advantage to being a miner. This information should be recorded on the board.

This could lead to class discussion about the problems and difficulties associated with coal mining. Simple prompt questions as well as teacher input, should help to build up a deeper awareness of coal mining today: Where is coal mined today? What is coal used for?

Students should now be made aware that they are going to produce their own storyboard as the main lesson activity. Review an extract of the film (perhaps a 4 minute long clip), asking students to examine think carefully about the style of film: What do they feel towards the miner? Why? How does the filmmaker structure of the plot of the film? Can they come up with simple headings for the various stages in the miner's day?


Main Attraction

Ask students how they think fuels will be obtained in the future. Will they be mined? Or will they grow? After sharing their initial ideas in pairs, hear some examples as a whole class.

It's time to storyboard! Split the class into smallish groups: each group will be producing a short script and storyboard for a film about the 'miners' or fuel growers of the future that promotes renewable energy as a better alternative to coal and other fossil fuels. Pupils should be encouraged to use clips from A Day in the Life of a Coalminer within their storyboards as a way of comparing 'outdated' methods with 'improved' ones. Group members should be assigned different roles according to their abilities: researcher, writer, editor and story board artists.

Encourage pupils to research sugar cane growing in countries like Brazil and Costa Rica using the web as well as any printed resources you have. Alternatively, they could focus on any other bio-fuel case studies you have access to. Pupils will likely need a fair degree of support in thinking about how to structure their storyboard to put forward an argument in favour of biofuels over coal. It might be a good idea, once they have done some research, to begin by writing a voiceover that they can then fit images to.


End Credits

Begin to wrap up the lesson by allowing selected groups to present their ideas to the rest of the class.

The lesson could end with a discussion about the downsides of using bio-fuels, since pupils' storyboards will focus on the advantages of these fuels. You might also discuss the benefits and limitations of using film to present scientific information.


External Links

Video Clips
Complete film (9:28)
Downloadable Teaching Resources

Related Films and TV programmes

Thumbnail image of Day in the Life of a Coal Miner, A (1910)Day in the Life of a Coal Miner, A (1910)

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