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Show and Tell: A Day in the Life of a Coalminer (1910)
Introduction History Geography Music English  
image from A Day in the Life of a Coalminer (1910)

A Day in the Life of a Coalminer offers some interesting opportunities in terms of developing students' creative writing skills and encouraging them to think about how meaning is created in moving image texts.

One approach might be to ask students to give various characters from within the film a voice. Of course, there is the coalminer of the film's title, but A Day in the Life of a Coalminer is peppered with a number of potentially interesting characters - the miner toiling underground in Working at the Coal Face, the woman and young boy who look uneasily into the camera at the end of The Coal Shaft or the man who hesitates in the foreground as he inspects his wages in Pay Time. Ask students to work in pairs to write a couple of sentences in the first person, describing the thoughts of their chosen character during the relevant scene in the film.

This might be developed into a longer writing exercise, in which students build on their ideas to develop more detailed back-stories which can either be turned into short creative pieces or used to inform a more detailed first-person narration to accompany a scene in the film.

Alternatively, use the film to explore how narration can alter meaning. The film was made by a production company that aimed to create instructional films that widened general knowledge. How might students write a script to change the film from a silent instructional piece into something entirely different? It might be useful for students to explore some of the different examples of documentary approaches from within Screenonline to give them a better idea of the possibilities - for example, the Night Mail extract from the film of the same name, in which Auden's spoken verse and Britten's music are combined over shots of Royal Mail's night train racing through the countryside. Or perhaps students can create a fictional narrative that ties a sequence or scene together?