It happened 100 years ago. In April 1912, the world's largest ship, the Titanic, sailed from Southampton, UK, on its maiden voyage. A few days later, the floating town hit an iceberg and sank within two and a half hours. On the morning of April 15, 1912, the "practically unsinkable" ship sank to the bottom of the sea and 1,514 people died in the freezing waters of the Atlantic Ocean.
It's incredible to think that a hundred years ago there were no commercial planes and that long-distance travel meant days aboard a boat. It's also hard to believe that during the frantic hours the Titanic was filling with water, a boat called the Californian was only a few kilometers away and could have rescued all the passengers. The one radio operator on board the Californian had gone to bed and there was no other way of communicating between the two boats.
How much do you know about the Titanic? For instance:
Where was the Titanic sailing to?
How many people were on the huge boat?
When did the Titanic hit the iceberg?
How many people were rescued?
What was the name of the boat that picked up the survivors?
When was the wreck of the Titanic found?
* answers at the end
Actually, it doesn't matter if you didn't know the answers - the extraordinary thing is that you - and most people - know the name of a ship that sank 100 years ago. And this in an age when most students have no idea who Elvis Presley was! This familiarity may well be because of James Cameron's 1997 epic romance/disaster movie of the same name that broke box office records. The story of the Titanic has never lost its fascination over the years. It has featured in over 20 movies (including two made in 1912) and nearly 200 books. In fact, the BBC recently made a drama series that tells the story from different survivor's viewpoints- with the boat sinking again at the end of each program!
The Titanic and her two sister ships were built in Belfast, Northern Ireland, by a company called Harland and Wolffe. To celebrate the 100th anniversary of the magnificent technical achievement of building these huge ships, a new Titanic Visitor Attraction is being created in Belfast and will be a top tourist attraction for Northern Ireland. The ultra-modern building is sheathed in metal to resemble a ship's hull. The six floors of the state-of-the-art building will be packed with exhibits and the whole experience will tell the story of the ship, the people who worked on it and the city in which they live. The story includes the amazing discovery of the wreck and highlights the astounding technical feat of recovering thousands of artifacts from the ocean floor. The emphasis is on interactive exhibits that capture the sights, sounds, smells and stories of the shipyard and its famous creation. And that's an interesting point - museums nowadays don't just present the information - they do it an interactive way and turn visitors into participants. In much the same way that English textbooks are reaching out to students through tasks and personalization, museums are switching from a straight presentation of information to interactive exhibits that ask visitors to experience and engage with the information.
The story of the huge passenger ship also features in a number of textbooks. In Cubic Listening: Surprise, Surprise (Macmillan LanguageHouse) the story is summarized in a series of illustrations. Although it lacks the sounds and smells as Belfast's visitor center, this visual presentation of the story does give scaffolding to the students and allows them to anticipate the story and facts they are going to listen to. As the students listen to the unfolding tragedy, they select the correct illustrations that lead them through the Titanic's maiden voyage, the collision with the iceberg and the rescue of some of the passengers. At the end the students have a visual summary of the story that may in turn be used to prompt and guide the students as they retell the story either verbally or in writing. An interactive task that engages not only the students' listening skills but also guides their summarizing skills.
Oh, and in case you're wondering -- the Titanic's sister ships, Olympic and Britannia were also unlucky. The Olympic collided with a British warship on one of her first voyages while the Britannia hit a mine during World War One and sank in 1915.
answers to the quiz
Where was the Titanic sailing to? [To New York]
How many people were on the huge boat? [2,228 - the ship was not full]
When did the Titanic hit the iceberg? [11:40 p.m. on April 14, 1912]
How many people were rescued? 
What was the name of the boat that picked up the survivors? [The Carpathia. The Californian arrived too late to rescue anyone.]
When was the wreck of the Titanic found? [1985 - in two separate halves]
* The boat sailed from Southampton on its maiden voyage. e.g. I flew in the Concorde on its maiden flight.
* The "practically unsinkable" ship sank to the bottom of the sea. e.g. This meat is practically inedible. It's so tough.
* The story has not lost its fascination in all that time. e.g. I have not lost my fascination with Wimbledon - even after years of watching it on television.
* To celebrate the 100th anniversary of the magnificent technical achievement, we are building a top tourist attraction. = e.g. It really is a magnificent building.
* The story highlights the astounding technical feat of recovering artifacts from the ocean floor. e.g. Sending a small submarine to the ocean floor was an astounding technical feat.
* As students listen to the unfolding tragedy, they select the correct illustrations. e.g. I watched the story unfold on the live news report on television over several hours.