Teaching Drama

Research and Write Unit: The Graveyard

Written by Lindsay Price

I was once in Mobile, AL and came across a 19th Century graveyard – all the stones inside were from the early- to mid-1800’s and a lot of the graves were of young men, women, and children. I later learned that the graveyard was established because of an outbreak of yellow fever.

Graveyards are interesting places, at least they’ve always been interesting to me. The tombstones can be very telling. When left to disrepair, they can also also show how easily we can be erased.

Graveyards are especially interesting to me as a playwright. There’s a lot to observe. You can try to guess the age of the stones before you read them. You can research the individual written on the stone.

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This tombstone tells us that a young girl died, Because of the specific graveyard she’s in we know she probably died of yellow fever and with a little research learn that there was an epidemic of yellow fever in the fall of 1839. The quote is interesting, in that it specifically says “a mother mourns.” That tells us something about those left behind.

That’s a lot of information to work with! A little more research can lead to a great cross-curricular unit.

With this tombstone as a jumping off point, use this Research and Write Unit in your class to connect history, characterization, and monologue writing.

Exercise:

  1. Look at the tombstone with your class. It is for a 13-year-old girl called Valeria T. She died December 10, 1839. Her parents were Wm. R. and T.B. Hinton. The quote mostly reads “A mother mourns thy death… rod yields an angel to her God” Discuss the stone. What information does it give you?

  2. Explain to students that this tombstone is in a graveyard in Mobile, Alabama. What do students know about Alabama?

  3. Explain to students that this tombstone is in a graveyard established for yellow fever victims, that there was a yellow fever epidemic in 1839 and that Valeria most likely died of the disease. Are any students familiar with yellow fever?

  4. Divide students into groups. Each group creates a short scene in which they theatricalize what they think happens when someone contracts yellow fever.

  5. Direct students that they are going to write a monologue for this girl but first they need to do some research. Valeria is from a specific time period and a specific location. These details will affect the monologue.

  6. Students remain in their groups. Each group is given a specific topic area to research regarding the time period and the location.

  7. Each group does internet research on their topic and prepares an oral presentation. There must be a visual component to their presentation.

  8. Groups present their topic. Direct all students to listen and take notes on each presentation as they’ll need to use this research for their own writing.

  9. Discuss the research as a class. How can this research help their creative writing?

  10. Family Portrait. Direct students that there is one last step before writing the monologue and that’s to create a family portrait. Based on the research, students will discuss Valeria’s family and create a speaking tableau introducing the family to the class.

  11. Students present their Family Portrait to the class. Discuss the portraits. How did the groups differ in their portrayal of the family? How were they similar? Highlight that students can use the same research and interpret it differently.

  12. Students will now write a monologue for Valeria. They will do this independently. Direct students to refer to the research they’ve done and the family portrait they’ve created.

  13. Students complete the first draft of their monologue. They share their monologue in pairs and complete a Peer Editor Sheet for each other. They then make final revisions.

Click here for a Lesson Plan Version of this exercise complete with Handouts and Rubrics. Bonus! Common Core Connections.

About the author

Lindsay Price