The Matchgirls

The Matchgirls (ages 12-13)

This scheme of work is inspired by the strike about working conditions in the Bryant and May match factory in London in the 1880s. The key elements – 14 hour days, poor pay, excessive fines and serious health risks – are introduced through mime and improvisation, guided by the key characters the factory foreman, Annie Besant, Mr Bryant and Mr May. Drama skills developed include Mantle of the Expert, Hot-seating and Symbolism.

This scheme of work contains 6 drama lesson plans.

  • Lesson 1: Working in the Match Factory. The poor pay and appalling conditions in 19th century factories are introduced through mime and improvisation with the teacher in the role of the despotic factory foreman.
  • Lesson 2: Annie Besant. The growing unrest amongst the match workers is improvised and attracts the interest of the famous writer. Volunteers playing the roles of Annie Besant, Mr Bryant and Mr May are hot-seated to understand their characters’ motivations.
  • Lesson 3: Effects of the Article. Groups devise a frozen image to show the middle class reaction to Annie Besant’s newspaper article before devising a further scene about a match working family’s reaction to the news of a strike.
  • Lesson 4: The Strike. The difficulties in organising industrial action in the 1880s are brought to life through a spontaneous improvisation set on a picket line.
  • Lesson 5: The Birth of Unions. The class learns how and why unions were created through a Mantle of the Expert improvisation.
  • Lesson 6: The Agreement. The students produce a piece of work about the experiences and courage of the matchgirls using Symbolism. This piece is evaluated and graded.

Supporting materials include

  • The Agreement
  • Cut-out shilling coins

Additional resources are included in the appendices

  • Basic Drama Skills Sheet
  • End Of Unit Self-Assessment Form

The scheme of work is supplied as a PDF file, readable on most computers.

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