The Shipping News

Teacher’s Notes on ‘The Shipping News’

These lesson planning notes for teachers are for use with the text of the article ‘The Shipping News’..

Activity 1

Before reading the article, the topic of shipping containers needs to be introduced to the students. You can stimulate discussion by orally asking questions like those below:

  • When we are thinking of transportation, what exactly is a container?
  • What exactly is a container ship?
  • Do you know when containers were introduced?
  • What methods were used before containers were introduced?
  • What are the advantages of a container?
  • How have the changed the way that goods are handled?
  • What are some of the disadvantages of containerised freight?

Activity 2

Ask students to scan the text and find the significance of these figures and names.

  • Napoli
  • 200 tonnes
  • 95%
  • Malcolm McLean
  • Marc Levinson
  • 16 days
  • 22 days
  • David Crinnion
  • 5% of 9 million
  • between 2,000 and 10,000
  • Curtis Ebbesmeyer
  • 75%

Activity 3

This activity asks the students to read the text silently, focusing on the following keywords:

beached — disgorged — seethed — awe-inspiring — gantry cranes

eliminated — decimated — imbalance — exacerbating — desolate

Activity 4

This activity involves completion of sentences using the above words:

  1. The doctor found that there was an imbalance in his diet and he was consuming far too much salt and sugar.
  2. The area south of the port was made up of mud and reeds and was quite desolate except for the cry of birds.
  3. The American soldiers went in to many Iraqi homes looking for militants but it was clear to impartial observers that their actions were only exacerbating the situation in the city.
  4. The whale had beached itself near to the island and the lifeboat crews and coastal authorities did everything they could to get it back in the water.
  5. There were 1,000 soldiers in the unit at the start of the campaign but their numbers were decimated by enemy fire and, at the end, only 10% were left uninjured.
  6. The trains were full of football fans and when they arrived in Newcastle they disgorged a huge and overexcited crowd on to the streets of the city.
  7. The city seethed with a mass of busy consumers urgently seeking to complete their final Christmas purchases.
  8. The view across the city was awe-inspiring because of the number of dramatic new high-rise buildings that had transformed the centre.
  9. The huge gantry cranes moved like giants across the crowded port collecting and delivering the many containers.
  10. He battled hard through the third round of the competition but was finally eliminatedin the following round.

Activity 5

Questions on the text

What did some people do after containers were washed off the ship?

In what ways have port towns/cities changed over the last few decades?

What is the strangest thing about modern ports of today?

What were three reasons why McLean thought that containers would be an improvement?

What were three disadvantages of containerisation from the point of view of the port employees?

Why are containers a potential danger for some countries?

Why are they sometimes a danger to other ships?

How can plastic bags be dangerous?

Activity 6

Activity 6.1 asks students to find as many words as they can that modify a head noun in the passage. Suitable examples include:

  • Bullet-grey sky
  • largest container port
  • maximum
  • environmental
  • strict
  • waiting
  • seamless
  • cruise
  • shipping
  • strict
  • precise
  • busiest
  • idle
  • awe-inspiring
  • China-bound

Activity 6.2 asks students to study two sentences. Both of them contain the relative pronoun ‘which’. Why does one have commas but not the other one?

  • The giant gantry cranes, which sweep the containers on or off the waiting ships with grace, are mesmerising to watch, except that there is almost nobody there to watch.
  • The few drivers and crane operators present are following the instructions of a computer which has calculated the precise order in which the containers should be moved and stacked for maximum efficiency.

The difference here is between defining and non-defining clauses.

In the first sentence the non-defining clause “which sweep the containers on or off the waiting ships with grace” is merely additional information and could be omitted without changing the basic meaning of the original sentence.

(See Grammar section for more work on these clauses.)

Activity 6.3 asks students to explain the following saying:

  • …the devil makes work for idle hands …

In other words, people will do stupid, crazy or bad things if they have too much time to spare.

Activity 7

Students are asked to find two examples of metaphor in the passage. You may need to give clues or extra help depending on the level of the students,

  • piloting – originally used to mean the guidance of a ship in and out of a port (the ship travels the world but the pilot is always local to the specific port and specializes in this difficult task; also used with regard to fly and aircraft. Metaphorically, to pilot something means to guide it (e.g. the new law was piloted through the legislature or to introduce something on a small, limited scale so that lessons can be learnt from any early mistakes.
  • seamless – a seam is literally a place where two pieces of cloth or other material are stitched together. Metaphorically, seamless is used to mean smoothly, without a gap or other difficulty at the point of change over.

They are also asked for metaphorical references related to weather, seasons, etc

Here are some examples although there are many more.

  • Thunder: He was in a thunderous mood when he came in.
  • Dawn: This is the dawn of a new world.
  • Chilly: The atmosphere was chilly and I didn’t feel welcome.
  • Hail: The army unit ran into a hail of bullets.
  • Cold: My proposal was given a cold reception.
  • Cloud: His death left a cloud over the event.
  • Thaw: Relations between the two families began to thaw.
  • Fog: His memory was foggy and he remembered little about the day.
  • Darken: The threat of a new strike darkened the horizon.
  • Twilight: Mrs Thatcher has become a shadow of her former self in the twilight of her life.
  • Blizzard: The government embarked on a blizzard of activity following their election.
  • Autumn: In the autumn of their lives, they lived happily on the farm.
  • Whirlwind: They had a whirlwind romance and married a month after they met.