First Class First? Using Data to Explore the Tragedy of the Titanic

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First Class First? Using Data to Explore the Tragedy of the Titanic


To analyze and interpret data related to the crew and passengers of the Titanic to help explore what may be considered extraordinary results of social class.


This lesson uses a historical context to help students explore what may be considered extraordinary results of social class. Using the sinking of the Titanic as a context, students can understand more fully why people in different situations and other cultures, past and present, might behave or have behaved differently.

In this lesson, students will analyze and interpret data related to the crew and passengers of the Titanic. They will draw conclusions to better understand the people who were lost or saved as a result of the disaster, and whether or not social status affected the outcome.

Note: This lesson is designed for students with some familiarity with the use of spreadsheets for creating tables and graphs and the use of databases for gathering information. If this is not the case with your students, some class time will be needed to demonstrate the application of these tools. Students will work in small groups to use information available in a Titanic database and other resources to illustrate specific statistical conclusions related to the Titanic.

Ideas in this lesson are also related to concepts found in these Common Core State Standards:

  • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RST.9-10.7 Translate quantitative or technical information expressed in words in a text into visual form (e.g., a table or chart) and translate information expressed visually or mathematically (e.g., in an equation) into words.

Planning Ahead

You should explore the Encyclopedia Titanica and the Titanic Lifeboats Project databases before using it with the class. 


Begin by discussing the movie Titanic by James Cameron. If not all students have seen the movie, ask those that have seen it to summarize the story for those who haven't. Ask students to name some of the characters from the film. Discuss which characters were fictional and which were based on real-life people. Ask if anyone knows exactly how many people were on the Titanic, how many died, and how many survived.

Record students' impressions and conceptions about the people on the Titanic, if any, using questions such as:

  • What are some factors that played a role in determining who survived the tragedy?
  • Do you think gender and age affected who survived and who didn't?
  • Did any of the crew survive?

Tell students that in this lesson they will explore and analyze statistical information to uncover the true story of the Titanic.


Exploring the Titanic
To set the scene for students, they should work in pairs to use their Exploring the Titanic student esheet to explore the Titanic site. This exhibit consists of an introductory essay and additional "slides" that tell the story of the Titanic from a variety of perspectives. Student pairs should be able to explore the exhibit in about 20 to 30 minutes.

Each student pair should complete the Exploring the Titanic student sheet as they explore the resource. Students are asked to write down some of the numerical facts that they encounter. For example, the introduction states that "the vessel sank with a loss of about 1,500 lives at a point about 400 miles (640 km) south of Newfoundland." Students should write down any names of passengers or crewmembers described in the article, noting their social class and experiences while on board. These names include: William Thomas Stead; Molly Brown (Margaret Tobin Brown); Lazarus Straus; and John Jacob Astor. You can find more information to help guide the discussion on the Exploring the Titanic teacher sheet.

After students have completed the exhibit, brainstorm questions that they might have about passengers on the Titanic. List the questions on the chalkboard or on chart paper. Also list any names that students jotted down while they were reading the article.

The Passengers and Crew of the Titanic
In the next part of the lesson, students should use the databases found on the Encyclopedia Titanica website. There are four main sections that pertain to the people on board the ship: Passengers, Crew, Survivors, and Victims. The Passengers databases are broken down by class while the Crew databases are broken down by the duties perfomed.

You can demonstrate using the databases to your students by simply going to one of the databases and using a projector or SmartBoard to display what appears on the page. You can click on the names to get more information about the people on board. 

Then have students (working in groups of 3-4) complete the Passengers and Crew of the Titanic section of the student sheet, using both the passenger and crew databases. Although students will work in groups, each student should complete the student sheet.

After groups have completed the student sheets, discuss the answers with the class. You can use the teacher sheet for this discussion. Did student answers vary? If so, discuss why there might be discrepancies. Discuss the different search strategies used by the groups.

The Titanic Lifeboats
Now, assign a lifeboat to each student group (there were 20 lifeboats in all), and have students investigate the people on their assigned lifeboat using questions that can be found on the Titanic Lifeboats section of the student sheet. They should use The Titanic Lifeboats site to get this information. On this site, they will find information about the Titanic lifeboats, including the names of people on board, whether or not they were passengers or crewmembers, and their class. 

After students have completed their investigation, they should put the information together to get a clearer picture of the people who survived the Titanic (on their assigned lifeboat). Each group should use the Exploring the Titanic Poster student sheet make a poster or PowerPoint presentation to help illustrate their findings. These must include two or more appropriate graphs. If students are familiar with using spreadsheet software, they can use that to create their graphs.

Students should share their findings with the class. Then discuss any patterns that seem to emerge from compiling the information about each lifeboat. Ask students to discuss what the information they have found tells them about social class and the Titanic.


In order to assess student understanding, students should study the resources on the Titanic: Demographics of the Passengers site as well as refer back to the earlier resources to help them answer the question: "How did social class influence the survival rate of the people aboard the Titanic?" They should write a three- or four-page essay explaining their answer to this question.

Require students to:

  • Cite evidence gathered from the sites above as well as in earlier portions of the lesson to support their positions; and
  • Describe how the statistical information they examined helped to add meaning to the human tragedy of the Titanic. Did analyzing numbers tell them something that they didn't know before? Or did it help them see information in a different light?


Students can attempt to answer the question: "Why did the Titanic sink?" To help them answer this question, students can read the explanation on the Titanic: The Unsinkable Ship. They should explain why the builders of the Titanic thought that it wouldn't sink and then explain why it did sink. Using knowledge of the laws of buoyancy, students should explain how the design of the Titanic could have been altered so that it would not have sunk.

The Titanic Exhibit on the Library of Virginia website examines the news coverage of the sinking of the R.M.S. Titanic on April 14, 1912, and includes excellent source materials. Students can compare the news coverage at the time to what we now know about the Titanic and decide if it was accurate and fair.

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Lesson Details

Grades Themes Type Project 2061 Benchmarks National Science Standards