Modern foreign languages - Curious about Curie

An unusual theatre experience mixes drama, French and science

Victoria Grace Walden

When Sarah Kemp developed an educational drama programme combining French and science lessons, nobody was quite sure how well it would work. But the day-long sessions for Year 8 pupils, produced under the umbrella of the educational multilingual theatre company Theatre Sans Frontieres, have proved a triumph at schools in the North East.

In Marie Curie and the Discovery of Radium, Kemp, one of the company's artistic directors, plays Nobel prizewinner Marie Curie, while the role of her husband Pierre is taken by actor-scientist Mark Hanly. Together, they portray the Curies in and out of the laboratory in a series of activities delivered in both French and English.

Pupils, who have been prepped by teachers, are asked to imagine that they are Polish scientists (as Marie was) who have just arrived in Paris to assist her in 1898, the year she and her husband discovered radium and polonium. They later experiment with a piece of rock in the science laboratory, separating the component parts in the same way that the Curies did during their months of work.

Next, pupils watch a scene where Marie and Pierre work in an atmospheric candle-lit booth and, when they leave, see that the rocks are glowing. Later they learn more about Marie's life, hear of the tragedy of Pierre's death in a horse and cart accident, and follow her as she takes the first mobile X-ray unit to the battlefields of the First World War.

The cross-curricular programme was created in collaboration with Noel Jackson, head of science education at the Centre for Life in Newcastle. And it appears to be highly effective.

"It came as no surprise that the feedback from our pupil impact study was glowing," says Hugh Beattie, head of science at Corbridge Middle School in Northumberland. "Pupils had a brilliant day getting stuck in to the exciting activities linking drama, French and science."

Margaret Turner, head of French at Hexham Middle School, also in Northumberland, says: "The day enabled pupils to use this material in a realistic setting and in a variety of subjects that they can find quite challenging. It also gave them an insight into the life of the Curies. It has become one of their memorable moments at school."

Theatre Sans Frontieres is now developing another cross-curricular programme based on the life of Louis Pasteur.

More information about Theatre Sans Frontieres can be found at


The Marie Curie cross-curricular programme is discussed in the book Living Languages: an integrated approach to teaching foreign languages in secondary schools, due to be published by Routledge in July.

For guidance and resources to help devise your own cross-curricular drama lessons, contact Mike Butler from the North Tyneside local authority at

Try allenk's introduction to Marie Curie to start your own French culture and language project.


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Victoria Grace Walden

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