Lesson 15 of 23
Duration:
One 50-minute class period

Understanding Mrs Birling

From the Unit:

Essential Questions

What can J. B. Priestley’s An Inspector Calls teach us about the impact of our individual and collective decisions and actions on others?

Guiding Questions

  • What role does difference play in shaping the choices that the characters make? 
  • What are the consequences for those individuals and groups who fall outside of a community’s universe of obligation? 
  • What factors can prevent people from caring for and feeling a sense of responsibility towards other people and groups within their community?

Learning Objectives

  • Students will discuss the factors that shape Mrs Birling’s behaviour towards Eva Smith.
  • Students will complete a ‘universe of obligation’ graphic organiser for Mrs Birling using evidence from the play.

Overview

In the previous lesson, students discussed Gerald’s behaviour, considering what his actions suggest about his character and about the societal expectations that existed in Edwardian England. In addition to considering gender roles and expectations at the time, they also began to consider the different ways that people of different classes were treated. 

In this lesson, students will further their exploration of the differences in class and consider what factors influence Mrs Birling’s treatment of Eva Smith. They will have an opportunity to reflect on Mrs Birling’s actions in group discussions and by creating a universe of obligation graphic representation for her character. Such activities will not only help students gain an in-depth understanding of Mrs Birling and the social context in which the play is set, but will also encourage them to think about the factors that get in the way of people caring for and feeling a sense of responsibility towards others in their community. This understanding is important if students are to reflect on the unintended consequences of their own actions, the impact that they can have on others, and the role that difference plays in shaping who we do and do not feel responsible for.

The activities in this lesson refer to pages 40–9 of the Heinemann edition of An Inspector Calls.

Alignment with the GCSE Specification

  • Creative Writing (Lang-AO5, Lang-AO6)
  • Critical Reading (Lit-AO1/AO3, Lang-AO1/AO4)
  • Critical Thinking (Lit-AO1–3/Lang-AO1–4)
  • Evidence-Based Reasoning (Lit-AO1–3/Lang-AO1–4)
  • Reading Comprehension (Lit-AO1, Lang-AO1)

When students read the play and explore Mrs Birling’s treatment of Eva Smith, they employ their comprehension skills and critical reading skills, looping in their knowledge of context to gain a better understanding of Mrs Birling’s choices and actions. Students build on this when completing a universe of obligation graphic organiser for her character, using their knowledge of the text and evidence-based reasoning to justify their choices. The completion of the creative writing homework creates an avenue for personal engagement as students interpret the text imaginatively, whilst the questions concerning identity encourage students to use their critical thinking skills. The use of discussion and writing throughout gives students the opportunity to develop and verbalise their thoughts and practise turning them into coherent sentences, which will help them across their English GCSEs.

Learn more about this unit’s Alignment with GCSE Specification

Context

Mrs Birling’s treatment of Eva Smith is not only reflective of the class prejudice that existed in Edwardian society, but also highlights how it was only women of a certain class who were regarded as deserving of protection. Women from poorer backgrounds were expected to face the harsh realities of existence and were at the mercy of the wealthy who often decided their fates.

Notes to Teacher

  1. Classroom-ready PowerPoint Slides

    Each lesson in this unit includes a PowerPoint of student-facing slides. The PowerPoints are intended to be used alongside, and not instead of, the lesson plans because the latter include important rationales and context that teachers should familiarise themselves with before teaching the lesson. The PowerPoints include basic content and student-facing prompts from the lesson plans but are minimally designed because we expect teachers to adapt them to fit the needs of their students and class.

Understanding Mrs Birling

PowerPoint
Understanding Mrs Birling

This PowerPoint for Lesson 15 of the Teaching Inspector Calls unit comes complete with student-facing slides and teaching notes, and is ready to use in the classroom.

Materials

Activities

Part I

  1. Create an Identity Chart
    • Explain to students that today they will be examining the character of Mrs Birling and learning about her involvement in the death of Eva Smith. 
    • Ask students to work in pairs to create an identity chart for Mrs Birling, encourage students to support their ideas by including supporting examples from the play and sociohistorical context. 
    • Next, ask each pair to share one idea with the class and complete an identity chart for Mrs Birling on the board.
  2. Read the Play
    • Have four students take the relevant props from the prop box and assemble at the start of the class to perform. You will need students to fill the following roles: Sheila, Inspector, Mrs Birling, and Mr Birling.
    • Read the section from ‘We hear the front door slam’ (bottom of p. 40) to the end of Act Two on page 49. 
    • After finishing Act Two, project the following questions onto the board one at a time and facilitate a short class discussion:
      • On page 43, Mrs Birling admits being ‘prejudiced against’ Eva Smith’s case. Which features of Mrs Birling’s identity may have led to such a response? What role does difference play in this response?
      • How is class explored in this section of the play? What is the link between class and power?
      • What moral codes and values do Mr and Mrs Birling express in this section? How are they similar to and different from England’s moral codes today?
  3. Create a Universe of Obligation
    • Before asking students to represent Mrs Birling’s universe of obligation, it might be useful to give them the opportunity to review the one that they created for Mr Birling. 
    • Ask students to work with a partner to illustrate Mrs Birling’s universe of obligation using the Universe of Obligation Graphic Organiser handout. Give students time to follow the instructions and complete the activity on the handout. It might be helpful to first quickly brainstorm some ideas on the board that are relevant to the character of Mrs Birling and Edwardian society. You may want to give students the option of adding quotations from the play to support their choices.
    • Have pairs combine to create groups of four to share their universe of obligation graphic organisers and to discuss the following questions:
      • How is Mrs Birling’s universe of obligation similar to or different from that of other characters? What makes you say that?
      • What do you find surprising, interesting, or troubling about Mrs Birling’s universe of obligation? 
      • How does Mrs Birling’s universe of obligation reflect that of society as a whole in Edwardian England?
      • What did the process of mapping her universe of obligation suggest about the factors that get in the way of people caring for and feeling a sense of responsibility towards others in their community?
  4. Reflect on Mrs Birling's Actions
    • To help students consider why Mrs Birling may have treated Eva Smith the way that she did, project the following prompts and ask students to journal their responses:
      • What role, if any, do the following factors play in Mrs Birling’s treatment of Eva Smith? 
        • Fear
        • Difference
        • Conformity
        • Obedience
        • Societal expectations 
      • Rank them from the most influential to the least influential and explain your reasoning.
    • Ask students to discuss their ideas with a partner using the Think, Pair, Share strategy. Then lead a class discussion, inviting students to share their views with the class.
    • Finally, ask students to reflect on themselves independently in a journal response to the following questions:
    • What role, if any, do these factors play in how you treat others? 
    • Why is it important to be aware of the factors that may impact how we choose to treat others?

Extensions

Reflect More Deeply on Class, Gender, and Social Responsibility

  • Explain to students that they will be working in groups to reflect on the section of the play from ‘We hear the front door slam’ (bottom of p. 40) to the end of Act Two. 
  • Guide students through the steps of the Save the Last Word for Me strategy, focusing on the section of the play that they read in this lesson. 
  • After they have finished their small-group discussions, have them discuss the following question in their groups and then as a class: What can this section of the play teach us about the impact of our individual and collective decisions and actions on others? 

Homework Suggestion

Be Mrs Birling

For homework, ask students to write a short speech from the perspective of Mrs Birling when she is trying to persuade the other members of the committee not to help Eva Smith. Encourage students to use the conventions of a speech (direct address, greeting, sign-off, etc.) and persuasive writing devices (repetition, rhetorical questions, emotive/descriptive language, inclusive pronouns, etc.). If helpful, give students a sentence starter (e.g. We simply cannot do as the young lady demands as she has shown herself to be a morally bankrupt individual) and a small selection of the sorts of phrases Mrs Birling would use and the reasons she would give.

Each time that students complete a piece of writing, it is important to review their work, giving them feedback if necessary to ensure that they do not develop inaccurate writing habits. When students hand in their homework, consider using the Marking Criteria Codes teaching strategy to give in-depth feedback and to boost student engagement with marking.

Unit

Introduction
Democracy & Civic Engagement

Get Prepared to Teach this Scheme of Work in Your Classroom

Prepare yourself to teach this unit by reading about our pedagogy, teaching strategies, and the unit's content.

Lesson 1 of 23
Democracy & Civic Engagement

Building a Classroom Community

Students work together to create a contract with the aim of developing a reflective classroom community, which is conducive to learning and sharing.

Lesson 2 of 23
Democracy & Civic Engagement

Exploring Where I'm From

Students prepare for reading the play by considering the relationship between the individual and society, and by reflecting on identity. After discussing a poem about identity, they write their own.

Lesson 3 of 23
Democracy & Civic Engagement

Exploring Social Inequality

Students explore social inequality in the UK, discussing how an individual’s background can impact their opportunities before examining graphs that display social inequality and employment trends.

Lesson 4 of 23
Democracy & Civic Engagement

Priestley's World and the World of the Play

Students learn about important events that occurred during Priestley’s lifetime, completing a human timeline to understand their chronology, and are introduced to the concepts of socialism and capitalism.

Lesson 5 of 23
Democracy & Civic Engagement

The Treatment of Edwardian Women

Students examine various resources, including excerpts from Emmeline Pankhurt’s ‘Freedom or Death’ speech, to gain an understanding of how women were treated and expected to behave in Edwardian society.

Lesson 6 of 23
Democracy & Civic Engagement

Entering the World of the Play

Students begin reading the play, having applied what they have learnt about Priestley and the relevant sociohistorical context to make predictions about its content.

Lesson 7 of 23
Democracy & Civic Engagement

Understanding Class

Students explore class, status, etiquette and hierarchy to deepen their knowledge of the social expectations and values which guide the world in which the characters live.

Lesson 8 of 23
Democracy & Civic Engagement

Developing Character Inferences

Students are introduced to the concept of inferencing; they draw inferences from the opening scene of the play, and consider what messages Priestley sends through the language, character and setting.

Lesson 9 of 23
Democracy & Civic Engagement

Understanding Mr Birling

Students study the character of Mr Birling, critically assessing Priestley’s presentation of him, before using the character to reflect on how identity can influence people's views and behaviour.

Lesson 10 of 23
Democracy & Civic Engagement

The Cost of Labour

Students explore the moral codes of the world of the play, before being introduced to the concept of a universe of obligation and participating in a debate on workers’ rights.

GCSE Supplement
Democracy & Civic Engagement

Persuasive Writing: A Letter to Parliament

Students write a persuasive letter to Parliament concerning the gig economy, having reviewed persuasive devices, generated claims and content, and read a model letter.

Lesson 11 of 23
Democracy & Civic Engagement

Understanding Sheila

Students use the character of Sheila to further understand the interplay between identity and choices, before going on to analyse Priestley’s presentation of Sheila in Act One.

Lesson 12 of 23
Democracy & Civic Engagement

Act One Review

Students consider the lessons we can learn from Act One of the play, before adopting the perspectives of characters in both drama tasks and written tasks.

Lesson 13 of 23
Democracy & Civic Engagement

Differing Perspectives and Conflict

Students begin Act Two of the play, reflecting on the differences in perception emerging between the characters and considering how conflict can arise from such differences.

Lesson 14 of 23
Democracy & Civic Engagement

Analysing Gerald’s Character

Students develop their understanding of the character Gerald, exploring the differences between his treatment of Eva/Daisy and Sheila, whilst reflecting on Edwardian gender expectations.

Lesson 15 of 23
Democracy & Civic Engagement

Understanding Mrs Birling

Students consider what factors impacted Mrs Birling’s treatment of Eva Smith, and create a universe of obligation graphic representation for her character.

GCSE Supplement
Democracy & Civic Engagement

Analytical Writing: A Character Paragraph

Students write an analytical paragraph on character having generated claims, selected evidence and read a model paragraph.

Lesson 16 of 23
Democracy & Civic Engagement

Eric's Decisions and Consent

Students consider the role power plays in the interactions between characters, focusing on the relationship between Eric and Eva, before discussing consent.

GCSE Supplement
Democracy & Civic Engagement

Persuasive Writing: A Speech about Consent

Students write a persuasive speech for sixth-form students on the importance of consent, having reviewed persuasive devices, generated claims and content, and read a model paragraph.

Lesson 17 of 23
Democracy & Civic Engagement

Inspecting Inspector Goole

Students create an identity chart for Inspector Goole, analyse his parting words, and look for clues to uncover who or what Inspector Goole is.

Lesson 18 of 23
Democracy & Civic Engagement

Social Systems and Individual Agency

Students identify the parts, people, and interactions of various social systems, thinking about what bearing they have on character choices and behaviour, before considering responses to injustice.

Lesson 19 of 23
Democracy & Civic Engagement

Putting the Characters on Trial

Students finish reading the play and participate in a court trial to decide which character is the most responsible for the death of Eva Smith.

Lesson 20 of 23
Democracy & Civic Engagement

Bearing Witness to Eva Smith

Students reflect on Priestley’s portrayal of Eva Smith and consider the symbolism of having a character who only appears in the narrative second-hand.

GCSE Supplement
Democracy & Civic Engagement

Analytical Writing: The GCSE Character Essay

Students write an essay on character having generated claims, selected and annotated evidence, and read a model essay.

Lesson 21 of 23
Democracy & Civic Engagement

What Lessons Can We Learn?

Students address the essential question of the unit in a people's assembly, reflecting on the lessons that we can learn from An Inspector Calls.

GCSE Supplement
Democracy & Civic Engagement

Persuasive Writing: A Letter to a Newspaper for a Caring Community

Students write a persuasive letter to a local newspaper, which outlines the importance of considering the needs of others and suggests ways to create a more caring community.

Lesson 22 of 23
Democracy & Civic Engagement

Recurring Themes in the Play

Students prepare to write an essay on theme by identifying and analysing the themes explored in the play.

Lesson 23 of 23
Democracy & Civic Engagement

Theatre as a Call to Action

Students consider theatre as a call to action, discussing its power and limitations to spark real social change, before plotting their own play inspired by An Inspector Calls.

Requirements
Democracy & Civic Engagement

Alignment with Ofsted Requirements

Read about how this unit assists teachers and schools in fulfilling a range of statutory and non-statutory requirements as outlined in the 2019 Ofsted inspection handbook.

Requirements
Democracy & Civic Engagement

Alignment with the GCSE Specification

Read about how this unit is aligned with Ofqual’s subject aims and learning outcomes for both the English Literature and English Language GCSEs.

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