Student Activities

Reader's Theatre: Challenges on the Canal

Overall Rating

Add your review
Grade Level:
Upper Elementary: Third Grade through Fifth Grade
Literacy and Language Arts,Social Studies
Common Core Standards:
4.RL.4, 4.SL.4

Captain Myers was an experienced canal boat captain who regularly hauled 200 tons of coal in his cargo boat on the C&O Canal. On April 20, 1920 he returned to the Cushwa Basin in Williamsport, Maryland, with a load of coal from Cumberland. After the boat was unloaded, he started back up the canal to get another load. His boat and mule team entered the stone aqueduct near the Cushwa Basin when it gave way. Captain Myers, his crew, and his mules survived, but his boat ended up in the Conococheague Creek below. And then for the next 24 hours, water from the canal poured out of the breech, stranding boats up stream for weeks.


Students will be able to:

1) Report to the class about a specific story using visual displays.
2) Practice using appropriate facts, providing descriptive details, and speaking clearly.

Instructions and Materials

Use this lesson as a stand-alone classroom activity or as post-field trip activity. Students will use our script and slide show to retell the story of Captain Myers and the day his boat ended up in the Conococheague Creek after the aqueduct wall failed.

The materials consist of a script (see below for text) and a online photo gallery.

Print the script for each student. There are five parts (Narrator 1, Narrator 2, Captain Myers, Joseph Davis, and David Cushwa).
Captain Myers' Bad Day



Narrator 1
Narrator 2
Captain Frank Myers
Joseph Davis - Stepson
David Cushwa II

Narrator 1: It is Scene 1 and the Setting is the Cushwa Basin on the morning of April 20, 1920. People are standing around talking to each other as they are waiting for their coal to be unloaded.

Narrator 2: Two days before, Captain Frank Myers, of Big Pool, left Cumberland with coal for Cushwa at Williamsport.

Captain Myers: We are almost ready to unload our coal, Joe.
Joseph: I’m looking forward to taking a little break while we are here. Maybe we can buy some fresh bread at the Brandt’s house.
Captain Myers: Should be able to after we unload this coal. We may be able to take a trip into town and get some breakfast depending on how soon our boat gets unloaded.

Narrator 1: It is Scene 2 and the Setting is the Cushwa Warehouse later in the morning of April 20, 1920. People are still talking as their coal is unloaded.

Narrator 2: the boat finally gets up to the warehouse doors and Captain Myers goes into the warehouse to get his receipt from David Cushwa II, the owner of the warehouse
Captain Myers: Good morning, Mr. Cushwa. I’m unloading some more coal for you and would like to get my receipt.
David Cushwa II: Nice seeing you Captain Myers. Of course, I will give you a receipt. How was your trip down?
Captain Myers: It was a good one. My stepson and I made really good time.
David Cushwa II: That’s good! Here’s your receipt. I’m sure that I will be seeing you soon with another load of coal.

(After getting the receipt, they are still unloading coal…and Captain Myers and Joseph are talking) 

Captain Myers: All four of the mules okay?
Joseph: Yes, sir.
Captain Myers: Well since they are still unloading coal let’s take a trip into town. This will give the mules a longer chance to rest before we start home.
Joseph: They will definitely like that.

Narrator 1: It is Scene 3 and the Setting is the Conococheague Aqueduct. Captain Myers’s boat is approaching the Conococheague Aqueduct on its way back to Cumberland. It is late morning on April 20, 1920.

Narrator 2: They turn the boat west after leaving the Cushwa Basin. Before they reach the aqueduct they have to wait until another loaded boat comes through, because boats heading downstream have the right of way.

Captain Myers: Alright, the other boat is getting ready to come out so be ready.
Joseph: Ready.
Captain Myers: Let’s start through.

Narrator 2: Joseph is on the towpath with the mules as Captain Myers starts through the aqueduct on his boat. He notices that the north wall is trembling. The trembling increases and…

Captain Myers: The wall is starting to go!!! Joseph, cut the ropes to the mules and keep walking with them as quickly as you can!!!
Joseph: Okay! What about you?
Captain Myers: I’m jumping off as soon as I can!

Narrator 2: Captain Myers, Joseph, and the mules reach safety, but the boat is not so lucky. The wall collapses and the boat ends up in the Conococheague Creek. It takes 24 hours for the water to empty from that portion of the canal.
Assign a reading part to each student; ask the group to read the script and practice their presentation, developing character voices, adding movement, and using props.

Assign two more students to look at the online photo gallery and prepare to present these to the class after the dramatic reading.



Student readers should be able to portray their characters through voice inflection, props, and actions.

Students should be able to retell the story without the script, touching on pertinent details and establishing the setting.

Park Connections

Students coming to the Williamsport Visitor Center at the Cushwa Basin will see the Conococheague Creek Aqueduct and the Cushwa Warehouse. 


Ask the class to write their own script about one of their bad days. What is the setting? Who are the characters?

Students can use their own photographs to illustrate a play about an event in their life--a trip to a park or a birthday or another memorable event.

STEM extension: What is an aqueduct? How does it work? Search for images of Roman aqueducts in Europe. Have the students build their own aqueduct using clay, playdough or other classroom materials available.


canal, towpath, aqueduct, mule


Last updated: August 2, 2018