Play Script and Song Article Archives
What Role Does Drama Play in Education?
Watch young children. What are they very often doing when left to their own devices? That's right - play-acting. It seems that drama play comes naturally. Kids "play house", pretending to be mommy or daddy; dash around acting like a superhero, or raise their arms in victory when emulating a favourite sports star. Most children come into formal educational situations having gone through their imitative stage of drama play and having experienced some imaginative, creative, self-directed play.
Tapping into this natural interest in drama play can give educators a way of providing students of any age with an enjoyable learning experience through which they not only gain knowledge but develop many life skills.
For example, drama play provides the opportunity to hone the skill of co-operation. Learning to cope with the inevitable differences in opinions and working styles (not to mention everyone's emotional foibles) is of utmost importance if a project is to be successful.
As the Playwright or Story Teller:
Synthesizing the ideas, facts, attitudes, personalities and events takes organized thinking and planning. This can happen even with the very young child who is simply retelling the story if Goldilocks and the Three Bears. With practice they learn to consider the sequencing of events, (Bears leave, Goldilocks comes, tries and eats porridge, tries and breaks chair, tries and sleeps in bed, Bears return, Goldilocks runs away) as well as the characters involved. In their retelling, Poppa Bear's voice and attitude are rarely the same as Mamma's or Baby Bear's. As students mature and develop their own story lines for drama play scripts, they hone their ability to visualize events, characters and settings which takes creative thinking and problem solving.
As the Director:
Even when no one person is given the responsibility of being the "director" of a group drama play, inevitably someone will emerge as the leader of the production. This person often has firm ideas about how the task should be done and imprints his or her interpretation on the presentation. This is a skill to be encouraged, but sometimes it is necessary to officially assign this role to someone who may not be bold enough to speak up and take the opportunity for leadership. In this role, the skills of interpretation, decision-making and communication come to the fore. (Not to mention standing firm in the face of mutiny!)
As the Actor:
Putting oneself "in the other person's shoes helps to develop empathy. Acting out a different set of life circumstances can lead to an understanding that there is another point of view that may have validity.
For many of us, learning to be comfortable speaking or performing in front of an audience is a trial! Starting early with informal drama play in the classroom setting can help to ease children into oral presentation. As students become accustomed to performing, they can be encouraged to memorize scripts or ad lib, express a range of emotions through voice, facial expressions, and body language and even develop their own characters.
As the Backstage Support
Whether a tiny classroom drama play or a large staged musical, there are always items that need to be made or found for props, costumes or scenery. Students working to prepare these items, contribute their time and creativity, but also learn to be responsible to the group. One of the best lessons taught by drama is that everyone is necessary for the success of the venture. Those responsible for the "behind the scenes" jobs are just as important as the actors "up front".
Anywhere along the continuum from informal role-playing to formal staged and costumed musical drama learning opportunities abound. Drama play should be an integral part of every student's education.
With so much to cram into our daily classroom timetables, it is often difficult to set aside a specific time to formally teach drama skills, find a play script, assign roles, rehearse and perform. With a little creativity, however, it is possible to integrate drama play into the other areas of the curriculum. You can reinforce learning in many subjects through focused drama lesson plans.
Start with Drama Skills
If we were presenting a drama workshop for the students, we would want to cover skills such as:
- Voice Elements (volume, projection, timbre, diction, dialect, tone, pitch, articulation, pace)
- Body Language (stance, gestures, breathing, facial expression)
- Emotion (anxious, ecstatic, fretful, deliriously happy, bored ...)
- Role (teacher, car salesman, fairy tale ogre, 3 year old child, lottery winner, gum chewer)
All of these skills can be presented and practiced by including them in a cross-curricular drama activity.
Drama Lesson Plans for Language Arts
This is the easiest of the subject areas to work in since most of us would consider drama to be part of our language arts program. There are informal ways to incorporate drama skills into some unexpected topics.
Spelling B-mote - Practicing spelling can be more fun when students are asked to use the various dramatic methods when spelling their words.
- vary the tone, pitch, volume, speed
- add hesitations and a gesture to show syllable breaks
- speak with an accent
move body to illustrate the character of each letter as the word is spelled
- a swaying movement for the fluid letter 's'
- stiff with arms out for the rigid letter 't'
Movements do not have to show the shape of the letter, but rather the "feel" - perhaps a punch in the stomach for the letter 'f'. Students should be told that there is no right or wrong to their choices for each letter.
- spell the word using the emotion suggested by the teacher or leader
- spell the word using the emotion suggested by the word e.g. 'worry'
- spell the word using the opposite emotion suggested by the word e.g.'boring'
- for difficult words - assign a specific emotion to individual students and go down the line spelling the same word in the different emotions
spell the word as if:
- you just won 3 million dollars
- you are 3 years old
- you have a mouth full of jelly beans
- you are the ogre hiding under the bridge
Many of these methods can be used for rote learning in other areas such as multiplication facts or formulas in math.
Drama Lesson Plans for Math
Body Sculpture can add some laughter to a geometry review of 2D and 3D shapes. Divide the class into groups with enough students to make the shapes that you are working on. Groups must try to be first to correctly make the shape called out by the teacher or leader.
- make a rectangle, square, rhombus...
- make a cube, sphere, tetrahedron...
- make a cube with a cone inside, square inside a sphere...
Can you think of a way to use this for reinforcing the concepts of perimeter and area with an integrated lesson plan?
Drama Play in Science
This could be used for review or as another take on the research project! If for example you were working on an animal unit, pairs of students could be assigned one animal to research, but instead of presenting their findings in a written report or display, they would present a short skit. Set out the requirements for the task. In the play, the humans must run into the creature in the wild, showing its natural habitat. Through costume and dialogue the students must reveal why they are there (hunters, hikers, scientists, swimmers...). Details about the animal's appearance, behavior, food, etc. must be given and the plot should make clear the results of contact between the humans and the animal.
Add a little drama to learning. It's fun to spice up lessons in science, math, social studies, physical education and some of the other unusual suspects.
And then, and then, and then.........
How often have you heard younger children retell an event or story as a series of facts punctuated by the dreaded "and then"? Having our students present an oral retell in the narrative form helps them to develop an essential skill and it is worth the time and effort to teach them to abandon the "and then" format since it is little more than a bare bones sequencing activity.
What More Do We Want in a Retell?
Even in the shortest, and simplest of stories such as fables and fairy tales, there are elements that need to be noted to flesh out and add interest to the recount. A more complete telling would include not only the events, but also details of the setting, characters, emotion and some in some cases, a hint of the reader's / reteller's personal reaction. How do we encourage a fully detailed retell?
Play Scripts to the Rescue!
I have noticed that the greatest use of descriptive language, and emotional response displayed by children is during the retell of a schoolyard event in which they and their friends or enemies (for the moment) are the main characters in the story!
Picking up on this already developed skill, we can encourage students to put themselves into "the story" by writing short play scripts, taking on the roles and performing their way through the events. This can encourage a more detailed account including information about setting, character and emotion. It often leads to an interesting revelation of the students' reaction or point of view on the characters and events of a story.
Where to Start....
Where to start with your students may depend on their experience with reading and writing play scripts. Provide examples of familiar stories (fairy tales and fables work well) in play script format. Read through and discuss the differences between the narrative and play script versions. If your students are younger, it would beneficial to spend some time practicing the skill of writing dialogue.
e.g. change - Baby Bear looked at the broken chair and cried.
To - Baby Bear: (crying) Somebody smashed my chair!
Demonstrate for the students the different oral presentation of the two lines, the first as it would be said in a reading of the story and the second adding the emotion and voicing of Baby Bear. Give students the opportunity to read the two examples aloud and discuss the difference in presentation. Once you feel that students are confident in writing dialogue, give them an opportunity to write their own play script version of a short fable or fairy tale. Most students have little difficulty with this because television shows and movies have already given them an "ear" for dialogue.
As the students are ready and you wish them to do more formal play script writing, examine elements such as descriptive writing for setting and character notes, action and emotion cues etc.
When asking more experienced students to do a play script retell it is beneficial to have them use a chart to review and fill in pertinent information from the story. (Setting, Characters, Events) If students are ready, you could also have them include a column for their own reaction to specific characters, their actions and events, since this could effect how they write the descriptions and dialogue for certain characters.
Surface Versus Depth
From time to time, opt for the retell through student written play scripts. Encourage students to go a little deeper than "just the facts". It will add another dimension to reading response, so dive in and have fun!
When having students try their hand at writing their own play scripts, we often focus our attention on the skill of writing dialogue and perhaps include a discussion of the emotions involved for the characters. Unfortunately, we often neglect an examination of the more physical part of drama - the action of the story which would be given to the director and actors through stage cues.
For young writers of play scripts and puppet scripts, the skill of visualization should also be taught. Children must learn to see with their mind's eye what will be transpiring on stage throughout their play. Without some forethought and clearly written stage cues, actors could be stumped when it comes to figuring out how and if they can actually perform some of the actions suggested by the script. If for example, the task is to write their own play script of Peter Pan, they are likely to have Peter heroically flying through the air, sword in hand, snatching Captain Hook's hat from his head and making a spectacular landing high up in the rigging of the ship. This would be a marvelous scene, but how do the students perform that on a classroom budget?
The Reality of Play Scripts for School
The last thing we want to do is dampen the originality or imagination of our students, but if they are putting in the effort to write a play script, the performance is just as important as the writing in determining the success of the task.
When rehearsing a play, students often spend a lot of time pushing or pulling each other around ("You go here, no you go there...etc") while trying to figure out the movement or the "how to's" in order to carry out the action suggested by the dialogue. The playwright could try to solve some of these problems for the actors by thinking through the entire script and visualizing how and where the action would be carried out on the stage.
Finding and Solving the Impossibles
To think about......
Basic Stage Instructions
These are usually easy to determine and should be written in with the characters' dialogue. (e.g. enter stage right .... tiptoeing up behind John etc.) Most students will be familiar with these stage cues from reading scripts, but without focusing on them, they are not as likely to put them into their own writing. These can be even more important in classroom drama, however, when there is no director to determine how the actors should move.
Items should be listed separately and some thought given to where they will be placed for the actor to pick up, move around, sit on etc.
This is the area where the finding and solving of the impossible usually happens. Noting that character 1 is standing on rock (chair) at the back of the stage while his next line is to be whispered in the ear of character 2 who is still standing at the front of the opposite side of the stage needs to be reworked. Thinking back to our Peter Pan problem ... with live actors how do we get the effect of Peter flying without endangering the lives of the actors! If, however, it is a puppet script the effect could be handled easily. Even when writing for puppets, the writer must stop and think through a few cases of "How do I do that?". With actions as simple as picking up a piece of paper which is no problem for a live actor, a technical challenge is created for some types of puppets. Great opportunities for creative problem solving!
To help students to work through his process, add a Blocking activity to the editing process. In some ways they take on the role of the director when thinking through the staging of their play. Have them create a chart to complete as they examine the script. In one column draw a box to represent the stage area (one for each scene for longer works) and actually mark on it the placement of objects and using symbols and lines track the movements of the characters. This will help them to come across any difficulties presented by the script. Include a column for scenery, props, sound effects/music and any actions that may need to be worked out technically. If the students are working in a group to present the play, this is a great activity for them to do together as preparation before rehearsing the play.
With practice, students learn to visualize some of the finer details as they write their play scripts, but blocking and charting is always a valuable activity. More preparation before jumping into rehearsals can save a lot of time. Find and solve the "impossibles" first!