The Play's The Thing - Putting Together Classroom Plays
Classroom plays can be a highlight of the year for both students and teachers.
By Greg Harrison
I know, I know . . . you must be thinking, "There's no way this guy is going to convince me to do a classroom play. I already have enough on my plate. Doing a play would put me over the edge!" Believe me, I used to feel the same way. I avoided doing classroom plays for the first 15 years of my career. But then, I began working at a charter school at which each teacher was expected to do a classroom play each year.
Before I go into the "how to's," I'd like to list some of the many benefits associated with doing a play with your class.
* Your students will remember the play, and you as their loving, supportive director, for the rest of their lives. Many of them will continue to pursue performance arts because of your influence.
* The play is a bonding experience for everyone involved in it. Your class will grow closer.
* You will be a hero in the eyes of your students' parents, you will earn a new level of respect from your peers, and will score huge points with your principal.
* The play can be an incredibly rich learning experience for your students by tying it into one of your curricular areas.
* Students who have been "in the background" for most of the year will have a chance to blossom and grow.
* The play process exposes your students to visual and performance arts: music, dance, set design, and costume creation. Plus, it introduces them to public speaking techniques and how to be confident in front of a group. These are all things that are being cut from our children's educational experience.
The first thing you should do to get the ball rolling is to find a play that you can do with your class. There are many resources out there, but the one I liked best is an amazing little company called Bad Wolf Press (http://www.badwolfpress.com). They produce incredibly good musical plays for all age levels, and have come up with dozens and dozens of plays that cover a wide variety of topics. They have created many plays about social studies topics, re-tellings of classic children's books, holiday plays - they even have plays on math and science topics! Once you've chosen the play you want to do, you can order their play package. In it, you'll receive a booklet that has the script, and everything you need to know and do to pull off the play. All of their plays have music. Your play package comes with a CD that has instrumental versions of all the songs. During the performances, you play the CD and your students sing along to the soundtrack. It works perfectly! The songs that the authors come up with are very, very good! One of my favorite plays was "Gold Dust or Bust." It's a play that's perfect for fourth or fifth graders who are learning about the California Gold Rush era. I even got to make a cameo with my banjo during one of the scenes! The plays are meant to be performed in your classroom, so you don't need to worry about booking the auditorium or cafeteria space. A simple rearrangement of furniture, and a nice black curtain as a backdrop is all you need to create your "stage."
When should you do your play? That's a good question, and one you should think about very carefully. Traditionally, most teachers wait until the end of the year to do their play. If that woks for you, then go for it! However, you might consider two other times of the year; just before the holiday break in December, and just before the spring break in March or April. Personally, I felt that I had too much going on at the end of the year to pull off a play. What worked best for me was to begin the play process just before the Thanksgiving long weekend. I simply played the CD to let my students listen to the songs so they could begin to learn the lyrics. Once back from Thanksgiving, we devoted ourselves to play rehearsals and had our performances during the last week of school before the holiday break.
Performance week was always exciting and fulfilling! We would do three or four performances for the other classes in the school, then would have the "Big Evening Show" for all of the parents on Thursday night. After the final performance, we had an all-cast ice cream party with the families. Some of the most cherished moments of my teaching career came from those evening shows. Quite often, parents were moved to tears when thanking me for giving their child an opportunity to shine "on stage." The best part about having the play during the time between Thanksgiving and the holiday break is that when the play is over, you have two weeks off to recover!! Seriously, it was always so nice for me to go to all of the other classroom plays around the school at the end of the year knowing that mine was already done.
I truly hope you will consider doing a play with your class. Once you have done it once, I guarantee that you will look forward to the play process with your classes for years to come. What follows are some really good lessons on drama in the classroom for you to peruse.
Classroom Play Lesson Plans:
I love this lesson - it is actually more a "how to" which describes a variety of in-class "Social Dramatic Play Centers" in your pre-kindergarten or kindergarten classroom. The students help to pick out the items that will go in each center, then take turns play-acting in them during the week. Some of the centers are the doctor's office, the train station, the restaurant, and the home.
This wonderfully thorough, comprehensive lesson plan is designed for second graders. The lesson plan describes how to create all of the elements necessary for a theatrical production, and how to work cooperatively to complete all of the different tasks needed to create their production.
This delightful lesson is a beautifully-designed play for mid to upper-elementary students. Students work together to create a play that speaks about the Earth's 5 "spheres": the atmosphere (air), the hydrosphere (water), the geosphere (soil and Earth materials), and the biosphere (all living things). The lesson is filled with terrific ideas and play adaptations depending on what grade level you teach.
This incredibly rich lesson introduces your middle school students to Shakespeare, then has them divide up into groups. Each group chooses a famous scene from one of Shakespeare's works to perform for the class. There are many wonderful extension ideas embedded in this plan, including the creation of a PowerPoint presentation on another Shakespeare play that each group will present to their peers. A brilliantly conceived lesson.