Dramatic Classroom Blog

These are pages archived from “The Dramatic Classroom,” a blog I ran for several years when I was teaching and doing a lot of theatre work.

Other Pages in this Section

Drama Exercises

More Drama Exercises

 Remembrance Day

Intergenerational Theatre Group

Amateurs on the Board of Directors

Why the Performance as a Classroom Model?

I chose this model because, in my experience, a group of people creating a performance exhibit the kind of attitudes and behaviours that promote cooperation, enthusiasm, and accomplishment. It can be any type of performance: drama, theatre, film, movie, TV show, presentation, whatever.

Here are some of the advantages the “creating a performance” model brings to the learning environment:

1. BUYING IN:
Performance is a part of everyone’s life, and everyone wants to be successful. This means the students buy in easily.

2. COOPERATION:
A performance is always a cooperative project.

3. ATTITUDE:
A happy, confident and trusting person can be creative and achieve the maximum.

4. AUDIENCE:
In order to have a good performance, the audience must play its role properly as well.

In other words, the requirements for a performance completely mirror the requirements for an excellent learning envrionment.

PURPOSES OF THIS PAGE:

1. To help teachers who wish to improve the learning environment in their classrooms, through suggestions and feedback about the uses of drama techniques to affect the attitudes and behaviour of students.

2. Also, to help teachers find simple and effective ways to fulfill the Drama and Language Arts curricula, from Kindergarten to Senior High.

3. Incidentally, to allow me to sell my Speech Arts Handbook, “Expressive Poetry Performance”, at $10 for the Handbook, $20 for the Teacher Guide, plus shipping. You can e-mail me at >[email protected]< for a copy.

4. Finally, to allow me to sell my workshops to interested schools and districts

FRIDAY, AUGUST 04, 2006

The First Six Weeks of School

 All right, it’s August, and you’ve had some holidays. If you’re rested enough, and if last year wasn’t a complete wipeout, you start having flashes. No, not hot flashes. Those are because you forgot the sunscreen.

Inspiration flashes. Just for a moment, and not too seriously, you start thinking about what you might do in September. It’s the time for creativity, when there’s no pressure, and you don’t really have to get down to business for a couple of weeks. So what is next year going to look like in your class, if it really goes the way you would like it to?

If the flashes you’re having are terror flashes, thinking about what next year is going to look like, read on. This may help.

When I started teaching in the hippy-dippy days, in spite of the loosey-goosey attitudes towards marks and reporting, common wisdom had it that you had to be real tough the first six weeks. You had to carry a big stick, whip your class into shape, get them under your thumb. Then, once you had them eating out of your hand, you could relax a bit. I’m sure there are still teachers that think this way.What does that say about your management style? It tells me that you’re basically lying to the students, pretending that you’re a meanie, and then, once you’ve intimidated them all, you can suddenly turn into the “good cop” and all will be well. It says that you think the kids have to be scared of you, and then you can teach.

There is one thing correct about that model; at the beginning, you do have to be more aware of the learning environment in your class. You have to be sure the children understand your ideals and methods, to minimize the disruptions caused by misunderstanding.

So, as you lie on the beach on the August long weekend, musing about how you’re going to start the year, it’s a good idea to think about those first six weeks, and how you’re going to bring your students on side, get them to buy in to your program.

A traditional “opening weeks” activity is the “Me Book”. Whatever form it takes, written, drawn, worksheets, art, the children spend their time thinking about who they are and presenting it in visual form. This model has the advantage of filling the time before you’re sure who is really in your class, using no textbooks, covering limited or no curricular material, and wasting a lot of paper and time.

I always play games.

STARTER GAMES

Before you give up reading in disgust, I should mention that I never play a game in my class unless I know exactly what it’s for. If a parent were to walk into my class and find them playing “Seven-up”, and ask me what the educational objective was, I would be able to spout a bunch of gobbledy-gook, but I wouldn’t really have an answer. So I never play “Seven-up”.

However, there are a lot of games, especially drama games, that do have educational objectives, and I use them a lot, the first few weeks. The games I am going to discuss here are not usually ones I made up myself, and most of them I’ve been using so long, I don’t know where I got them, so I claim no originality. I simply choose each game for its usefulness in creating the classroom environment I desire.

“INTRODUCE YOUR PARTNER”

This one I use the first day. It is also good for workshops with adults.

First, I have everybody sit in a circle on the floor. I do this all the way through Elementary, and in drama and acting classes up to Senior High. The circle is a basically good working structure, and the students soon learn the rules: everyone must be in the circle, everyone must be able to see everyone else, and nobody can complain about who they are sitting beside. For the lesson part, I have them sit or kneel as they choose. Lying down, lounging, and other more relaxed postures, are fine for less formal situations.

Since I am using this as a Drama activity, I discuss the next section before they start the game. I suggest you, also, call these Drama games, as the students seem to enjoy the idea, plus it reminds them that the games have a curricular purpose. If you are not calling it Drama, you don’t need to mention this next part.

I tell them that there are three stages in a dramatic work: the creation, the rehearsal, and the performance. This is a pattern that they will follow throughout their Drama lessons.

I have them choose a partner, and sit somewhere on the floor facing the partner. I challenge them to find somebody they don’t know well. I don’t comment if they choose their friends, but gradually, over the course of the first few weeks, I encourage them to get over their fear, and expand their work group. Their task is to introduce their partner to the group. It takes three stages.

The first stage is the creative part. I instruct them to find out three pieces of information about their partner, including name. Then they must figure out what they are going to say when they introduce their partner.

Once most of them have completed this, I give them the next set of instructions. The creative part is over, and the rehearsal part comes next. They are to practise what they are going to say to the group, word for word, telling it to their partner, the person they are introducing. After they have worked for a while I remind them to make sure that each person has had a chance to practice. At the end, when I think they have had enough time, I ask them to each practise their lines one more time, then come and sit in the circle again.

Now comes the performance part. I always ask for volunteers, but sooner or later, everyone is required to perform. Once I run out of volunteers, I just go around the circle. Each pair introduces each other, and each pair gets polite applause. Everyone should applaud, to show respect. There is only one rule during the performance, and it is a huge one. NO ONE ELSE MAY SPEAK. This is a key rule, because it will soon permeate your whole classroom. Showing respect for the performer is a key beginning in showing respect for everyone, including the teacher : ) The partner is allowed to prompt, if somebody forgets an item, because the partner is part of the performance, so that’s acceptable. I, too, try to keep from interupting, unless I feel it would be helpful. During the performance, I model good audience behaviour, keeping my focus a much as possible on the performers.

What are the students learning in this game?

1. They are doing their first solo performances in front of the class. Yes, plural. When you are introducing, you are performing. When you are being introduced, you are performing as well. In this way the focus of the audience is shared, and it makes it much easier for the performers. I have never had a student, no matter how shy, who couldn’t succeed at this game.

2. They are learning all the management forms which I will use in drama, gym, and many other subjects.

3. They are learning good audience behaviour, and to show respect to their classmates.

4. They are learning to follow instructions. I actually demand more “obedience” and exert more control over my Drama and PE classes than over any other subjects: PE because of physical safety, and Drama because of emotional safety. The advantage is that they buy into the emotional safety quickly, because they appreciate it themselves.

5. They are getting to know their classmates in a controlled, non-threatening environment.

That is my first Drama game. I always debrief at the end, mentioning as many of the objectives listed above as I feel necessary for the group I am leading. I always end with a comment on the way the lesson went, (usually complimentary at this stage) and then we all get up and see how quickly and quietly we can get the desks put back in place.

SHYEST STUDENT

I save this lesson for the first time I need it. Then I stop whatever the class is doing, and talk about this idea. I try to choose a time when I’m interrupting something they enjoy, so that they will see the necessity for the lesson as a distraction, and give no credit to those students who caused the lesson to be taught. I don’t actually point out the offending students, but everybody always knows. It goes something like this:

If a person who is very confident is performing, and doing a good job, and a friend of his interrupts with a comment, and the performer accepts the interruption, and deals with it, maybe makes a joke, and the audience laughs, there’s no harm done, right?

Wrong. No harm done to the confident person. He can handle it. But what about the shyest person in the class?

You can bet that shy person is sitting there thinking, “When I get up to perform, that guy is going to do the same thing to me, and I’m just going to die!” A person who is distracted by thoughts like that is not going to be able to perform at his best level.

Since most of shyness is caused through imagining what can go wrong, it would be selfish of the confident people to give the shy people a real problem to worry about. As a result, we can’t make any disturbance when anybody else is performing, even if it’s a good friend who won’t mind. That way everybody has their best chance to perform. Since our main objective in this classroom is to give everybody their best chance to get an education, we have to follow this rule very strictly.

What I don’t usually discuss with the students is the fact that the loudmouth who interrupts is probably one of the most insecure, and only blusters to prevent being embarrassed. Therefore, he also buys in to the reason for the rule.

The rule also applies when the teacher is speaking. After all, the shyest person is watching that, too, and if you interrupt the teacher, it will have the same effect.

In other words, if we are given an opportunity to show respect for everyone else, and are guaranteed that we will get it back, then everybody is happy, and does well.

THURSDAY, AUGUST 10, 2006

Drama Games Which Create a Good Learning Environment

 Here are a few games I have used successfully in the beginning of the school year to demonstrate and practise specific skills and attitudes which create a positive learning environment in my classroom.

Steal the Keys.

The class sits in a big circle. One student is chosen to be guardian and sits blindfolded in the centre, with a set of very jangly keys on the floor nearby. On a signal from the teacher, a second student from the circle tries to creep up, steal the keys, and get back to the circle. The blindfolded student is allowed three tries to point at the thief. After the three tries, or a successful scoop, the round is over and another guardian is chosen.

Objectives: cooperation and silence

This one is a beauty, because, in order for the game to proceed, every student in the class must remain absolutely silent for quite a long period of time. Anyone who breaks the silence is spoiling the game. This is a sneaky way for the teacher to place incredible social pressure from the class on everyone in the class to be silent. Of course, because everybody accepts the necessity for this silence, the game also builds a group cooperative spirit.

Notice that the successful “thief” doesn’t get to be the next guardian. In the first place, that would introduce too much competition, and this is not the place for competition. Also, because this is only a two-player game, it is best to get as many people involved as possible.

Name Throw

Everyone stands in a circle for this. A starts with a (soft, easily caught) ball.

A – I’m A. Hello, B (throws to B)
B – Thanks A. I’m B. Hello C (throws to C)

Players sit down once they have thrown the ball, and you keep playing until everyone is done.

Objectives: concentration, knowledge of class members’ names.

It is pretty obvious that everyone has to be paying attention for this game to work, especially in a new class where people don’t know each other. I encourage the seated students to try to learn everybody’s name.

Camping Trip

Everyone sits in a circle. One person starts:

A: My name is Tim. I’m going on a camping trip, and I’m taking a tent.
Teacher: That’s right, Tim, you may take a tent.
B: My name is Mary. I’m going on a camping trip, and I’m taking molasses.
Teacher: Yes, Mary, you may take molasses on the camping trip.
C: My name is George. I’m going on a camping trip, and I’m taking a sleeping bag.
Teacher. I’m sorry, George, but you’re not allowed to take a sleeping bag.
D. My name is Sam. I’m going on a camping trip, and I’m going to take a canoe.
Teacher: Too bad, Sam, but you can’t take a canoe. You could have taken a sleeping bag, Sam, but you can’t take a canoe.

The game continues around the circle, and people succeed or fail depending on whether they’ve figured out the rule (which, if you haven’t tried to figure out, has to do with first letters). The first day at the game, perhaps half the class will get the trick. I caution them not to tell anyone outside of class time, because they will spoil the person’s achievement when they do get the trick. The following time we play, I always make the associations more and more obvious, until everybody gets it.

Objectives: concentration, problem solving, observation, group building.

I am always careful of how this game goes, because there is a potential for somebody to feel left out if they don’t ‘get it’. One real reason I ask them not to tell anyone out of class is to prevent people playing power trips with their knowledge. Once again, the class is being trained to voluntarily follow the rules of a game, with the express purpose of allowing everyone the maximum benefit from it.

Another reason for cautioning them not to tell people outside of class is that I am trying to create the class as a special, safe, place. People will be free to take risks in class, because if they fail, they aren’t afraid of being teased about it out of class.

I often use the game as an example later of the “guess and check” method of problem solving.

There is a benefit in group building to have set an objective, and have every member achieve that objective, thus cementing the togetherness of the group.

Another Camping Trip

Once they know this camping trip, I change it to a memory game. Again, everyone sitting in a circle:

A: I’m Jerry. I’m going on a camping trip, and I’m taking a juke box.
B: I’m Helen. I’m going on a camping trip, and I’m taking Jerry’s juke box and a hat.
C: I’m Carol. I’m going on a camping trip, and I’m taking Jerry’s jike box, Helen’s hat, and a canoe.

And the game goes around until somebody blows it, and then the next person around the circle starts again. It can be made more difficult if the first letters don’t match the names.

Objectives: memory, thinking under pressure.

Crossed and Uncrossed.

This game consists of passing a pair of pencils around the circle “crossed” or “uncrossed.” Just like the first “Camping Trip” game, the teacher tells the students whether they have succeeded or not. Of course, the position of the pencils has nothing to do with it. The “crossed” or “uncrossed” is the person’s legs as they pass the pencils.

Objectives: observation, problem solving, group building

Once again, this game carries a certain social risk, and should not be played with a class where you think the smarter students will lord it over those who don’t get the trick right away. However, once again, the risk pays off in group feeling at the end.

There are all sorts of name games like this. For example, in one game, each class member says his name, accompanied by a gesture. The next person repeats the name and the gesture, then gives his own name and gesture. The game can be cumulative, as the last “Camping Trip”, or not, as you feel the class is able to handle.

Points to Consider:

1. I try to keep the rewards for winning and losses for losing very small at this stage of class development. There is a time for competition, but not at this time of the year. Individual payoff comes only from the pleasure of success. Group payoff comes from cooperation. In none of these games does a failure by one student effect the enjoyment of the game by the others. In order for the group building to work, maximum enjoyment by all is required. Can you imagine it? A curricular activity where the main objective is to have fun!

2. All of thes games require cooperation, paying attention to the players, and no interruptions. Ideal classroom behaviour.

3. Success in all of these games is based on the individual’s own accomplishment, not the opinion of anyone else, teacher or peer.

4. If the class fails to behave properly in one of these activities, it is because they are not ready for the complexity of the activity. I stop the game, let them know that this is how I view the problem, and I say I will give them an easier version the next time we play. I never tell them they did not behave. In a later posting, I will discuss classroom management by objective, not discipline, in which the teacher sets a behavioural objective and gives feedback to the students of their accomplishment of that objective, instead of the teacher setting the rules, and rewarding the students if they have followed the rules and punishing them if they have not.

5. All of these games require careful and firm control of the classroom environment by the teacher. You are teaching the children that you are a resourceful facilitator, and that if they follow your rules, they will have a safe, happy, creative environment in which to learn. You are also demonstrating good classroom management, should a parent or administrator drops in.

If you play these games regularly, you will create a positive, caring, active. classroom learning environment, where children will have their best chance for success in all subjects, not only Drama. Plus, they will enjoy school!

THURSDAY, AUGUST 17, 2006