Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Incorporating Drama in the Classroom

I've been teaching drama for about fifteen years, and I love every aspect of it. I facilitated a workshop yesterday at our local school district's professional development day called 'Incorporating Drama In the Classroom'. Theatre is a powerful vehicle for building teamwork, developing cooperative and problem solving skills, and promoting self-esteem and a sense of accomplishment. Drama can be incorporated into almost any subject area or can be taught as a separate unit. This session incorporated lots of hands on activities and also attempted to address planning and assessment. Here is the 'handout'.

Why teach Drama?
Theatre promotes:
-       creative problem solving
-       imagination
-       cooperative skills
-       self confidence
-       poise
-       focus and concentration
-       commitment
-       sense of accomplishment
-       ability to work outside one’s ‘comfort zone’
-       tolerance for others and for ‘chaos’
-       ability to follow through, commit, and persevere

Incorporating Drama in other subjects:

This is by no means an exhaustive list. These are just ideas that I have used personally and that I have found work well.

-       Write a monologue from the POV of a fictional character. Perform the monologue in front of the class.
-       Turn a scene from a piece of fiction you are studying into a short skit and perform it in front of the class.
-       Write a play/skit based on a song or poem and perform it.
-       Write a parody of a famous story and perform it as a skit in front of the class.
-       Perform a poem or haiku
-       Reader’s Theatre (most stories are easy to adapt if you can’t find one you want to use.)
-       Write a skit that personifies various figures of speech. (Similes, metaphors etc…) and perform it as a group ensemble, or write a monologue as a personified figure of speech.
-       Choose a character from a piece of fiction and hold a mock trial.
-       Choose a piece of poetry and perform it as a rap, or write a rap about a character or piece of fiction and perform it.
-       Choose a Shakespearean sonnet and perform it as a monologue that has some kind of context within an imaginary story. As an advanced exercise in characterization, this requires that students create a backstory with a clear conflict and a possible imaginary scene partner, (if the character is talking someone.) It requires a clear understanding of the character’s objective in the scene.

Social Studies:
-       Write a monologue from the POV of an historical figure. (Famous or otherwise). Perform it in front of the class.
-       Reenact a scene or historical event.
-       Create a performance piece (skit, dance, song, monologue, dramatic reading…) that highlights or incorporates another culture or country.
-       Create a ‘Frieze’ or ‘Tableaux’ of an historical event. (Make sure to take pictures!)
-       Create a scripted ‘how to’ video – Ex: How to make a mummy (This would also work well for Science or other subject areas)
-       Mock trial, court room scene

-       ‘How to’ video (as above)
-       write a play demonstrating a science concept. (Ex: ‘Osmosis Jones’ demonstrated the systems of the body.)
-       Act out a scientific process. (Volcanoes; how the ear interprets sound…)
-       Act out a math concept.

-       create masks, puppets, scarves, cultural pieces and then write a play, dance, rap or some other performance piece that incorporates the items.
-       Use a famous painting as the inspiration for a play. (Ex: Edvard Munch’s ‘The Scream’)


These are the assessment tools I use the most:
-       Rubrics - I prefer using rubrics for most performance based projects. It is helpful for students to have clear instructions and objectives with a series of ‘check-ins’ built into the project so that they can stay on track.
-       Reflective journals
-       Some ‘paperwork’ – vocabulary, short tests etc…
-       ‘APE’ – This stands for ‘Attendance’, “Participation’, and ‘Energy/Enthusiasm/Effort’. I keep a simple checklist that takes five minutes or less to fill in at the end of each ‘performance’ type session. This works well whether it is a day of ‘improv’, rehearsal, or an actual performance. It means you shouldn’t skip class on those days (attendance), but a warm body isn’t sufficient – you also need to participate in the activities. However, the ‘E’ means that half hearted participation isn’t acceptable – there needs to some enthusiasm, energy and effort.
-       Oral and student feedback. I like to give time each class for student feedback. My rules are: Feedback must be specific, kind, and helpful. It is surprising how quickly students learn to be discerning and how they like giving feedback.

A Typical Drama Class:
-       Warm ups
-       Games and improv
-       Group and scene work
-       Feedback, discussion

Favorite Games/Activities:
There are literally hundreds of games that can be used with even more variations on each. These are just a few of the games/activities that I use on a regular basis because they are popular, fun and they actually work.

Warm Ups: (Also good for ‘Winding Down’)
A good warm up should include at least three elements: focusing activity, body warm up, vocal warm up. Here are a few favorites:

-       tongue twisters (vocal) 

-       yoga, balancing exercises, stretching etc. (body)

-       breathing exercises (focus and vocal)

-       ‘Rain’ (focus) Stand in a circle. Start with one person rubbing their hands together. Each person gradually begins to do the action, one at a time around the circle until all are rubbing. Switch to snapping and then clapping. When all are clapping everyone jumps in unison to signify thunder. Work backwards until only one person is rubbing and then all is quiet again.

-       ‘This is a hat’ (focus) * believe it or not, this is an all time favorite! This activity is all about keeping the rhythm. (Start this one slowly and work your way up to incorporating more ‘objects’.) Stand in a circle. Starting with one object (a hat) one person passes the hat to the person next to them while they say this rhythmic ‘phrase.’
Person 1: This is a hat
Person 2: A what?
Person: A hat
Person 2: A what?
Person 1: A hat
Person 2: Oh yeah, a hat.
           Person 2 then turns and repeats the process with the next person and so on. When students get good at it, add more objects (make sure the object has only one syllable). You know you have ‘arrived’ when twenty-four students can have twelve objects going around the circle at one time and all the “a what’s?” are in unison. It’s a beautiful thing! Sometimes it helps if the rest clap along to keep the rhythm.

-       singing (vocal)

-       ‘Circle Ups’ - * my personal favoriteAnother rhythm exercise that also incorporates vocal and body warm up. To the count of eight, pump your right hand across your body to the left eight times. Then do your left hand to the right eight times. Touch the floor eight times. Swing your arms through your legs eight times. Hands on hips and squat eight times. Pat stomach and exhale sharply with your diaphragm saying ‘Huh’ eight times. Repeat four times, twice and once. It’s really cool when done in unison without stopping.

-       yawning, babbling, humming, etc. (vocal)

-       clapping games (focus)

-       Name in 4/4 Rhythm (focus) – Start a 4/4 rhythm – slap thighs twice and snap fingers twice. Say nothing. On the snaps one student says her name on count THREE of the snaps and another students name on count four. This next student then picks up the next round by saying her name on count THREE and someone else’s and so on.

-       Act out various suggestions actions: ex: chopping wood, playing an instrument, blowing up…

-       What Are You Doing? * kids love this one for some reason – The person in the centre of the circle starts an action. Someone joins the circle and asks, “What are you doing?” The response must be something totally different than what they are actually doing. The questioner must start doing the action until someone new comes into the circle.

-       Continued stories. (Many variations including ‘Fortunately/ unfortunately’)

-       Secret games (wink murder etc.)  

Skill building Games

-       Greetings’ (characterization) – line up across from a partner. Walk forward and greet one another ‘in character’ according to teacher suggestions. (Cowboy, ninja, old lady etc…) Sometimes I make one line shift down so that they are always ‘greeting’ someone new. I also do a variation on this where they mill around the space and at my signal, they ‘greet’ the person closest to them. Another variation is using animal sounds instead of greetings.

-       Activities on the Moon – slow motion tennis, baseball, whatever…

-       Pantomime ‘telephone’ – played like ‘telephone’ but done like charades. Four to ten people line up with their back to the first person who acts out a given situation for only one member of the line up. The person who watched taps the next in line on the shoulder and then does the action for them and so on. By the time the action gets to the last person it is usually totally different.

-       Vocal Intentions (separate handout)

-       Individual pantomimes from a suggestion (separate handout)

Team Building, Fun, & Focus Games

-       Shark – start with several pieces of paper on the floor. Students ‘swim’ around these paper ‘islands’ until I yell ‘Shark’ (or blow a whistle). They must get to an island and stand on it with no other part of their body touching the floor. Keep taking away paper until there is only one left. It is amazing to see how many kids can fit onto one paper and this activity really helps them get over the fear of ‘touching’.

-       Mirrors – partners face each other and ‘mirror’ one another’s actions. (One leader at a time)

-       Snake – make a line and hold hands. The student at the end goes under the arms of the person next to them, winding in and out until the snake has been inverted.

-       Charlie’s Angels – (Start this one slowly, introducing each new instruction one at a time.) One person in centre of circle. Point at someone and say one of the following. The person pointed at and the people on either side must do the command before the centre person can count to 10. If not, they go to the centre. Commands:
1.     Elephant: the person pointed at makes the trunk with her arm. People on either side become the ears.
2.     Milk the Cow: center must interlock fingers to represent the udder, people on sides ‘milk’
3.     Charlie’s Angels: the three create a tableaux. Middle – karate kick; right – radio; left – gun.
4.     Bibbity-Bobbity-Boo!: the person pointed to tries to say ‘Bop’ before the centre person is finished the phrase.
5.     Bop: If the centre person says this to someone they must remain totally quiet.

-       Have You Ever? Students sit on chairs in a circle with one person standing in the centre. Centre person asks random questions and those that have done this must switch chairs before the centre person gets a chair. Stress honesty! Ex: have you ever… been in the hospital, had a nose bleed, been to Vancouver… whatever as long as it is school appropriate.

-       How Do You Like Your Neighbors? – One student stands in the centre of circle and asks someone, “____________, how do you like your neighbors?” The person asked has three choices – each one affecting the students differently on either side of them.
1.     “I like them fine.” In this case, the two people on either side switch places before the person in centre can take their place.
2.     “I like ________, but I don’t like _________ (stress that this is all in fun!) I’d rather have _________.” The students named last must switch places before the centre person can take their place.
3.     “ I hate them both. I’d rather have ________ and __________.” All four must switch.

-       Twizzle – One person stands in the centre of the circle. All walk around in the same direction. Centre person calls out the following commands and those in the circle must do the command and freeze. If he/she is out they join the centre and can help call out commands or watch for infractions. Commands:
1.     Freeze: self explanatory. J
2.     Stop: stop and pivot 180 degrees, then freeze.
3.     Jump: same as ‘stop’ but jump instead of pivot.
4.     Twizzle: stop, jump 360 degrees and freeze.

-       Fruit Basket – an oldie but a goody. Sit on chairs in a circle, one less chair than students. Assign every student one of four ‘fruits’. (Banana, apple, orange, strawberry… or whatever) When the person in the middle calls out a fruit, those people must switch chairs. More than one fruit can be called at a time or if ‘fruit basket’ is called, everyone must move.

-       The Animal Game – circle of chairs, one less chair than students. Every student chooses the name of an animal. (Must all be different) As an example, let’s say my animal is a tiger. If I was in the middle, I would call out my own animal plus someone else’s: “Tiger likes baboon.” The ‘baboon’ must say, “Baboon likes _______” before the tiger hits them with a rolled up newspaper or some other soft ‘weapon’. (I use half a pool noodle for this) Hit on the legs not the upper body! This game takes concentration but is lots of fun.

-       Various relay games - (try these blindfolded with members calling out instructions…) Or try relay games that use different body parts: Ex: teams of four must use 3 feet, 1 hand and 1 bum… (or whatever)

-       Don’t Stop Talking – two people face each other and at the signal must talk non-stop about a randomly given topic. The first person to stop or laugh is out.

Improv ‘Rules’ and Games

*The number one rule of improv is the rule of agreement:
-       Avoid using the word ‘no’ unless you can justify or add to the scene.
-       Be a GIVER of information
-       Treat everyone’s idea as if it is BRILLIANT (even if you think it’s stupid)
-       The best way to look good is to make your scene partner look good.
-       Don’t try to ‘drive’ the scene in the way you think it should go. Allow it to evolve and flow.
-       Move around in the performance space rather than just talk

-       Vacation / Fast forward & rewind – choose a random vacation destination. (From a hat or from audience suggestions) Two people sit to the side and tell the story of their vacation as if they were watching a video. Two actors represent the people telling the story. (In other words, the actors must do whatever they are told. Usually the storytellers call the shots, but occasionally something happens and the storytellers have to explain or justify what just happened on stage.) Random actors may jump in at any time if secondary characters are mentioned. The fast forward/ rewind element can be added to challenge the actors and makes for some hilarious comedy. 
-       Taxi / park bench – good for characterization. Place two chairs to signify a vehicle. One person is the driver (taxi, trucker, whatever…) and another person needs a ride. Since this is improv they should not plan in advance but must go with whatever happens. (The rule of agreement) There are all kinds of variations.  The chairs could represent a park bench, bus stop, waiting room… 
-       Tap Out – A favorite and a good standby. Two people start a scene. At any point someone can call ‘freeze’ and both actors must freeze in place. The new person ‘taps out’ one of the actors and begins a new (and usually unrelated) scene. 
-       The Party – another characterization game. One person is the ‘host’ of the party. We usually line up some chairs to signify a couch or sitting area. The host needs to go out of the room while three to four people decide on random characters that will ‘crash’ the party. (Could pick out of a hat or take audience suggestions) Once characters are chosen, the host comes back in. The random characters knock on the ‘door’ of the party and begin interacting with the host, and with each other. Sometimes it can get chaotic once all the characters are at the party. At some point, the host will call time and try to guess who the characters are. 
-       The Dating Game – similar to the party in that a ‘contestant’ must go out of the room while four actors choose potential characters. Once the contestant comes back in they all sit on chairs and the contestant asks them questions, supposedly so he/she can choose which one to date. Example questions: Where would you take me on a first date? What’s your favorite food, song, flower etc? Sometimes we also have a TV host to keep things rolling but this is not necessary. At some point the contestant tries to guess who each character is supposed to be. 
-       Scenes from a ‘Hat’ (Prompts such as character/location/situation…) – self explanatory. A keep a bag of ‘scene starters’ handy for whenever we need them. 
-       Enter and Exit – three students go out of the room. The audience chooses a location and identifies three words that will likely be said at that location. Choose three volunteers from the audience and assign a different noise maker to each that will be sounded each time one of the words is said. (I use a bell, whistle and bicycle horn.) Each actor is ‘assigned’ one of the words (unknown to them) and every time they hear that noise they must enter or exit the performance space. They must justify their entrance or exit. The actors usually don’t figure out their word right away but soon they start playing along and purposely say the words. If no one is saying one of the words, send on an extra to get the ball rolling. Example: Location – a yacht. Words – shark, water, seasick. Every time any one of the actors says ‘shark’ someone rings a bell and Actor A must enter/exit; every time someone says ‘water’ a horn sounds and Actor B must enter/exit; every time someone says ‘seasick’ a whistle blows and Actor C must enter/exit. 
-       Scenes from a Rant – This is a fairly advanced form of improv which leads into doing ‘The Harold’, below. An ensemble of three to six stand on stage and someone from the audience shouts out a word suggestion. Immediately, one of the players steps forward and starts rambling and ‘ranting’ based on that suggestion. At any time another player may ‘tap out’ the one ranting and continue the rant or go on a rabbit trail based on something that was said. After an allotted amount of time (either when the ensemble senses it is time or the director says ‘cut’) the ensemble begin improvising one or more scenes based on what came out of the rant. 
-       Scenes from Word Association – the same as scenes from a rant only the ensemble simply does word association. These suggestions are then used to inspire the improvised scene. 
-       Scenes from a ‘Shopping List’ – the audience calls out a random list of words/ objects. Someone writes these down. The ensemble must improvise a scene that includes all of the words. 
-       The Harold (advanced – see Art By Committee for further instruction) – the ‘Harold’ is a longer form of improv that can take from half an hour to an hour. It is based on ‘recycling’ and repeating ideas, characters and scenes. Using any of the ideas from above, students improvise three totally separate and unrelated scenes. We will call them Scene A, B, and C and we will call this ‘Round One’. In ‘Round Two’, the actors go back to Scene A and continue to build on it, perhaps adding more information or assuming that time has passed since the first scene. The same happens with Scene B and C. If it occurs naturally, some connections can begin to develop between the characters from Scene A, B and C. Finally in ‘Round Three’, the characters should begin to connect from all three scenes until the whole skit is tied together and comes to a conclusion.    
Once I introduced this concept to my senior Drama students they wanted to turn everything into a ‘Harold’. They have even used it successfully as the evening entertainment at various venues and have done a ‘Harold’ as an entire show.

Group and Scene Work:
I differentiate ‘group work’ from ‘improv’ in that group work is planned and takes cooperative and negotiating skills. Some group work is short, (I might only give them ten minutes to come up with an idea and perform it) while other projects take weeks.

-       Scene/skit based on a prompt - (fairy tale, parody, a genre, incorporate an object, person, location etc…)

-       Tableux from a given suggestion – an emotion, scene from a movie, book title, a phrase

-       Machines – using the team members as ‘parts’ to construct a machine. It must have moving parts, make a noise and have a specific function. It can be silly or fictitious. See if the class can guess.

-       Analyzing, acting out various scenes from given scripts

-       Create an advertisement.

-       Use ‘Generic Dialogue’ to create a scene (separate handout)

-       Write a play based on a theme, or something from another subject and produce and perform it. (I have several separate handouts from ideas that I have used: Ex: Around the World in Eighty Minutes; Fairy Tale Masks; Giant Puppet Plays; Clan Dramas; Play Based on a Song; etc.)

Favorite Resources:
I literally have shelves lined with books, but these are my all time favorites.

Halpern, Charna. Art by Committee, A Guide to AdvancedImprovisation. Colorado Springs, CO: Meriweather Publishing Ltd., 2005.

Halpern, Charma Truth In Comedy

Johnson, M.B. Middle Mania. Hanover, NH: Smith and Kraus Inc., 2001.

Drama Recipe Books 1, 2 and 3. Radical Wombat Collective, 1995.