These objectives cover essential learning in the art form for nine- to ten-year-old students. This first PDF download above (appears below for subscribers) contains objectives used in our Fifth Grade Curriculum in a handy printout for reference. We have aligned the objectives with the United States National Standards as shown in the second PDF. As a purchase outside of membership, you will receive access to both documents. Additionally, we have mapped the National Core Arts Standards to grade-appropriate theater standards in a handy reference document for each grade level. Use this reference if you are customizing your curriculum.
Drama Objectives Alignment to National Standards
For my next article in Classroom Management, I will discuss improv scenes and student engagement. Teachers have posed many questions to us concerning management techniques. I will answer this and then request other ideas from this community. The questions are stated exactly as they have been presented to me. I will do my best to interpret the questions and provide an answer from my background. Just send us your ideas and thoughts and we will get the conversation started. None of us are as smart as all of us, so jump in and share what you know relating to each question presented. Creative classroom management can lead to creative thinkers.
Here is our next question. It affects 4th grade through high school practitioners:
“How do you pace improvisational or scene activities where most of class is in the audience?”
There are different approaches to improvisation (see my blog article, Five Approaches to Improvisation, to understand the different approaches). This management article addresses the question of class structure and engagement for the Basic Improvisational Performance approach.
For improv scenes based on the Basic Improvisational Performance approach I use a seven step process that works well with middle and high school. At the end of the steps I will share some minor alterations I make for fourth and fifth grade students, useful as well for classes that are a bit more hesitant about improvisation work.
Step 1. I plan. I lay out an order of performance improvisational skills I want to teach the students (i.e. concentrating, listening, imitating, action, changing action, help/hinder, saying “yes,” building character, taking focus, giving focus, creating setting, etc.). I then devise or select a drama skill building activity as a warm-up (some call these theater games but I stay away from the connotation of “game” which infers winners and losers to some young actors). The warm up activity chosen is a strong one which introduces and reinforces the desired skill of the lesson.
Step 2. The lesson begins with my introducing the skill, modeling, and explaining the warm up activity.
Step 3. Then, students find personal or partner space and quickly try out the skill and activity. (5 minutes)
Step 4. Here the students engage in trying the skill out in front of their peers. This is often a relay, where one or two actors at a time try out the skill/activity with my side coaching. (10 minutes) This activity happens very quickly in an high paced, energetic relay (think of a quick relay race) and takes very little time as each actor has their chance to demonstrate.
Step 5. Students are now divided into partners or teams and given directions for an improvisational scene which utilizes the chosen skill building activity (along with any skills learned from previous classes). They are given a starting moment and simultaneously begin their scenes with my side coaching of the entire class. (10-15 minutes)
Example: if we are working on help and hinder (infusing and understanding conflict) I might ask all of the teams to begin in “help” mode as their characters (doctors) are operating on a patient, and then, upon a class signal from me, they must switch to hinder mode (keeping one doctor in their scene from completing their task). Upon another class signal from me they all switch back to help mode. Back and forth they switch from help to hinder until time is called. Each time a different character is hindered by the rest of the team. Each hindered character tries valiantly to carry on but cannot until help is signaled. In this way, I coach and observe all of the teams.
Step 6. The class gathers together and we discuss the purpose of the skill learned and what they noted about the skill and why it worked or did not work for their team. They discuss how best the skill might be used in unpracticed, unplanned, “in the moment,” improvisational scenes. (5-10 minutes)
Step 7. Teams volunteer to perform an improv scene in front of the class. They are given a short scenario idea from the class or the instructor. They try out a very short scene demonstrating the new skill knowing the instructor is there to side coach if needed. Volunteer teams continue until the last five minutes when reflection is conducted and the class dismissed. It is perfectly acceptable not to have everyone share as everyone has had a chance to work throughout the class session, so you can let teams pass who are not comfortable with the skill yet.
The timings listed above are approximate and you should pace the lesson to fit your students. This process keeps the observing students engaged, analyzing, and considering how they will alter their own work. Students are highly eager to view each other’s work because they have tried it a couple of times, discussed it, and are keen to see how the skill will be handled by other actors.
Adaptation for fourth and fifth grades. This age doesn’t always like the relay (step 4) where students first try the skill one at a time in front of the entire class. If this is the case, have the students move into larger teams of 6 or 8 and share or relay only within those teams. This is also a good adaptation for older actors who are new to performing. For step 5, you might also give students at this age a moment for each team to plan their scene before presenting it.
Try this out with your next improv scene and let me know how it goes.
This being a month that focuses on the subject of bullying, I wanted to address a sometimes forgotten role in a bullying situation: the bystander. In speaking with a group of middle schoolers recently, I was reminded by them of some of the reasons they do not get involved in bullying situations: worries about becoming the next target, not being believed, being criticized by other peers for tattling, not trusting adults to take care of the situation properly, or lacking inner courage. Listening to their personal stories touched me deeply.
More classroom emphasis on bullying through role playing could provide students with alternative actions and language to use when witnessing a bullying situation. Drama provides the perfect “practice” opportunity through dialogue and decision making. Drama also gives students a chance to discuss the bystander role in a group/ensemble situation where they learn what others think and how they might support each other. Peer learning is powerful in drama.
Another opportunity to consider the importance of the bystander is to look at age appropriate literature and film. In many stories, we might refer to the antagonist as a bully and the protagonist as a target. Instead of looking at the main characters, focus on the “bystanders,” those characters that support the protagonist and antagonist. Who gets involved? At what risk? Why do they get involved? How do they support either side? What character traits do they exhibit? Do they change and in what way?
One example is Abiyoyo by Pete Seeger. The father in the story bullies people with his magic. The people in the town stand up to him. They are bystanders that take action. The father’s son is also a bystander who ultimately helps his father use his magic for good. The bystander aspect of this story is often ignored in end-of-lesson reflection. I recommend finding good stories with bystander action or inaction that you would like to address and allow that to lead to deep discussions about the choices bystanders make.
Also, don’t ignore history. When studying historical moments and the people involved, take the time to go deeper in discussion. Focus on the role of bystanders who ultimately came forward in those moments and made a difference. Again, ask the same questions: Who gets involved? At what risk? Etc.
I have included two poems I wrote for drama lessons that address the different roles in a bullying situation. Both of the included poems focus on the bystander role. Groups of students were given a poem and asked to create a drama answering the same questions as above through their devised/improvised story. These dramas became great conversation starters in which I learned more about student thinking than I ever did in general classroom discussions on bullying.
Let me know how they work for you.
What hurts the victim most is not the cruelty of the oppressor but the silence of the bystander.
Elie Wiesel, Nobel laureate and Holocaust survivor
by Karen Erickson
What to Do?
by Karen L. Erickson
I see the boy
Who forces Frank down.
His head hits hard
Upon the ground.
What should I do?
I don’t know what to say.
Should I help?
Or should I run away?
Who Am I?
by Karen L. Erickson
I thought I was a tattler
When I went to get assistance
For the new boy being pushed.
This was the second instance.
The boy was safe.
The teacher told me I did right.
Someone could have been extremely hurt
If there had been a fight.
So now I’m thinking,
Tattling and telling aren’t the same.
With telling you keep others safe,
Protecting them from pain.
Objective: Students analyze the relationships between actors, directors, and stories.In this 6-day unit, students take a deep dive into studying one specific culture or place. After an introduction into the concept of culture, students research a chosen culture and plan a trip to visit it. Students then go on a drama adventure, first as individuals, and then in small groups. Along the way, students will have the chance to take on the roles of both an actor and a director. Due to its broad breadth of activities, this unit could pair well with lessons in visual art, social studies, or language arts. This is the final set of lessons in our recommended sequence in the Fifth Grade Curriculum.
Objective: Students collaborate to plan and practice an improvised drama.Failure is often the best way to learn. In this lesson, students have the chance to experience both a fiasco and a success that show them the importance of planning and practicing in drama. While rehearsing scenes, students will also learn the best strategies for collaborating in small groups. You will find this lesson essential for setting the groundwork for later drama activities. This lesson is a part of our recommended sequence in the Fifth Grade Curriculum.
Objective: Students analyze how movement choices and support tools can help to tell a story.In this lesson, students have fun while stretching their imaginations and improving their drama skills. Starting with an introduction to pantomime using imaginary objects, the lesson builds to fully pantomimed scenes. Then comes the twist! Students must learn to incorporate a prop into their scene. With a substantial amount of planning and practicing time built-in to the activities, this lesson gives students the chance to work on collaboration and negotiation skills. This lesson is a part of our recommended sequence in the Fifth Grade Curriculum.
Objective: Students analyze artistic choices used to communicate emotion.In this lesson, students learn about communicating emotions by studying and imitating works of art [ideas & examples provided]. Particular attention is paid to the way posture, gesture, and facial expressions can reveal how characters feel. Working in small groups, students have the chance to prepare tableaux and then make them come to life. In addition, there are ample possibilities for integrating this lesson with visual arts or language arts. This lesson is a part of our recommended sequence in the Fifth Grade Curriculum.
Objective: Students communicate character emotions in a story.Happy, scared, and excited…GO! Using a set of three given emotions, students in this lesson create scenes that tell the story of an eventful day. Building off of their previous drama experience, students must use both their interpersonal skills of collaboration and negotiation as well as their drama skills of concentration and physical communication. For integration ideas, this lesson could be paired nicely with language arts units on story elements or character emotions. This lesson is a part of our recommended sequence in the Fifth Grade Curriculum.
Objective: Students connect drama to other art forms.The museum is facing a problem and the students must solve it! This lesson gives students the chance to take on the role of an art curator in a museum. Teachers prepare a wide array of printed pictures of famous paintings, sculptures, and drawings for this activity. This lesson is the perfect way to integrate drama with visual art, as students will have the chance to critique and analyze various works of art. Along the way, they practice negotiation and team work skills. This lesson is a part of our recommended sequence in the Fifth Grade Curriculum.
Objective: Students demonstrate the roles of cause and effect and force in stories.In this action-packed three-day unit, students will explore the connections between drama, science, and language arts. First, students read and enact “The Little Hole at the Bottom of the Sea.” Then, using the main story elements, students craft their own stories about changing landforms. The lesson also provides opportunities for students to practice research and collaboration skills. Integrate this lesson into a science unit on forces or plate tectonics to get students learning on their feet! We've included pictures and descriptions of landforms to get you started and included a rubric. This lesson is a part of our recommended sequence in the Fifth Grade Curriculum.