More on Drama with Remote Learners

drama with remote learners

This is the second blog article written as I pause from my regular blog posts which focus on drama classroom management, integration, collaboration, and assessment to share ideas about conducting drama for remote learners in the age of online classes and social distancing.  I know there is difficulty in taking a collaborative art form and retrofitting it into the new educational parameters. I spent from April-June teaching young people drama via an online interface and beginning to design ideas for socially distant classrooms.  I will be sharing with you some of the ideas that were successful for me in doing drama with remote learners.  I am asking that you use this forum to share your ideas – you will be credited –challenges and lessons learned.  We will all be grateful to you.

A Possible Warm Up/Intro to Drama

I used the BASIC MIRROR activity (page 127 in the 181 Ideas for Drama book and available at  For this activity in my online classroom, I began leading all of the participants as they faced me through the screen.  I gradually made this harder with some of the additional mirror Level I activities. Throughout the activity, I would call another student’s name and they would begin leading with the rest of us following.  I would side coach to move faster, slower, be less tricky, watch to see that everyone is keeping up with you, etc.    In a socially distanced space, if students are all facing one direction and set apart from each other, the activity can be implemented by you being the leader up in the front and then asking individual students to come to the front to lead the rest of the group. 

For younger students (first – third grades) there is a story called “The Caveman” (available in the FROM PAGE TO STAGE 50 ORIGINAL STORIES FOR CLASSROOM DRAMA and available at that can be used as an extension to the mirror activity following the same classroom set up as above:  one leader in front and everyone following as the story is played out.  I am wondering if you could do the mirror in partners as well if there is enough distance between the partners.

If, in the socially distanced classroom, you have enough space for distant mirrors – or by using the one student in front method – you could create HAND MIRROR STORIES.  This activity works well in online situations (like Zoom) with one leader who shares their hand story with everyone, then everyone weighs in on the story.

Hand Mirror Stories 

© 1989 Karen L. Erickson

Students will:

  • Concentrate during drama experiences.
  • Identify and use dramatic structural terms accurately such as: setting, character, plot, conflict, climax, problem, obstacles and resolution along with who, what, why, where, when, and how.

Step 1:  Warm-up with the Basic Mirror activity. 

Step 2:  Have the students sit and let their hands come alive as two distinct characters: human, animal, or object.  They should move their two characters about as you might move a puppet.  Side coach them to let their two characters meet.  “Are they friendly? Enemies? Strangers? Dangerous? Kind?  On a mission of some type?”  Let them keep playing and exploring with their two characters.  Side coach them to let their characters meet up and do something together.  One of the creatures might cause a problem for the other, need help, or engage the second to do a task.  Then a problem happens they must solve together.  They solve the problem and the characters head off in opposite directions.   

Step 3:  Individual students play their hand story out in front of the group (either as an online group or Socially Distanced in front of the class) while the rest of the participants mirror the moves/story.   When the leader has finished, call on another classmate to orally retell the story as she thinks it unfolded.  The student who created the story then tells his story as he tried to communicate it.  Then the next student is called up to lead their story.  And so forth and so on.

 For social emotional learning – have the stories be about responsibility, compassion, or empathy between the two hand characters.  I recommend discussing the chosen word with the students and brainstorming examples of that word in action in daily life.

I used this activity with K-5 students in an online classroom and it worked beautifully. They loved it.  The younger the students the more coaching is needed to create the story and they will be simple and short.  Older students added a great many more details.  This is also a wonderful way to integrate with language arts and to teach details in writing.

Hang in there and keep trying.  New and innovative ideas will come out of this current situation as the struggles you have are common among all.  Send me your ideas for drama with remote learners or even your struggles and I’ll incorporate them here for all to share.

by Karen Erickson

Karen Erickson

Drama in the Age of Covid-19


This is a pause in my regular blog posts focusing on drama classroom management, integration, collaboration, and assessment to share ideas about conducting drama in the age of Covid-19, Zoom and social distancing.  I know there is difficulty in taking a collaborative art form and retrofitting it into the new educational parameters. I spent from April-June this year teaching young people drama on Zoom and beginning to design ideas for socially distant classrooms.  I will be sharing with you some of the ideas that were successful for me.

A simple idea for both Zoom and socially distanced classrooms:  try WORD LIST activity (found on page 22 in the 181 Ideas book or online at  Word List is an activity for later elementary, middle, and upper grades that stresses memory, recall, and word association skills.  Participants do not have to interact with each other as the focus is on listening and connecting what they hear to other actors and to what comes before in a word sequence.   The leader begins with a word; the next participant adds a word to the leader’s creating a string.   The word they add must associate with the leader’s word.  The next participant repeats the first two words and adds a word associated with the word added last.  This continues around the room for one, two, or three cycles….creating a longer and longer string of associated words.  Challenges can be added:  stop and have the activity continue the reverse way around the room or have them start the sequence from end of list reciting all of the words back to the beginning.   

On Zoom and in Socially Distanced Classrooms – use the basic FREEZE.  The Freeze activity works well with all students K-High School.  On Zoom, my signaling device worked well.  They could hear it and react.  I wasn’t so concerned with their holding absolutely still…when we debriefed it was more about self-reflection and overcoming their struggle with concentration.      You can find the basic Freeze and variety of other freeze activities on page 37 of the 181 Level One Ideas for Drama book or on the website.  I was able, with the later elementary, middle, and high schoolers, to move this into the CRAZY SHAPES activity (pg. 37 in 181 Level One Ideas for Drama and on the website). Students who could think of ideas for their crazy physical shape held still and were called on to answer a question like:

               You are at a birthday party and someone just took your photo, what are you doing?

               You are at a beach and someone just took your photo, what are you doing?

               You are on the playground and someone just took your photo, what are you doing?

                              For social emotion learning:

               You are helping someone who is being teased, what are you doing?

               You are helping someone who is injured, what are you doing?

               You are showing kindness to someone in your classroom, what are you doing?

               You are helping out at home (or in the classroom or the neighborhood), what are you doing?

 We observed each actor on Zoom as they shared their idea for their physical shape. 

CRAZY SHAPES will not work as written in person to person classrooms which are in tightly confined socially distanced spaces…but I am imagining that you might have them move just the upper part of their body then freeze them, then ask them one of these questions:

               You are in the water; what are you doing?

               You are performing in a movie (circus, etc.) what are you doing?

               You are a trained animal:  what animal are you and what are you doing?

               You are sitting on a bus; what are you doing?

Repeat having them move just the lower part of their body. 


Please let me know if this is useful content for you.  If so, I have many more activities to share that move into dialogue, scene work, stories, and creative thinking.  I wish I were there to do this with you, but for now, this will have to do.

Your feedback is essential.


by Karen Erickson

Karen Erickson

Word List Activity

Word List Activity

Word List is an activity for later elementary, middle, and upper grades that stresses memory, recall, and word association skills.  Participants do not have to interact with each other as the focus is on listening and connecting what they hear to other actors and to what comes before in a word sequence.  Challenges can be added:  stop and have the activity continue the reverse way around the room or have them start the sequence from end of list reciting all of the words back to the beginning.

Using Drama to Address Bullying Behaviors

Some of you requested more help with addressing bullying behaviors in your classrooms and wondered what choices you might make in selecting and devising drama work. 

Drama is a powerful tool in addressing bullying.  It must be used consistently and over time to be effective.  A onetime experience is not enough to provide the outcome we all desire.  This is the first in a series of articles that explains steps you might take, safely, to move your classroom, school, community group, or program to a bully free zone through the experiences of dramatic play.

Here are some ideas for classroom practice.  Please, as always, share with me any of your ideas, activities, and questions!

Why Drama?

Research shows that young people need:

  •   – A way to practice anti-bullying behaviors.
  •   – Ways to step out of themselves, in a safe environment, and look at the problem from a distance.
  •   – To develop a common vocabulary and language among peers to discuss and create an anti-bullying culture.

Drama provides a safe place for young people to practice anti-bullying behaviors.  They take on roles that are different from themselves and can speak “in role” about their feelings and thoughts.  This simple act of taking on a role, sets a young person outside of themselves and provides a safe distance to explore proper language and actions that might be used in a bullying situation. As they work through dramatic experiences, they gain a shared vocabulary which provides a confidence in speaking about bullying behaviors with their peers. This sharing of ideas and having the right words to speak can carry over into experiences outside of the classroom where they might need to draw upon their own internal strength to confront a bully, support a target, or stand up against inappropriate behavior in others.  It is best to remember that this dramatic impact happens when drama is taught in a sequence and it is NOT a singular event.

Why is a Sequential Approach Necessary?

Judith Kase-Polinsini in her book The Creative Drama Book: Three Approaches explains that

“….many teacher curriculum guides suggest that the teacher ‘have the children act out the story’ as though by simply telling a group to get up and act it out, something will happen and have educational value.”   

Often we see Character Education Curricula include role playing situations where the participants are asked to improvise scenes involving bullying.  When teachers are asked how effective these scenes were, they often answer that the students were silly, didn’t take the situations seriously, and/or created scenes with little focus on the topic.  If participants have little background in drama, they don’t know the protocols of the art form, they don’t know the proper way to approach improvisational scene work, they cannot “read or write” with the aesthetics of the art form:  body language, emotional communication, and language choice. So, of course, they don’t know what to do with the task at hand. This is why the following drama content/protocols are recommended integrated with or leading up to a bullying curriculum where drama is used as an exploration tool:

  •   – set a routine for beginning and ending drama, scenes, and planning sessions.
  •   – set a signal for gaining attention when needed,
  •   – introduce grade level appropriate drama vocabulary and practice, (i.e. concentration, imitation, transformation, collaboration, and imagination)
  •   – share beginning classroom protocols and expectations, and
  •   – introduce the notion that your classroom will be a creative place where content will be introduced through active learning and smiles.

Ideas to begin your work

I recommend starting with a bullying topic you would like to discuss with the participants.  Let’s look at the following myth and reality about bullying.


You can spot a bully by the way he looks, her background, or home life.


Bullying is learned and is best recognized by the behavior. Bullies come from all walks of life and have no certain “look.”


Bullies look like us.  They are us. They come in all shapes, sizes, ages, genders, etc.  Participants often think they have a stereotypical look. 

Idea:    Begin with a photo of a “normal” person who turns out to be a bully.   In “The Daydreamer” by Ian MacEwan on page 97 (in the chapter titled “The Bully“) there is a fabulous picture of a young man who looks clean cut and studious but who is actually the school bully.   Without revealing the truth behind the picture, share it with the students and have them infer what they think the author or illustrator is telling them about the person through the image on the page.  Have them get up and become the person:  what is his posture, facial expression, walk, gestures?  Have them random walk around the room imitating actions you might suggest, i.e. walk down a street looking for an address, walk up a hill carrying a bucket of water, etc.

 Next, partner the students and have them create a dialogue between the person and one of his classmates, between the person and his teacher, between the person and his parents. (Be sure to give the partners actions to perform as they create their dialogue, e.g. the person and his classmate shoot baskets as they have a conversation; the person and his mom build a city with Legos as they dialogue; etc. You might also give them a topic but, rather, let them plan their own topic.)  Have participants share their scenes and discuss the internal characteristics of the person.  Then you might reveal that he/she is a bully and yet looks so “normal.” 

(If using The Daydreamer, you might want to block out the image of the monster that is reflected in the boy’s shadow or discuss that shadow as well. A conversation between the boy and the shadow following him is another great idea for a scene.)   

All partners work simultaneously in planning and practicing their scenes.  You can then use one of the strategies to view student work that you can find in a resource on my site titled, “Techniques for Viewing Classroom Drama.”

Lastly, have participants again create the walk, posture, gestures, etc. of the person as they move about the room and imitate different actions.  Then discuss changes they made to their characterization and ask them why as… there should have been no changes.  Bullies are normal and are often invisible. 

Any photo, actually, will do as the participants explore a seemingly normal character that you later reveal is a bully in a story….a story you create, or they create, or that you find. 

The take away here is that a bully looks like a normal person, like you and me. 

We must remember that when people harm others, often the people closest to them say they had no idea the person was violent or that the person would take such action.  They are surprised as the person looked so normal.    

This is an easy start before you move into larger, longer scene work. 

I will be moving through other ideas and next steps in blog articles to come up next.

by Karen Erickson

Karen Erickson

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5th Grade Lessons

Recommended Lesson Sequence for Fifth Grade 

The lessons suggested for our Fifth Grade Curriculum are put in a recommended delivery order below, but you may revise, rearrange, and adapt as you see fit.  This year-long planning guide maps a year of drama teaching based on the lessons in this guide.  This sequence is not a mandate; rather, it is intended to provide you with assistance as you select the lessons for your classroom.
NOTE: this sequence is for classes with PRIOR drama instruction.  For classes without prior experience, begin with our foundational Introductory Lessons.  If teachers, in grades that precede yours, are already teaching drama, you don’t need to teach those foundational lessons, just begin with this new set of lessons.
September1.   Crazy Shapes & Transform the Chair 1
2.   Statue Maker with Nursery Rhymes 1
3.   Creating Tableaux & Pictures in a Gallery1, 2
October4.    Emotion Emotion 2, 3
5.   Tableau Stories 2, 3
November6.   Three Scenes From a Book 3
7.   Pantomime with a Prop3, 4
December8.  And That’s a Blue Day 3, 5
9.  This Morning I Felt…3, 5
January10.  Good News, Bad News 3, 5, 6
11.  Jabberwocky 6, 7
February12.  Painting Stories8
March13.  Landforms (Three-Day Unit) 8
April14.  Art Print Lesson10
May15.  Journey to Another Culture (Six-Day Unit)8, 9, 11

Fifth Grade Drama Curriculum
CURRICULUM MENUAbout this Curriculum Guide for Fifth Grade StudentsEach of these lessons has been tested in the classroom and taught successfully for many years.  These lessons are intended as an extension to the foundational Introductory Lessons which have the background and methodology needed to ...
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5th Grade Drama Objectives & Standards
Fifth Grade Drama Objectives Drama Objectives Alignment to National Standards 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 ...
Read More
5th Grade Lessons
Recommended Lesson Sequence for Fifth Grade  The lessons suggested for our Fifth Grade Curriculum are put in a recommended delivery order below, but you may revise, rearrange, and adapt as you see fit.  This year-long planning guide maps a year of drama ...
Read More

Back to School using DRAMA

back to school using drama

School is starting soon, or for some of you, it has already begun.  Don’t forget to plan drama into your weekly routine – plan to go back to school using drama.  This article provides some ideas to help you kick off the year.  Also, don’t forget to share with us the first drama lesson you use to begin the year.  We all want to learn from each other.  We will post it here: Creative classroom management can lead to creative thinkers.

I’ve answered this question many times throughout the years:

What way do you recommend introducing drama during the first month of school?

Start by Selecting the introductory activity

Select an opening activity that-

  1. sets a routine,
  2. introduces grade level appropriate vocabulary,
  3. shares beginning classroom protocols and expectations, and
  4. introduces the notion that your classroom will be a creative place where content will be introduced through active learning and smiles.

Kindergarten and First Grade (sometimes Second Grade)

For these grades I encourage getting into enacted story as soon as possible.  I love to do it from the very beginning.

First I set a routine by having the students form a seated circle where they will remain for this first lesson.

Next I introduce what drama is, saying, “Drama is where we learn to act out stories and if all goes well today we will act out our first story.”

Then  I introduce vocabulary:  the actor’s tools (mind, body, and voice),  imagination, listening, and concentration.

Now I set a management strategy:  with students still in the circle, I use my signaling device (tambourine) to set a listening game around two sounds – one to stand and one to sit down.    We all chant the following:

               We stand up and wiggle around (we all stand and wiggle)

               We freeze when we hear this sound (one beat of signaling device everyone freezes)

               Two beats and we all sit quietly down (two beats of signaling device everyone sits quietly down)

Students wiggle, dance, turn around, or any chosen movement each time you repeat the chant.

After several times, checking to see if everyone is following, listening, and concentrating, I introduce the story.  The story I created for this first day of drama is Henry’s Magic Hat.” The story and entire lesson can be found among the lessons and stories available on line at 

Lastly, don’t forget reflection!  So important.

With this lesson, I have introduced the art form, set a management signal, introduce beginning vocabulary, establish a routine, and allow students to experience the joy of acting out a story.


Second Grade to High School (Sometimes First Grade)

The lesson I use for my first day is Book, Stick, Chair, Person which can be found in its entirety among the lessons at or a shorter description of just the activity can be found among the activities– I recommend downloading the full the lesson.  It is an easy getting started lesson as the students bring their chairs to a circle and there is little movement.  I often just use the stick, chair and person, leaving off the book for time.   Again, this activity/lesson sets a routine, establishes some protocols for behavior, introduces beginning vocabulary, and instills a sense of fun in the art form.

Brief lesson synopsis:  Students sit in chairs in a circle.  An object (stick/ruler) is passed around the circle and students transform the object, in their imagination, into another object of similar size and shape.  They announce the new object. (This is not a guessing game.)  Next they pass the object again but this time imitate using the object as if it really were that object.  Then a chair is added.  Students combine the chair and stick together to create a more complex object or idea.  Lastly a third “object” is added – a person who is also transformed into an object with the chair and the stick.  This lesson can be done in one sitting, or each step can be done at a separate time.

However, the real secret is in the evaluative information you can gather of drama skills, creative thinking, interpersonal behaviors, and confidence levels of students through this lesson using careful observation.    Here are things I can uncover through this lesson:

  1. Confidence Levels: who passes?  2nd graders will have many ideas and be more open and eager to participate than older students who often shut down in front of peers.  I allow the students to pass and see what happens as they gain confidence in their ideas with each pass of the object or turn they take. (Note:  once I say students may pass I can’t go back on my word in any way!)
  2. Interpersonal Skills: will students select someone from across the circle from them or will they pass because they do not want to select a “certain person?” (Note:  boys usually sit on one side of the circle and girls on the other – so when they have to choose someone directly across from themselves, this causes a dilemma.  They will often pass.  (Note:  again don’t go back on your word about letting them pass.  This is all part of the information/evaluation gathering.  The next weeks will see them working together – trust me on that.)
  3. Creative Thinking: will students turn the chair over to create different designs or will they just leave it as you demonstrated with the chair in the upright chair position?  Really creative students will NEED to turn that chair over at some point.
  4. Drama Ready: do any of the students turn their scene into a story?  These are also creative students who are ready to do enacted story.
  5. Confidence Building: because I don’t tell students in advance that we are going to use a chair and act as if the idea just came to me, and because the chair is too heavy to pass, I place it in the center of the circle.  Now students must enter the circle to demonstrate their idea with the chair or the chair and person.  This is a way to get the students to focus on their idea without thinking about the fact they are in front of their peers “performing.”  This will open your next lessons up to even more “performing” because they have been up once, they didn’t fall through the center of the earth, it was fun, and therefore they are more willing to give it another try.
  6. Interpersonal: this lesson reveals how respectful students are to one another.  In the final stage of this lesson, one student actually takes on the roles of “playwright” and “director.”  They come up with an idea and must give directions to another classmate to carry out the idea.  How they speak to their partner and if they thank their partner when the moment is concluded, all tell you about the interpersonal nature of your group.  (Note:  Remember to thank your partner after demonstrating the activity for the class so you are sure to model the behavior.)

Once I have introduced this lesson and gathered information about my new group of students, I can then move forward and select lessons/activities for the next weeks that build interpersonal skills, or creative thinking skills, or confidence building skills, or concentration and imagination skills, or prepare stories for enactment because the group is ready to go in depth in the art form.  This lesson is a good first step in creating a community in your class and giving you direction on how to plan the next steps of your drama curriculum.

Okay, I have mentioned my two favorite ways to begin the year.  I have more I like to use as well, but “Henry’s Magic Hat“ and Book, Stick, Chair, Person” are both powerful, and simply complex – simple in the doing and leading, complex in what you can learn about your group and in the content about the art form they cover.

With any activity you choose as the first activity, select it wisely: design it to introduce the art form, set some beginning protocols, challenge the students but not too greatly, provide you with some evaluative opportunities to gather information about your new group, and presents a joyful fun experience for the students. 

Welcome back to school – don’t forget to go back to school using drama.  May your year be one of the best EVER!

by Karen Erickson

Karen Erickson

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Motivation I: Move the Chair Activity

Motivation I: Move the Chair Activity

Participants work individually using their imagination in this activity with a real chair (note: you will need to provide a chair).  This activity can be employed to practice a variety of skills such as Believability, Problem Solving, Subtext or Body as a stepping stone to more advanced drama.  If desired, this activity can also be applied to work with lessons in Character Education or Language Arts.  This activity is the first in a Motivation series that successively builds skills.

Meet and Greet Activity

Meet and Greet Activity

Your participants work in small groups for this activity.  This entire activity is a metaphor for all of theater. It is a great teaching tool. This has been developed and used for over 30 years and it WORKS.   Participants are guided through a series of scenes, seven in total, that assists in understanding theatrical and play structure.  When this activity is done, you will feel the energy in the room.

Math Stories Activity

Math Stories Activity

Your participants work in small groups for this activity.  They practice creating stories and improvising an imaginary character that must answer questions using mathematics.  This activity connects math to creating a believable character.  We have provided some story cards in this download as an example – use these or create your own linked to your current topics.