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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