A new feature, Working with Books, encourages you to look at your bookshelves and find the perfect new or classic book with which to build a classroom drama. I will begin with my favorites, but I encourage you to send me titles and your notes if you have built a drama with your recommendation and we will share your ideas in hopes everyone can build a powerful classroom library suitable for drama.
This month’s book, a 5 star recommendation for drama:
“Friends come in all sorts of shapes and sizes. In Amos McGee’s case, all sorts of species, too! Every day he spends a little bit of time with each of his friends at the zoo, running races with the tortoise, keeping the shy penguin company, and even reading bedtime stories to the owl. But when Amos is too sick to make it to the zoo, his animal friends decide it’s time they returned the favor.” Macmillan Publishers
Age recommendation: Pre K – 2nd Grade (4-7 year olds)
Themes: Friendship, Animals, Being Sick, Interacting with Friends, Zoos, Careers/Jobs
Drama Skills you might address: Transformation, Working with Space, Dialogue, Playing Animals Upright, Imitating Actions
Curricular Connections: Science, Language Arts, Social/Emotional Learning
I highly recommend this book as it provides many connections and options for drama and presents ideas for curricular connections and drama skills you might want to teach or reinforce.
This book works beautifully with teacher in role as Amos McGee, the animals’ friend. You might want a pair of old glasses or a hat of some type and introduce costume piece to the students letting them know when you put it on you are Amos from the story and when you take it off, you are the teacher again.
Begin with 1-2 warmups: With students in their own personal space, have them transform into the different animals (elephant, tortoise, penguin, rhinoceros, and owl) from the book. Give them time to walk, sleep, eat, run (or fly), and drink water as their animal. Just give them time to experience the animal. Having photos of the real animals is a great idea here, integrate with science by discussing the animal’s habitats, food preferences, and how then sleep, hunt, or live.
Next, have them imitate the activities found in the story: playing chess, racing, sitting shyly, blowing nose in a handkerchief, listening to stories. Have them imitate the activities first as themselves –a human, then as the corresponding animal.
Read the book and discuss the message, setting, and ideas of the author. (Sometimes I do this first and have them list the animals and the activities….both ways work well.)
Next, play the story with everyone (still in personal space) being each of the animals as you play in role as Amos and act as the narrator/storyteller. (Note: keep your signaling device handy so you can continue to manage the group as you play out the book.)
Idea: You might bring in a blanket so the animals will know the space for the bed and not be tempted to get too close. I also like to use a teddy bear and have it near or on my “bed.”
You can continue to have the young actors all be each animal, imitating the actions from their personal space (this can be played with masks on) and speaking from their spot in the room. It is okay to have them all speak at once, many won’t speak. You can feed them the lines to speak as you retell the story to them, pausing to give them time to respond. You can extend the dialogue adding more conversation with the animals if your class is ready to move in that direction.
The book can be broken into two lessons as well: the front part of the story is an introduction to animal characters and actions and can be a standalone lesson; the second lesson brings the animals to the bedside of Amos and allows for creative variations in the playing, e.g. all students playing each animal or groups of students playing one animal one at a time.
Great extensions are a possibility as well like: What zoo animals would they add to the story and what might Amos be doing with each of those animals? Then have the students transform into those animals imitating those actions. Play the story again using their ideas. This is a great way to encourage creative thinking. With this simple act, students begin to understand story adaptation and that they can extend or alter stories they play in drama, thus becoming playwrights.