Let’s Start at the Very Beginning, a Very Good Place to Start (with Drama!)

No matter the age range, I almost always begin the semester (or year or session) with our Book, Stick, Chair, Person lesson.  It sets my management expectations, introduces vocabulary, and has them seated in a circle, so everyone can see each individual as they respond. 

It also sets up a safety net for those new to drama by using the "pass,"  which lets students who are not yet comfortable “pass” on taking a turn. This lesson assures the students that the class is safe, and I almost never have to use the “pass” again.  

During the lesson, especially for older students, I don't allow any negative comments - no "that's already been said." etc.  When comments like these are said, I usually respond with "That's okay, artists often use the ideas of others."  

Another challenge that sometimes comes up is that the students like to do all types of weapons (guns, knives, etc.) I still want the class to be a safe space so I say, "Let's try to stretch our imaginations and see if we can come up with ideas unlike anyone else's."  

This creates an opportunity to teach them about the three ways artists come up with new ideas. 

  • Memory
  • Observation
  • Letting the ideas of others give them new ideas

Learning about this helps draw them away from the weapons or from copying the exact ideas of other students. If they keep doing different types of weapons, but they are building on the ideas of others, I tell them to try other methods like looking around the room for objects or pulling from their memory.  

During the reflection, I will often ask students to share what method they used and for which of their responses.  This lesson uses the graduated difficulty strategy, moving the students from the easier stick or book transformation to the more complex chair-person transformation. Once we get to this stage, the students begin acting as "director.” 

When we move on to the chair-person level, I make it a rule that they must work with someone from the other side of the circle (I do this because often boys sit on one side of the circle and girls sit on the other.)  I use this lesson to indicate that we will be an acting ensemble and everyone will have to work together. (Most of these steps are included in the official lesson plan, linked again here.)  

This is my favorite lesson, because it has so many hidden pieces. It communicates to students that this will be a fun class, a controlled class, a safe class, that things will get harder but I will take you there gradually, that we are building up to acting out stories etc. 

It allows me to see the comfort level of the students and their interpersonal skills. When they need to select a partner, do they “pass” on their turn rather than working with someone different from themselves?  That tells me I have a lot of work to do in the interpersonal department - as the expectation is that we will all work together.  

This lesson also lets me know if this is a vibrant, confident, creative class or if they pass a lot and are intimidated more easily. Then I plan my next lessons based on what I find.  For instance, I had one class where everyone passed all the time, except me. I just kept playing until finally one student joined in, and then another.  

Six months later, they were doing a play.