Story Selection for Great Classrooms

Classroom management and student engagement often begin with selecting the right story for your class.  In my curriculum, younger students start out by playing the major characters all together. Then, as a next step, I place them in groups where they learn how to divide the roles amongst themselves – See Negotiation Strategies. Because of this, it is crucial to carefully select the best stories for each stage of development. This article covers stories where students must negotiate roles within their groups.  Here are a few of my thoughts. I’d love to hear yours, and please send us the titles of your favorite drama stories!

How do we select stories and plays for drama that capture the interest of every student? First, we must ensure the story is age appropriate, and that it has the right number of characters to foster great collaboration. Taking that into account, I have also found that some students are unwilling to take on roles that make them uncomfortable.   When they feel uncomfortable they are more apt to act out, be uncooperative, and provide difficulties for their group or the class. This leads to complex management issues both in the drama and the classroom.

To avoid this, here’s what I suggest:

Choose a story with more active than passive characters.   Young actors like to play active characters.  Active characters are instrumental to the plot and are involved in the conflict. They are often the protagonist, the antagonist or a character that is instrumental in resolving the conflict/problem.  The key word here is “action.”  The active characters are moving the plot along – taking some type of action. 

There are stories without a great deal of action, making all characters more passive, like Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown, and there are stories with all active characters like Who’s In Rabbit’s House? by Verna Aardema.  However, many stories have both active and some passive characters like The Paper Bag Princess by Robert Munsch.  In the last example, the prince is a passive character who has little to do with the action, and the princess and the dragon are much more active.  When there is a mixture of active and passive roles like this, sometimes the more aggressive or confident students prevent others from taking the active roles. Students who get cast in a passive role when they desire an active role are more likely to be disruptive.

Two solutions: one, select stories that have only active characters; and two, since this is not always possible, ask students who have traditionally played an active role to take on a passive role.

I might say something like:

“All actors who played ______________ in our last drama, I am going to ask you today to play __________ when your group meets to decide roles.  Raise your hand if you played _______________ in that drama. Keep your hand up if you agree to take on the role of _____________ today. That’s perfect and thank you.” 

Doing this before groups gather is called a “contract,” and heads off any potential management issues that could arise within the group.

Choose a story with neutral characters.  Neutral character stories are ones where you don’t have to worry about roles being determined by gender, ethnicity, or physical traits.  In the classroom it is important to provide stories with roles that everyone feels comfortable playing.  This way there is joy in the playing, which will always foster greater engagement.  If you have noticed that students are stuck in casting each other or themselves based on traditional roles, then you might select animal stories such as fables or fantasy stories that have nonhuman characters. These stories are excellent options because they provide ample roles that are both active and neutral.

You might also build instructional strategies into your curriculum to help them make less obvious casting choices.  Begin with something like Jack and the Beanstalk, and discuss – don’t lecture – on how actors who are small might take on the giant, for instance.  Use instruction, examples, and modeling to move your class away from typecasting each other or themselves.

Choose stories everyone can play.  Actors who have physical and mental challenges also enjoy participating in active roles.  Some students in the class might not be aware of this.  Use instructional brainstorming with the group to generate ideas of how to incorporate everyone.  In one class I had a young lady who could not speak and was in a wheel chair often operated by as assistant.  For one drama, she chose to be the major central character.  Her teammates were able, with her permission, to move her chair.  They became her voice when needed, and she used simple hand movements, vocal sounds, and facial expressions to communicate, as her team accompanied her around the playing space. This opened a world of possibilities for her throughout the semester.  Don’t let challenges create barriers.  Removing barriers for one individual creates a safe place for everyone.

Choose a story without a horrible villain or bully.  Students love to read and listen to stories with a character “they love to hate.”  But when it comes time to play the role, they shy away.  There can be many reasons for this:  they don’t feel safe among their classmates, they are not ready to utter mean words to someone else, the role feels too close to something in their personal life, or the character is too scary. Often, after introducing a story, I discuss the characters and see if there are those willing to take on the darker roles.  I also might put up a “role on the wall” (a large outline of the character no wants to play) and suggest that groups use that image to represent the character. That way, students can take turns being the voice of the character, and no one has to play the role.

In my work, I introduce a process of collaboration that allows young people to work as a team to select their own characters in a manner that is fair, fast, and collegial. I observe the groups as they participate in that process of negotiation and note who selects which character.  This process allows me to plan and select stories more thoughtfully.

Choose carefully any written story that students will dramatize. Your students might not receive many opportunities to act out stories, so make each selection as memorable as possible.  Each story should be dramatic, with vibrant characters that everyone wants to play.  Select a story for its content, message, dynamics, and quality. Enacted stories that are most memorable and have the greatest impact on student learning are ones about interpersonal interaction, connections to the broader world, and the power of human choice.  All stories are not equal; good stories will support your teaching, the quality of your program, and the atmosphere of your classroom.

Related Posts

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

Related Posts

Classroom Management: Respectful Feedback in the Classroom

respectful feedback in the classroom

For my next article in the continuing conversation on Classroom Management in Drama, I will address respectful feedback in the classroom.  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 about respectful feedback in the classroom:

How can I teach students to comment on others’ work in a respectful and constructive way?

Part One: An Introductory Process 

Reflection—both self-reflection and the ability to respectfully reflect on others’ work—is important in drama. In order to build a kind and caring classroom, think about structuring reflection time as you would structure any other aspect of learning. I have found this structure important to achieving respectful feedback in the classroom.  You might follow a pattern similar to the one I use throughout my curriculum:

  1. In stage one, I ask students a series of questions about the skills introduced in the lesson. For example, I might ask, “What was hardest for you to do today – concentrate or imagine?” or “What was easiest for you to do today – concentrate or imagine?” Students answer by raising their hands.  This sets a routine and establishes reflection as a part of the dramatic process. This stage usually lasts for the first 2-3 lessons.
  2. In stage two, I ask students to comment on the skill(s) being introduced that day and/or on any previously taught skills.  I might prompt, “What do you think you did well today?” or “What would you like to do better the next time we have drama?” I then call on students to give verbal responses and share “why” they responded as they did. This takes reflection a step deeper while also giving me an indicator of the learning: Are students using the drama vocabulary correctly? Do their answers indicate an understanding of the art form? Do they have an accurate picture of their own growth in applying the skill? This reflection period spans 2-3 lessons.
  3. In the third stage, I continue with the reflection process from stage two but I add the praising of others. I ask, “Who can give a word of praise to someone you saw concentrating today?” I follow their response to the question with a, “Why? What did you see them do?” This stage lasts 2-3 lessons, and I pay close attention to see when students move away from only praising friends or classmates of the same gender.  Once they are comfortable with the process, they become more open to sharing praise with those who aren’t close companions.
  4. For stage four, I continue with the process outlined above, but my questions take on the beginning of a rubric. The questions now lay out what would have been seen or heard as achievement indicators for that skill. For example, I could ask, “Who can give someone a word of praise today for concentration? By that, I mean that the person was always focused on the activity, they did not laugh or break character, they did not talk to or look at the audience, and they were always thinking about what they were doing.” This is just a sample and you would add your own indicators of success. During this stage, the students are being prepared for the scoring rubric.
  5. Following on the process outlined above, in stage five, I ask if there was anyone in the class who did not receive a word of praise from a fellow classmate. Several hands usually go up. I ask if there is someone who could give them a word of praise for one of the skills.  Someone always does and everyone feels successful.

The above process has worked for me. Feel free to try it or to adapt it for your own style. The key is structuring the reflection process for student emotional safety and deeper evaluation of your teaching.

Some final thoughts:

During a reflection, I do not ask the students to say negative things or give “constructive” criticism to other actors. There are two reasons for this. First, harmful feelings arise among classmates when they hear anything that sounds negative. Criticism can harm the ensemble feeling being built through drama.

Second, in theater, actors never give corrective notes to each other.  That is the director’s job ONLY. The teacher in the classroom is in the place of the director, so if anything critical must be said, it rests with the teacher (director) to share that thought. I remember once asking a class to reflect and having one student harshly criticize another actor for not being loud enough—but VOICE skills had not been introduced yet. That is when I realized that opening critiques up to fellow actors who don’t have the whole picture regarding the art form can lead to hurt feelings and damaged confidence.

Asking students to self-reflect on skills they might improve is acceptable, as is asking what aspects of the group, as a whole, might be improved, but individual actor to individual actor critique is not recommended at this stage.  

Lastly, I rarely give a negative note to anyone. I have found that praise is so powerful that it shapes the work in magical ways.  I remember an acting teacher I had in graduate school who shaped our work through praise and another who only had critical things to say; we were all adults and I saw how the use of praise and criticism shaped our work in different directions. Those instructors informed and changed my thinking on the handling of constructive criticism and feedback.

I do recommend a combination of Liz Lerman’s Critical Response Process and group protocol work for older students, and I will outline that process in the next article. Come back for Part Two!

by Karen Erickson

Karen Erickson

Related Posts

Classroom Management: Improv Scenes

improv scenes

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.

by Karen Erickson

Karen Erickson

Related Posts

Classroom Management: Structure in Kindergarten Drama

This is my next article in Classroom Management is on structure in kindergarten drama.  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 early childhood teachers in drama teaching practice:

“What are the special challenges you find with Pre-K through early elementary?”

There are a number of challenges that have shaped my work when guiding drama in the early childhood classroom. I will address these over the next few blog posts. 


Although I prefer more spontaneity in my personal artistic endeavors, I have found that students need structure. Teaching without consistent structure is usually fine for teenagers, but it can lead to chaos with early childhood students. I had to face the fact that students of this age like rules and routines and I learned to provide more structure in kindergarten drama. [A short 5-minute video working with 1st graders can be found at the end of this post.]  Here is the routine I set for an early elementary class:

First Step:  During this step, the students must prepare the classroom for drama by moving furniture. I play music that sets a desired pace and keeps talking to a minimum. At this point I also set a pattern of movement, selecting what gets moved first, who moves what second, and so forth. The first day I set this routine, it takes time. As the students get more practice, the movement gets smoother and faster. 

Second Step: I bring the students to a talking circle. Students should sit up straight with their legs crossed and with focus on the speaker. I join them in the circle, sitting on the floor with them or on a low stool. The conversation follows this pattern: review the last class’s activity and content learned, introduce a new concept or skill, and then describe the upcoming lesson’s steps. The students appreciate knowing, in advance, what they will be doing.

Third Step: Students are engaged in the day’s lesson.

Fourth Step: I bring the students back to the talking circle, and we reflect on the work we have done and the concepts we have learned. Then, I give them a hint as to what is planned for the next class. 

This routine (or any routine you establish) is essential to keep the students focused, calm, and feeling safe.

One successful routine I have seen for step 2 above has the students begin by standing in a circle and reciting the actor’s tools with a gesture. It goes something like this:

“Today in drama I will control my body (they add a gesture to indicate their whole body). Today in drama I will control my voice (they add a gesture to indicate the voice). Today in drama I will use my mind to imagine (they add a gesture to indicate the mind and imagination). Today in drama I will cooperate with others (they add a gesture to indicate cooperation).

Sometimes I will use a similar mantra but go further by adding an expected behavior:

“Today in drama I will control my body (they add a gesture to indicate their whole body) by making shapes, freezing, and using my hands for communicating ideas. Today in drama I will control my voice (they add a gesture to indicate the voice) by speaking when called upon, speaking as the character, and listening carefully to others. Today in drama I will use my mind to imagine, concentrate without showing off, give new ideas, and cooperate with others (they add a gesture to indicate any of these you select).*

*Note:  I add to the recital as the students learn the skills and concepts mentioned.

I have also used a successful routine that allows for movement and reminds them of the sound signal to be used throughout the lesson. (I use a tambourine.)

This is what we recite:

“I stand up and wiggle around.”  (Students stand and wiggle.)

“I stop (or “freeze” for 6-8 year olds) when I hear this sound.” (I hit the sound signal once and students stop or freeze.)

“On two beats we all sit down.”  (Everyone sits down.)

This gets repeated two more times with “dance around,” “turn around,” or “jump up and down” replacing “wiggle.” 

This is my preferred step 2 for Pre K, Kindergarten, and the first half of First Grade.  I have found these routines provide the needed structure in kindergarten drama to keep the students engaged.

Try it out and let me know how it goes.

Watch this 5-minute video using structure for drama in the early childhood classroom.  A routine such as this is essential to keep the students focused, calm, and feeling safe. Video from an inner city Chicago school.



by Karen Erickson

Karen Erickson

Related Posts

Classroom Management: The “I’m Done” Student

The I'm Done Student

This is my next article in this conversation about Classroom Management in Drama.  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 in this series:

What are the ways to handle the “I’m done!” student (or group)?

We often think of classroom management as something that has no direct content value.  Yet, I have found that armed with a few good strategies, I can use classroom management to engage students in deeper creative planning, thinking, and problem solving.

Often in drama I use the “I do, we do, you do” process.  First I show or demonstrate what the work will look like, next I guide and coach the students as they apply the work, and lastly, I give them a story or dramatic activity that will allow them to plan, practice, and apply the strategy as a team independent of me.  When students are new to drama or a new skill is being introduced, there will inevitably be the “I’m done” student (or “we’re done” group) reaction.   This is totally understandable if the skill being covered is very basic or if students don’t have enough background in drama to know what to do next in their rehearsal.   So, I plan for this reaction, knowing that teams which work more quickly or that have strong leadership might complete the task sooner than others.   Here are some ways in which I handle the team that lets me know “they are done.”

First, I ask the team to share their work with me (act out their scene or their finished drama activity), so that I might view it before they share their final product with the class. Then I might do one or a combination of the following:

  1. Comment on the “skill ( embedded in the objective) for the day,” sharing with them the strengths of the work and then one or two things I would like them to try  so they might improve the skill within the work – I keep this focused only on the objective’s skill being taught.
  2. Comment on the skill mentioning the strengths, but in seeing that they have accomplished the objective, I give them a challenge, it usually goes like this:   “ I am wondering if you can think of two things you might add to your scene (activity, etc.) that would be a surprise for us and that you think no other group is doing.”  This is a fabulous way to indicate to the students that this is a creative process and they do have artistic freedom to explore.
  3. Comment on the skill mentioning the strengths, but noticing that even though they have mastered the day’s objective,  skills or techniques they learned in previous lessons are not being applied, I might say something like this:  “I could really see  (today’s skill)  applied to your work because I saw__(mention observable specifics)_.  However, I am wondering what happened to adding physical scenery to the story using your bodies.  If you remember a couple of weeks ago we worked on creating setting through physical shape.  I am wondering what would happen if you put that into your scene?  I’d love to see that, if you can figure out how to do it.”  Then you leave to let them plan and work it out.
  4. If two groups have completed their scene or activity, I pair the groups and have them observe each other. Following the observation, they are instructed to share with each other the strengths they observed and give each other one thing to work on to try to improve.  Then the groups re-practice their work giving attention to the ideas mentioned by the observing group.
  5. If brainstorming was required in the planning process (it would have been previously taught with the caveat that all members of the team MUST present at least one idea before a final idea can be selected) then after observing the work, and the work seems to be complete, I query the group about other ideas that were presented during the planning brainstorming process. I challenge them to try the work again with one of the other ideas….or challenge them to try each of the ideas.  After each idea is tried, the group discusses which idea they think really worked the best and use that idea when they present.
  6. When a group has completed the task and I see that it is good, I throw them a curve ball, some odd challenge I want them to put into their task. For example, if they are doing the mirror activity, and I see that they are doing it exceptionally well, I might tell them to try turning down a long mirror, or creating a jump together, or having the mirror get angry about something (an event they create) and the mirror breaks itself to end the work and make it into a small “story.”

The idea here is to engage the student’s fully in the artistic process, to have them stop and reflect and revise their work, to challenge them to go further and make independent artistic decisions.  What I always remember and try to share with my students is that a work is never done, more can be found, more can be explored, more can be added or taken away.  I never worry when students say, “We’re done.”  I know inherently that they are not done but I must guide them in ways to use their time during the “you do” portion of the lesson – it is my chance to mold students into creative thinkers.

by Karen Erickson

Karen Erickson

Related Posts

Classroom Management: Class Closure

Karen doing class closure

Let’s continue the conversation about Classroom Management in Drama.  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 there and share what you know relating to each question presented.

Here is our next question in this series:

What are ways to effectively provide closure to a class?

There are many ways to approach class closure and I will share a few thoughts and ideas.

First, I recommend establishing a routine.  I open a class with a reflection on the previous class and end with a daily analysis and a hint about the events planned for the next class.  I try to conduct the opening and the closing in a similar way.  The strategy I use most often is to have the students seated, in a circle, facing each other as they answer questions that I pose.  I don’t begin the reflection until all are gathered, seated, and ready to be part of the community.  If a student was asked, during class, to take a time out from the day’s activity, they are still expected to join the class in the reflection process.

The questions I pose in the opening and closing are ones that check for understanding, are open ended, and/or self-reflective.  If I need to reinforce a skill or concept, I do it through questions not lecture.  Sometimes I will model what I saw occurring and what I would like to see.  Sometimes the students model what they would like to see occurring.   I have peers speaking, demonstrating, or reinforcing as much as possible, as the impact on learning seems to be greater when it is peer to peer.

I am very particular about the type of questions I use with students.  I most often open my class by posing an essential question (a big question that takes years to uncover and is open ended) or I might choose an exploratory question (a question where students might come to some definitive answer).   Then, I return to that question during the final reflection.  There are many types of questions:  guiding, leading, exploratory, rhetorical, branching, essential, etc.  It might be worthwhile to research each type and use accordingly.  I have a document I created focusing on the pros and cons of the different types of questions, write to us if this would be beneficial to you and we might include it in a future newsletter.

Whatever you do, using a routine is very important as it gives students a measure of stability and security.  Even in professional performances and rehearsals we welcome routine as it frees one up to be creative.  Routine reduces fear and worry.  If a routine becomes tedious, switch it up with other strategies you have found to be successful or try one of the following suggestions.

Other strategies I use in the final reflective activity include Think/Pair/Share where students have an opportunity to discuss the questions or their work with another student and then share out their ideas to the class.  I also use Exit Tickets.  The Exit Ticket can take many forms from a quick write on a piece of paper, to a journal entry, to a letter to the teacher.  This writing activity takes a little more time but it is quite useful in gathering ideas from all of the students.  An Exit Ticket can also be used as a formative assessment or as an integrated language arts activity if structured to also focus on writing skills.

I think class closure is an important component of a lesson.  I have always said in my courses for teachers that if you don’t have time to reflect, then you have wasted an instructional session.  It is better to cut the activity short than to eliminate the reflection.  The real learning happens as the brain reflects, research bears this out.

What you don’t want to do is end the class on a high energy activity with a great deal of full class physical movement.

Reflect, focus, exhale, and end by always thanking the students for their work and contributions.

by Karen Erickson

Karen Erickson

Related Posts

Classroom Management: Idea Creation

idea creation

Let’s continue the conversation about Classroom Management in Drama.  Teachers have posed many questions to us concerning management techniques.  I will answer this and then request other ideas from this newsletter community and on our blog.  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 there and share what you know relating to each question presented.

Here is our next question and it affects everyone in drama teaching practice:

“How do I make sure, in group work, that one child is not doing the bulk of the idea creation?”

I have a variety of techniques for this.

First, I teach brainstorming techniques.  I explain that brainstorming is a way to collect ideas without anyone on the team saying “no” to any idea.  I model the practice and make sure I guide this closely the first time students apply it in groups or partners.  During the brainstorming process, the student leaders* can be the ones responsible for collecting the ideas and making sure that everyone has put in at least one idea.  I then make it a “rule” that the team cannot move on to the next step of the process until everyone has given an idea of some type to add to the group’s thinking.  Each member of the team should be prepared to tell me what their idea was if I ask them (usually privately, in a journal, or on an exit ticket).

My next step in teaching the idea creation process is to discuss how brainstorming ideas can be combined or how parts of ideas can be used or modified to fit into the final creation.  I then ask that some idea from everyone be used in the final plan.  Again, each person’s contribution is shared with me upon request.  One time with third graders, I had a team tell me that one person would not give an idea because she didn’t want to talk.  I gave the young lady a piece of paper and a pencil and suggested she could write her idea or draw her idea for the group.  She ended up sharing her idea verbally and everyone was surprised and pleased.

In another strategy with younger students, let’s say with partners, I have them sit next to each other in a final reflection circle.  Suppose the focus of the lesson was coming up with a setting and two characters and acting out an event that might happen between those two characters in that setting.  Once in the reflection/sharing circle, I give a direction like:  the first person must tell me what characters were decided and who came up with the idea for the characters and the second person on the team must tell me the setting and who came up with the idea for the setting.   This all might precede or follow the team performing their event in the center of the circle.

Second, besides the brainstorming idea creation outlined above, I also make it a practice to ask the following reflection questions on a regular basis:

Raise your hand if you had an idea that your team used in the drama today?

Raise your hand if you had an idea for the drama today that the team did not use?

Following the second question, I congratulate the team and the person explaining that having ideas that weren’t used means they were working as artists – taking some ideas and letting others go.  This indicates to me that they were generating many ideas and not just taking the first idea or only idea that was generated.

Third, I also use Professional Learning Community group procedures.  We use team protocols for the group and have everyone practice them.  Students learn to say “ouch” and “oops” when someone has said something that hurts them.  They learn to be attentive to the group at all times during their assigned work time with that group, they learn about letting two other people speak before they speak again, and being careful of the amount of time they speak.  They learn about and how to give “gentle reminders” so that everyone in the group can assist in the leadership process.

Lastly, all of this begs the idea of underlying instruction.  This means instruction in how to brainstorm, how to combine ideas (creativity), how to be sympathetic and appropriately respond to the ideas that are not going to be used, how to try out different ideas before selecting one, and how to use agreement protocols is essential to the instructional process.  All of this needs to be taught thoughtfully, overtly, and consistently.  These practices can be embedded into the daily instructional process – and used in many areas of the academic day.

These are the strategies I use.  Give them a try and send feedback on how they worked.

by Karen Erickson

*I have found that the students most likely to take over the creating work are the natural leaders, who are afraid the assignment won’t be completed if they don’t “take over.”  They actually think they are helping.  The more we can channel that energy into actual practices that DO help, the better leaders they will be for your class and in the future as adults.

Related Posts

Managing Misbehavior in Drama

managing misbehavior

A Management Approach to Redirect Misbehaving Actions in Drama.

Young children need a way to recognize incorrect behavior choices while also feeling in control in the classroom.  So much misbehavior arrives from young people

  • – Feeling out of control
  • – Needing attention from peers
  • – Fear of physical, emotional, or intellectual safety
  • – Lack of prior instruction in social behavior

Because drama is a collaborative art form, students can observe their behavior and the behavior of others though active encounters in social situations.   Drama allows the students to redirect poor choices of behavior into more positive choices when side coached and instructed by the teacher.

I first encountered the Choice Method [PDF doc below] of redirecting student behavior when I worked for 8 years in the Glencoe, Illinois schools.  The process not only impacted the students’ work in drama but it carried over into the daily classroom as well.  Drama became a powerful tool to introduce the process to students and this assisted in solidifying drama’s place in the curriculum.

Over the years, I have adapted and honed the process to eliminate the bullet points listed above.  I have also found that once I introduce the process in the classroom, other students who might have made similar negative choices, have chosen alternative positive ways to self-correct.

The key to introducing this process is to make sure you have first:

  • – Introduced and taught concentration
  • – Shared with the students the “showing off” indicators
  • – Have led several concentration exercises
  • – Made it clear to students that concentration is so important that a lack of concentration means one cannot participate in drama and/or if the entire class is not concentrating, the entire drama experience must be stopped.

Our subscribers can find ways to teach these elements in the lessons called The Freeze, The Ice Wizard, and Statue Maker.  There are many exercises that also teach concentration in the Level I section of this site.

Don’t shy away from drama for fear of students being out of control, showing off, or misbehaving in other ways….try this Six Step method before you abandon drama.

Six Step Choice Sequence

Download the Six Step Choice Sequence for some practical tips for managing misbehavior.

Related Posts

Classroom Management: Group Work with Young Students

Group Work with Young Students

Let’s get the conversation started about classroom management in drama.  Teachers have posed many questions to us concerning management techniques including this one about group work with young students.  I will answer this and then request other ideas from this newsletter community and on our blog.  The questions came from you and 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 there and share what you know relating to each question presented.

Here is the next question posed by our community and it affects everyone in drama teaching practice as well as anyone teaching with constructivist methodology:

“How can I best facilitate smaller group work with young students?”

Facilitating small group work with younger students in drama can be challenging.  It is really at about eight years when students strongly desire to team, listen, and negotiate with their peers.   This means that group work for younger students needs to be carefully designed and guided.

At the early ages I begin with simultaneously play, all of the students actively engaged in the playing of the drama, often with me or another adult in role as one of the characters and/or narrator of the story.   At the end of these sessions, I might have students pair up and retell the story to another classmate.   It is important that during the retelling, the listener does not interrupt or say a word until the re-teller has completed their sharing.  They can then be directed to share with their partner any story elements or plot details that might have been omitted.  Students need to be guided on the best/polite way to share with their partner about what was omitted.  They might begin with “I think you might have forgotten…” or “I don’t think I heard you say…”  Students, who are eager to tell their partners what they left out, often don’t present their ideas in a kind manner.  It is okay to prompt and discuss the use of vocal tone and word choice when working with others.

Another idea for post-drama sharing is to have the partners discuss some aspect of the dramatized story, such as:  which character they felt made the right choice, or what new ending they would add if they were the author, etc.  Students listen carefully to each other and then share the ideas of their partner with the entire class.  In this way, students learn to accept and acknowledge that others, besides themselves, have ideas to share.

As the students gain confidence in working with others, I partner them to plan and act out short simple stories or poems.  First I begin with pieces of literature where there are two identical characters, like two ghosts or two rabbits.  If I am using a story with two different characters, I use a carefully selected method of determining who is who.  For instance, I will direct the tallest person to be the one character and the shortest to be the other.  In rare instances, I will circulate the room and designate the characters, always mindful to play the story twice so that partners might trade characters as they play the story again.

In these partner dramas, once the characters have been decided, I share with the students some difficulty that will be encountered in acting out the story.  I can think of one story I use where the two characters exchange heads.  I mention to the students that I don’t know how we can act this but that I am sure they will think of something.  I then give the partners time to discuss and try out a solution to the problem.  All teams, one at a time, share their solution with the class.  Then I give partners a chance to go back and either use their original idea or use an idea presented by another team.

At this age and during these first steps, we are laying the foundation to accept ideas, listen to others, and make choices with a partner.   This will be extended in first grade to include work in teams of three or four so that by the age of 8, students can work comfortably in groups of 5-6.

It is a process.  The work needs to evolve over time and at the speed of the participants.  The drama leader needs to be ever watchful for the students who become “the boss,” or those who are “too timid” to share their ideas with a partner.  These behaviors need to be addressed thoughtfully.  The process outlined above begins to build community and respectfullness among your students.

Now it is your turn to share your strategies.  Send them our way and we will put your thoughts in our next post or newsletter.

Related Posts