How You Can Do 3-4 Plays a Year

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Teachers are constantly telling us that plays are great, but take way too much time to do more than one a year.

That seems reasonable, but...

Third grade teacher Meredith Fisher (Spring Hill Elementary, McLean, VA) puts on 3-4 plays every year with her regular, average classes, and swears that very little instructional time is used. Here's her article:

How You Can Do 3-4 Plays a Year

By Meredith Fisher, Spring Hill Elementary, McLean, VA

For the past 5 years, I’ve produced an average of 3 – 4 plays per year with my classes. I’ve taught first, second, and third grade and have had fabulous results with all of these grade levels. I teach in an ordinary school with ordinary kids, but when I use musicals to promote learning of the curriculum in my classroom, my students’ learning becomes EXTRAordinary. Here’s a timeline of how I go about producing a typical Bad Wolf play with my students:

Week 1: Total Time: 60 – 70 minutes – I do this during my reading block because remember … this IS READING!!!

Days 1 – 3 : In the morning play the music as the kids come into class and unpack. Play the music in the afternoons as the kids pack up. Time out of the curriculum: NONE!

Day 4: Introduce the play. I read through the entire play and am really enthusiastic about the class project we will be embarking on together. At this point, the kids already have an idea of the parts they want. I tell them that for me to consider their wishes, they must write me a letter explaining the part they want and why they think this is the part for them. This is optional, but it lets me know who is very serious about taking on the challenge of more wordy parts. I’ve had some very clever persuasive letters come to me. For the play I’m currently working on (Geology Rocks), there’s a part for a Valley Girl and the girl in my class who wanted this part wrote a letter to me that went something like this, “Like I’d totally be the BEST valley EVER – you should totally pick me, FOR SURE!!”

I’ve used this strategy for 1st, 2nd, and 3rd grade – they are CAPABLE!!!

Day 5: I assign parts based on the letters I received. If children don’t write me a letter, I show them the remaining parts and let them choose from those. I’ve yet to have someone inconsolable about not getting a part they wanted. I explain the whole “There are no small parts, only small actors!” quote to them.

I hand out scripts to the kids and we do a run-through of lines and we all sing the songs

Weeks 2 - 3:

Total Time: 1 hour per week (2 hours total)

Example: I go through the first half of the play on one day (say, Tuesday) and the second half of the play the next day. We are using the music with the singing!

At this point, I don’t feel the need to ever go through the entire script. We do it in chunks as we have time available. I might even do ten minutes here and there.

Week 4:

Total Time: 2 hours

At this point, I copy only the part of the script that has the child’s speaking / singing parts to go home, so as not to ruin the surprise for the families when they come to see the play. My homework is for the children to memorize their parts. Again, like in weeks 2 and 3, we do half of the play one day and the other half on another day.

I spend one day going on the stage in our cafeteria and we do a total run-through of the show singing with the vocals.

Week 5:

Total Time: 2 hours for rehearsal – Add 3 hours if you decide to do scenery / costumes.

I’m playing the music in the class without the singers on the CD when the kids come into school in the morning and right before dismissal time, as they’re packing up. By now, the children know the songs inside and out and are joyously belting out the lyrics. This is the point when I most often hear the children tell me, “I can’t get the songs out of my head!” Same here, kids!

We rehearse two times on a stage WITHOUT scripts. I feed the lines to the kids if necessary. Every time I do these plays, the kids need minimal assistance with remembering their lines – this is my experience with first through third grades!

Week 6: SHOW TIME!!!

Total Time: 3 hours

This is SERVICE LEARNING at its best! When you are performing for an audience, you are teaching your audience about the concepts you’ve been learning. What are the other perks? PRIDE, PUBLIC SPEAKING, READING FLUENCY, WORKING AS A LEARNING COMMUNITY, COOPERATION, INCREASE IN SELF-ESTEEM, ETC.

We do one dress rehearsal, to which we invite other classes to see our shows.

We do our final show, to which we invite parents and any other classes / community members. I always have a “rap party” at the end, where the parents all tell me how wonderful I am! This is probably why I do as many plays a year as I do – it’s great for the ego!!!

EXTRAS: Other ways I integrate the curriculum – These are not necessary to put on a production, but this is what I think makes the experience extra special!

  • Scenery: My class enjoys making scenery for our plays. It doesn’t take that much time and it is so meaningful for them to interpret what they think the background should look like. I have the kids work in groups to design background scenery and then I take elements from each scene and I enlarge it on bulletin board paper. The next days, the kids paint the scenery and it looks beautiful!. If you decide to do this step, add 3 hours. You don’t have to do the scenery, but I like the cooperative and creative spirit it brings to the experience.
  • Costumes: My class also enjoys making costumes. I get poster board from the art teacher and the kids make sandwich board costumes that I punch holes in, put yarn in, and the kids wear their costumes around their necks. This takes about an hour. There’s NOTHING like a kid-made costume! Soooo cute!
  • Invitations: Students create invitations and learn the parts of an invitation – great review of who, what, when, where, why, how
  • Playbills: I love having the kids write “Actor Bios” for a Playbill I put together for our audience. Not only do the children learn important writing skills, they are a great memory / keepsake for the families and many times are a RIOT!
  • Persuasive Essays: Once a year, I have the children write persuasive essays about why putting on plays are important to their education. It validates the entire experience for me, when I see how meaningful this experience is for them.
  • Grammar: When teaching grammar, I’ve sometimes used the script as a venue for reviewing parts of speech!
  • Storyboarding: I’ve used the plays to explain story sequencing to the kids. by having the children write or draw storyboards of the play, from beginning to end, it helps make a meaningful literacy connection when I teach reading and writing.
  • Powerpoints: I take the vocabulary that is in the back of each script and I make a Powerpoint of some of the vocabulary the children will encounter. I find that this extra step helps increase understanding of many of the concepts and bridges what is in my curriculum.

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