Without a doubt, the highlight for this term’s drama classes in the primary grades has been the creation of puppet theatres. We have taken pizza boxes and stick puppets and acted out some familiar stories. The grade two students are currently working on completing their performance of “Where the Wild Things Are”.
Leading up to our performances, we have spent half of each period exploring the story with our bodies, dialogue or reflections, and the other half has been spent preparing our puppet theatres. To prepare the students to really analyze the character’s feelings and thoughts, I have been reading a small part of the book every class and asking students to act out or respond to some part of the story.
A few examples of this are:
When Max gets on the boat and travels for several days, I had the students act it out while I narrated the story. At one particular point, I asked the students to freeze and I went around the room interviewing a variety of students about how they are feeling. They were encouraged to speak in first person.
In the part of the story where the wild rumpus begins, I had the students act this out in slow motion focusing solely on their body and facial expression.
The rest of the period was spent creating the theatres. We spent time talking about and imagining what would go in Max’s room and all the other locations in the story. I prepared papers that fit inside the pizza boxes, and students coloured and prepared the backgrounds.
This was my first time doing this kind of assignment in drama with primary students and I have learned many things:
1. Pick a book where there is very little text. You want the students to be adding to the story, not only telling the story as it is. For example, when Max arrives on the island of the Wild Things, there is very little explanation in the story about how the Wild Things feel. We explored the feelings and thoughts of these characters.
2. Create a class set of puppet theatres that everyone uses. Students are able to work on their performance with a variety of people and can play all of the different roles when they don’t have ownership over one theatre. I also use the theatres for all my classes so we created and build them as a large team.
3. Have a narrator with a small amount of assigned lines to help the students stay on track. It is difficult for students in grade one or two to remember every part of a story. Using prompts allows students to remember the part of the story that they are at, and focus on adding their original dialogue to the presentation.
4. Have students give feedback to each other according to the criteria. We listened to each others’ performances and gave feedback. We stapled the feedback to the back of the narrator’s lines so that we could review it before every performance.