Monday, February 16, 2015

The Value of Using Drama in the Classroom

Students perform skits they prepared in class.
As one who has read my blog probably knows, I love to utilize drama in my classroom.  Admittedly, being a social studies teacher provides me many opportunities for this. And the more and more I use it, the more I am convinced of its value in instruction. Today, rather than share how I use it or ways to use drama, I'd rather focus on the why I use it.

1. Drama increases student engagement. When students have to perform, they have to be involved. If done properly, drama as instruction (or yes, even assessment), students must participate. One reason I value drama as a teaching technique is that it takes the focus off of me as the teacher and places it firmly on the students. Whether formally or informally, they will be on stage and will have to be actively involved in the content.

2. Drama gives opportunities for students to develop their creativity. Too often education today has become standardized. Students take standardized tests. Students are asked to do the same activity, at the same time as everyone else, in the same way. Drama lets me break that mold. Students may have to decide how something is performed, or maybe they have to write a script. They may be adapting a historical event or retelling it in a new way. Regardless, they have opportunities to be creative.

Students collaborate on a the text of a skit.
3. Drama allows students to travel down multiple pathways of learning. Extra-personal learners enjoy the interaction as skits are developed. Kinesthetic learners get to move around. Artistic learners will help create props. Verbal learners will find creative means of writing and creating dialogue. Everyone gets a chance to add. Even when it isn't required, students may add music or dance to a performance. It is always fun to see how it plays out. When I ask my student to "act it out", I am always a bit amazed at the outcomes. And drama often gives them a chance to synthesize what I'm trying to teach with what they enjoy.

4. Drama increases what students know. When they have to act it out, they remember. It allows points of reference for the teacher to use later. They are not always going to watch what I show them, read it closely from the text, or listen to what I say. But if they have to perform an event, they will learn about it in a way I could never make them, and their classmates will watch and listen to the performances in ways they would never watch and listen to me. So, drama is a win-win all around.

5. Drama makes learning fun. Some of the best moments in my class have been watching the humor come out during a performance. The smiles the students have when they leave class after the use of drama let me know its value. My goal in teaching is not to have everyone like my class or be fun all the time, but if I can get students to learn and keep it fun at the same time, is not that a worthy goal!

Students perform a teacher-created script
to aid learning.
There are so many ways to utilize drama. It can be a week-long process or something as simple as dividing the class into groups and giving them a short time to create a reinactment. Lessons can be as structured as one would like. Sometimes students are given an exact script to work from, sometimes a topic with a well-developed rubric, and other times just a simple sentence telling them what to do. Those decisions depend a lot on your students, the time, or your overall goal. Regardless of the how, drama has many benefits to students.
Students perform a recreation of the painting "Signing the U.S. Constitution" using a technique called tableau.

Friday, February 6, 2015

So Should I Change the Name of This Blog?

Back in August, I started posting to this blog again after a little hiatus. I deleted some of my old posts and kept a few up. As I'm getting into the swing of sharing thoughts- mostly about what I like to do in my classroom- I've had to decide if I need to change the title and maybe even the background for the blog.

The tile "Room 213" was the classroom I was using when I started the blog. At the time, I couldn't think of a catchy title, and that one seemed appropriate. Now, that I've moved to a different school, I've wondered if I should change the name and if so- to what?

Also, the background is a picture of one of my previous classrooms. Should I change that to something more recent or does it matter?

These are thoughts that have been bouncing around my head today. So, for all six of my loyal readers, what say you?

Post ideas and thoughts in the comments please!

Happy Friday!

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Engaging Students through Debate and Role Play: Simulating the Election of 1860

I have found one of the best ways to create enduring understanding in students is to let them take the roles of others. Simulations, role play, and drama are excellent tools to make this happen. There are lots of great resources out there for teachers wanting to bring these elements into their classrooms.

As my eighth grade students began to study the years leading to the Civil War, I like for them to see the political issues. I discovered a great resource on the web site www.teacherspayteachers to help with this objective. The Election of 1860- Student Debate Simulation was purchased and adapted for my uses.

First, I broke the students into four groups, one for each candidate: Lincoln, Douglas, Bell, and Breckinridge. While I used the debate script and candidate bios from the purchased resources, but  I changed the assignment to accommodate my class size and the tasks I wanted my students to complete.

Each group was instructed to read the bio for their candidate and outline his views on the key issue of slavery. Students then worked collaboratively to answer the questions on the debate script. This was important to me. Even though when it came time to debate, one student would play the role of the candidate, I wanted every group member involved in creating the answers to the script. The reading of the bios and answering the script took approximately one class period. Students divided the remaining questions and finished for homework.

 On the second day, the students created campaign signs and slogans for the candidates. In addition, students created fictional characters who would support each candidate and wrote testimonials for the candidates. Each member of the group was responsible for these tasks. They really enjoyed attempting to decide campaign ideas for these candidates. This also reinforced their candidates views on the issues.

On the last day, we held the debate. Each group selected a spokesperson to represent each of the four candidates: Lincoln, Douglas, Bell, and Breckinridge. During the debate, group members were allowed to cheer and jeer as points were made. Things tended to get a little chaotic. In addition, students posted their signs and slogans around the room and group members posed as supporters and read the testimonials for each candidate.

When the activity was completed, I led a class discussion, making sure the students understood where each person fell on the issues in the election. The final class period was spend on students coloring a map with the election results and answering questions which helped them see how this election led to Southern secession and eventually the Civil War.

I love activities for this because it does a number of things. First, as students play the role of others, they have to critically think about what that person would do or say. The creation of the posters allow the students to use their artistic talents and creativity. The collaborative element helps in understanding and the performance creates a more interesting and engaging method for me to teach the ideas without lecturing or requiring a lot of reading of the students.

So, how do you use simulations, drama and art in your lessons? Anyone have lessons to share?

Friday, September 26, 2014

Teaching with Toys and Tech- Keeping Students Engaged

 Keeping students engaged and on-topic is never easy, especially middle school students. But....there is something about getting to play with Legos that excites them.

Last year, I needed some Lego blocks for a lesson I wanted to teach. I only needed some basic blocks, but I put out a call to my parents asking if anyone had some they could donate. Thanks to an extremely generous donation, I now have a collection. (I could still use more if anyone has some they want to rid themselves of.)

Today, the students finally got to play with them. My 7th grade class has been working its way through various lessons on ancient Greece. Yesterday, we used a worksheet lesson I purchased from that had them learn about the four governments and create a film strip drawing and caption for each of the types of government. Good! I wanted to take it one step further and help the ideas cement with them.

Using the Legos, the students were asked to create a scene with the Legos to show each type of government and then use the Haiku Deck App ( to create a presentation of their work. The kids were energized.

The worksheets from the previous day had served as a form of graphic organizer to keep their focus and plan their presentation. They had to decide on a way to best utilize their materials to represent the key idea of each type of government. Working in small groups, they had to synthesize the ideas each had created the previous day into a workable product. Publishing the production using the App helped them put a finishing touch on everything.

I couldn't have been more pleased with their work. The students each came up with unique ways. They worked together, stayed on task, and demonstrated creativity and understanding of the types of government.

The next step will have them present their creations to the class. This will add one last learning objective to the lesson and work as a way of reinforcing the key concept with students.

In addition to helping the students stay focused and engaged, I was amazed with the ease of Haiku Deck. I had never used it before, but the students had for another class. They were excited to show me some of the features, and a few times, I had to ask them to show each other.

Most of all the projects looked great as I hope the pictures below show. I would love to hear from other teachers on how you adapt lessons to keep students engaged. I'd also like to hear some of your best apps for student presentation and creation.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Hula Hoop Venn Diagrams- Bringing Multiple Pathways of Learning to a Lesson

I haven't blogged in awhile. Teaching, parenting, and adopting two new dogs have kept me busy with other things. (All that and the return of football on the weekends!) Today, I wanted to share an activity I did with my 7th graders.

As a teacher, I am often faced with the challenge of how to spice up the learning. Sometimes, this comes easy. I scavenger the Internet or sites like Teachers Pay Teachers and find the perfect lesson that integrates the arts, or a simulation that works well with my students, or an idea that excites. Some days, not so much.

Today, my 7th graders needed to learn about the Minoan and Mycenaean cultures as we began our unit on ancient Greece. I had a perfect handout and worksheet to help them pull key information from the reading and a great chart to help them compare and contrast these cultures. But how could I adapt this lesson to involve more pathways of learning for my students? How could I help engage them beyond the mundane worksheet?

Well somewhere at sometime, I had seen an idea about using hula hoops for Venn diagrams. Lo and behold, there were some hula hoops in the P.E. closet and the P.E. teacher said I could use them. 

Students discuss similarities and differences
in cultures
Here's what I did. I distributed my hand-out and colored slips of paper. I assigned each color either Minoan or Mycenaean and told them to read the handout and write characteristics of their culture on the slips of paper. Then each student grouped with students from the other culture and used hula hoops to create Venn diagrams. We went around and discussed and what could have been a boring in-the-seat lesson engaged my students.

The kinesthetic learners got to get up and move. (And what 7th grader doesn't want to get out of his seat at least once during a class period.) The students had to use their interpersonal skills to discuss and work with others. The students had to synthesize ideas to find the points of comparison. Everyone had to bring something to the group for it to work and the students interacted and mastered the content. Win-win for everyone!

What I like best about this, is it is easily adaptable for many lessons. I may not use it again with this grade, but I can use it to spice up other lessons where the goal is comparing and contrasting with the other grades I teach. And you can use it too! 

Please comment and share other ways to use this lesson. Or better yet, let me know quick and relevant ways you bring multiple pathways of learning to engage and educate students.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Teaching Using Paintings and Tableau

My sixth grade U.S. history class begins the year with the signing of the Constitution. As I began planning, I had a few goals in mind. First, I wanted an exercise that would be content rich, yet at the same time introduce them to the methods I like to use in my classroom. Secondly, I wanted to be able to early on integrate the arts in a real and powerful way. To do that, I chose to have them work with a painting and create a tableau of the scene.

On the first day, I began by showing them Howard Chandler Christy's Signing of the Constitution. We spend a few minutes studying and examining the painting. The students enjoyed this part as they all noticed different things in the art. At times, I restricted comments to one per student so that everyone had a chance to notice or comment on something they saw. The painting becomes the focus of our tableau. So after we examine it thoroughly, we discuss some of the situations that resulted in the Constitutional Conventions and some of the debates that occurred. My students would have discussed this the previous year in social studies, so it is a chance to review and refresh for them.

Next, I provided them with a diagram that lets them know who the people are. At this time, I ask them to let me know which names they recognize.   Now that we have names and numbers to correspond to the men in the painting, I ask them who they find interesting. Students have a chance to tell me with whom they most identify. At that point, I invite them to come and take their place in front of the room as we do our best to recreate the painting. (My class only has 10 students so we only partially recreate it, but this painting provides 40 possible individuals to use- so it meets the needs of both large and small classes.) 

[At this point, I stopped the class and we practiced some focusing exercises that help the students keep their positions during the tableau. Experienced theater students may not need this, but it helps me to teach some drama techniques alongside my academic content. ]

As the pictures of my two classes on the left demonstrate, some figures are included in both classes, while each class chose the people that interested them.  I allow them a few minutes to freeze in the positions and imagine what their individual might be thinking. They then get to take a minute to come alive and become the people from the painting. I challenge them to say whatever they think their chosen historical figure is thinking or saying in the painting. It really is fun to hear the students' imaginations come alive and the room gets a little loud. (Of course, I imagine it was loud in Independence Hall during the painting as well.) This part could be omitted, but I believe in allowing the students some creative play within the lesson.

I concluded class by inviting the students to use the iPads to research the individual they have chosen and learn about them and their role in the Constitutional Convention.

On the second day, the students are given two assignments. First, I instruct them to write a monologue given from the perspective of the historical figure they have chosen. (If needed this gives me an opportunity to teach monologue and the difference between first and third person.) The students use the iPads to conduct research and then write. Secondly, I let them make or choose a prop. For this tableau, we made colonial powdered wigs using cotton balls and painters hats. If I were in a hurry, I could omit that part, but it allows the students to work with their hands and create as I circulate and check progress on the monologues. 

At the conclusion of the second day, I assign any loose ends for homework and ask the students to review their monologues. Some students are happy with their creations and some will, of course, take their wigs home to perfect. At this point, it might be helpful to provide a rubric for grading the monologues if a grade is going to be part of the process. Since we were in the first week of school, I was grading on participation and did not provide a detailed rubric.
The third day was performance. For this project, our audience was simply the teacher and the class. One class had a few more run-through before the "graded" performance, while scheduling hurried my other class. 

One final time, we re-created the painting and froze in positions. Then, one by one the figures would come alive, tell his story, and then return to his position in the painting. 

For time's sake, I assisted with helping them structure and decide the order of the monologues and gave them some tips on staying frozen in tableau as their characters "come alive."
However, as each student read his or her monologue, I was impressed. Each had come away with a little knowledge of the role his or her historical figure had played in the creation of the Constitution- and combined the class gained active understanding in the issues the Founding Fathers faced. 

Practically, there are a number of modifications one could make to this task. I could provide handouts in lieu of using the iPads. A second useful changewould be to create a template for the students to use in creating the monologues. I gave mine a great deal of freedom, and as a result, the quality and length varied.

Finally, my goals in the assignment were simply to enhance learning about the signers of the Constitution by integrating arts into the lesson. If given time to revise monologues and rehearse, students could deliver monologues from memory and create a more polished performance. Those weren't my goals, so we completed the tasks in three days.

I've included a video of one of the classes below.

Teachers feel free to comment, leave suggestions, or mention ways you could adapt this to your classes.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Is It Really That Simple?

 I've been spending the week leading "Untamed Games" at my church's Vacation Bible School. When you are in charge of the outdoor games, it gives you a unique perspective, I think. My role is basically to be a little crazy, somewhat loud, and help the kids have a lot of fun.
At some point every day, I get to try to tie the game or games we are playing into the big idea the children hopefully have been learning in all their other stations. That means I have all of 1-2 minutes to try to get them to understand a big truth- and surprisingly most of them get it. 

On Monday, we wanted the kids to understand how God loves us and protects us, but also how we can be God's love and protection to others.

As we talked about it, the children quickly realized how easy it was to get our feelings hurt, and without much prompting gave me real ways they could love those they knew at school and other places by being their friend and inviting them to play. When we extended that each day to talking about trusting God when we don't understand, the children quickly made the connection to being loving to those who aren't nice to them. We do not understand why God wants us to do that, but we need to.

Today, the children also learned that even when we break the rules, God still loves us. And because of that, we can love those who hurt us too!

Children, from grades K-4 figure it out pretty easily. Now, I know as we get older figuring it out is a little harder. What does loving my neighbor mean when the person is across town and in poverty? How much of my stuff do I need to give away to be loving? How much of my comfort and "protection" do I need to share to be that person's Jesus? It gets a little more complicated, or does it? If these kids can figure out, why can't we?

"He called a little child to him, and placed the child among them. And he said: “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven." Matthew 18:2-3