Year 6s doing Poetry Theatre!

As part of our unit of work on ‘Radio Drama’, there is a lesson devoted wholly to poetry theatre. This lesson follows the ‘Radio Commercials’ assessment task, which the students successfully completed last week. The learning objective of the lesson is to ‘apply characterization skills to voice’ and discover the many things voice can tell us about a character: age, gender, status, cultural background and feelings/emotions.

The lesson starts with a warm-up I got from The Drama Notebook called ‘color your nursery rhyme’. As a class, we select a nursery rhyme and practice saying it in different ways: angrily, like a crying baby, like an opera singer, happily etc…

The class then debriefs about the warm-up and reflects on the skills practiced, then we link it to and discuss the theoretical part of the lesson (written on the whiteboard, here’s a snapshot of it).

After the debriefing and the discussion, the students are divided into groups and all given the same poem to recite. However, they are each given a picture of a different character and they have to recite the poem using that character’s voice (or their perception of it). I gave them pictures of an angry-looking middle-aged man, a very sophisticated high-class rich middle-aged woman, a frustrated and sad-looking young female child, a grumpy old grandma, and a bored-looking teenager sitting in class.

The poem I chose is ‘Homework I Love You’ by Kenn Nesbitt. The groups were each given 15 minutes to discuss what sort of voice their character would have, and to rehearse delivering the poem using that voice. Then we set-up a curtain and the students had to perform behind it, with the picture of the character pinned to the curtain. After every performance, the audience were asked to act like critics and give either positive comments or useful suggestions for improvement.

To conclude the lesson, the students spent about fifteen minutes writing in their drama journal (which is more like a ‘portfolio’) using the reflection help-sheet. Here is a snapshot of one student’s four-sentence reflection.

I believe the lesson went rather well. Looking back at it, maybe I could have used different poems for every group, however I chose the same poem to show the class how the same piece of text can be read and dramatized differently using voice. I could have also given the groups choices about what character/s they want to read as, and each group member could have a different voice.

I believe this lesson could also be used in an English and ESL classroom to get students to think about speaking and how vocal variety affects the audience’s attention to your speech.

Here is a nice video created by students who decided to rap their poem, this was all prepared using GarageBand and iMovie!

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