Kick-starting the drama process: Slapstick Comedy!

So, over the past few weeks, the year 7s and year 8s were exploring humor in general and then moved on to defining slapstick comedy. This week’s lesson was an introduction to the slapstick techniques that they can incorporate in their performance: the trip, the slip, the collide, the stuck, the double-take, and lazzi (comic accidents). We discussed each of these techniques and we got a chance to apply them. We also highlighted the importance of slow motion to add dramatic effect and for the actors to stay safe.

The warm-up for the lesson was a One-Sentence-Story with the title “The Worst Day of My Life”. We all sat in a circle and every student had to add one sentence to the story. This warm-up was chosen to get them to think about accidents and mishaps, which is what slapstick is mostly about, and as a preparation for the assessment task to follow. The students then moved into groups and were told that we will start the first step of the drama process this week to prepare a slapstick comedy performance titled “The Worst Day of My Life”. They had to decide on who is going to be the group’s writer and who will be the director for this performance. The students are aware that the first step of the drama process is to brainstorm, and I used this story-map graphic organizer from Education Oasis to get them to think about their performance. Here is a snap-shot of one of the groups’ story-maps.

During the course of the coming few weeks we will move into the remaining steps of the drama process, which is to prepare a script and a storyboard for their performance, followed by the third step, to rehearse and polish their performance, then to perform in front of an audience and receive feedback, then to reflect & evaluate. Each of these steps will require certain evidence being documented in the group’s portfolio for this task. The year 7 students are also doing the same task but they are using their iPads to prepare their portfolio.

Stay tuned for next week’s lesson, where we move on to scripting and story-boarding the performance (some groups already started this step because they were so excited)! We will also focus on the role of costumes, personality traits, and status in slapstick comedy to help the students create slapstick characters when writing up their performances!

Tongue-Twisting Lesson!

Today’s year 6 Drama lesson was wholly devoted to articulation and enunciation. As part of the unit of work on ‘Radio Drama’, one of the learning objectives is to “develop better articulation and enunciation”. This lesson comes after a poetry theatre lesson where students experimented with voice as a tool to create different characters. Before that, the students had also created their own radio commercials, which was an attempt to explore the creative potential of the voice.

Today’s lesson had a bit of a twist to it, literally! The whole lesson was built around tongue twisters, which are often used to develop better articulation and enunciation. The lesson started with a tongue-twister relay as the warm-up: students form teams of five, and then they are all given the same tongue-twister, where each member has to say it three times without mumbling or stuttering. If any team member stutters or mumbles, then the whole relay is reset back from the first player. After a few rounds of this warm-up, we debriefed as a class and discussed the uses of tongue-twisters and how they help us speak clearly and improve our enunciation. I also explained what enunciation and articulation mean, and why they are important in radio drama, which was also written on the whiteboard (snapshot below).

The performance part of the lesson was based on these Tongue Twister poems which I found online. The students formed groups of 3-4 members and were each given a different tongue-twister poem. They were told that the task is to dramatize this poem as much as they can, yet still deliver it clearly to the audience. They were encouraged to add music or sound effects, as long as it was all created by their voices (not using iPads or iPods).

The students were given about 15 minutes to prepare and rehearse, then they all performed their tongue-twister poem to the audience, while being recorded by the iPad (to facilitate their reflection and evaluation after the performance). After every performance, each group was given positive comments and useful suggestions from their peers. The last part of the lesson was time set aside for writing their four-sentence reflection using their reflection help-sheet, and after listening to their own performances to help them identify their strengths and weaknesses.

The lesson was quite entertaining, and it was very cool what they all came up with. I believe this lesson can also be used in an English/ESL/LOTE classroom to develop better enunciation and clarity of speech.

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!