Problem Solving and Creating Characters

Third grade has been working hard on collaboration and characterization skills. These are things we began working on last year which are becoming more challenging as the stories we dramatize become more complex.

Our first challenge was to tell the myth “How the Earth was Formed on Turtle’s Back.” In groups, students designed the settings – Skyland and water. 

Then students figured out how to create these settings physically.

There were many other problems to solve as students planned out to enact the entire story (a woman falling from the sky, characters diving down into the ocean, earth suddenly emerging from a lump of dirt placed on turtle’s back). All of the solutions were uniquely creative.





Our most recent unit focused on characterization and how we can personify animal characters to show their internal and external traits. Students tackled a story about Rabbit, Elephant, and Whale. We analyzed the character traits and brought them to life through warm-ups and rehearsal. The big challenge in this story was how to create a tug of war between Whale and Elephant. This story is a favorite. Ask your child to share it with you. 


When we return from break we will continue to study character with an emphasis on emotions.

Wishing you a happy holidays and restful break!

Telling Exciting Stories in a Tiny Space

In fourth grade, we have been working on creating exciting stories in tiny spaces. Our artistic focus has been to make physical choices that communicate character, setting, and action. The “tiny space” focus comes from the reality of having limited rehearsal space and encouraging students to problem solve and make choices that work within those limitations.

Last year, I was also lucky enough to be in a workshop with some artists from Theater Unspeakable who take the “tiny space” mission to new levels. Early in our process, we watched this trailer for Theater Unspeakable’s production of The American Revolution. Together we unpacked how this group of actors used physical and vocal choices to tell a story with limited space and materials.

Then students worked in groups to create chase scenes in a limited space that could show character, changes in scenery, clear actions. After mapping their chases and physical choices, students revised and refined their work through rehearsal. We also worked on strategies for brainstorming and collaboration while planning, practicing, and problem solving.

As usual, students’ creativity exceeded expectations. In four classes, I don’t think I saw the same chase twice. Here is a video showcasing students in process.

We are launching a new unit this week with a focus on character.

Imagining with the 5 Senses

It’s been a busy beginning of the year in 1st grade drama. For the first several weeks, we played games and acted stories to develop foundational skills like concentration, listening, and personal space. Now we are in the midst of a unit on imagining with the 5 senses which will help us vividly experience stories. It also encourages students draw on memory and experience when visualizing a story (which is a great skill for literacy, as well).

We began by exploring some mystery bags and discussed which of the senses helped us discover the mystery items. Then we went on a magic carpet ride to imagine a variety of settings. Students contributed ideas for the voyage as it is important that students take ownership over the creative process. (I was so into the journey that I didn’t get many pictures – sorry.) Every few weeks, students have time to journal about what they did in class.

Next, we will be focusing on hearing and sound and creating a story with sound effects.

Why is the MIND the most important drama tool?

As we head into October, 2nd grade has been reviewing the importance of our three actor tools (mind, body, voice). I start the year with the question: Why is the mind the most important drama tool? As we reflect on activities, we come back to this question and students agree or disagree with some evidence from our work.

Our first story reviewed individual concentration, listening, and imagination. Students acted a story about a Pirate who went in search of his buried treasure. Because no one wrote the end of the story for me (oh no!), students imagined and acted out their own endings.

Next, we worked on these same skills with a partner, adding two new skills observation and cooperation. Students practiced through warm-ups and partner stories. Here is a group warming up with the classic drama game – the Mirror.

Last week, we moved into larger groups and are applying all of these skills to creating setting/scenery for a story. This takes a high level of focus, imagination, and flexibility. Students have done a marvelous job. If you ask your child about “BJ’s Journey” – down the drain of the classroom sink, around the world, and back again. Here are some of the settings in action.

Ensemble Skills: Concentration & Collaboration

In all grades, our first weeks are spent reviewing and extending skills that are the foundation of our work – imagination, concentration, teamwork. Of course this looks different at the various grade levels. Here is a snapshot of what we’ve been working on in 4th grades.

We’ve been examining the skill of concentration and how it impacts our success in drama (and beyond) and work as a team. Students really enjoyed watching this video from Improv Everywhere and analyzed the importance and challenges of concentration.

Please ask your child about our challenging game – Rabbit, Elephant, Horse. In this game, the class had to work as a team to “out concentrate” me. We’ve been playing it as a warm-up each week, increasing the challenge, and discussing the many ways our focus slips and strategies for staying present. Students have made many insightful connections about how our individual focus improves our teamwork, as well.

Finally, we’ve been applying this to a performance project – creating tableau. Tableau is a theatrical convention that allows actors to create a frozen picture communicating a moment in time. This mini-unit allows us to explore collaboration and some aesthetic elements (level, shape, action, space) that help us make our work clear. Some of the classes were inspired by their study of the sparks leading up to the American Revolution to create American Revolution tableau.

Below is a slideshow with the activities, discussions, products of our first few weeks.

Welcome Back!

Hello Avoca families.Image result for creativity quotes

Welcome back to another school year of fun, learning, growing, friendship, creativity and…drama! In our first week, we focused on getting reacquainted (new faces and familiar faces) to each other and to the routines and expectations of class. I was amazed by how much students remembered and have grown through the summer. Truly one of my favorite things about being an Encore teacher is that I get to see students year after year and watch them grow, change, and mature.

My blog is updated every other week to spotlight on a project or unit. This year, I will email the grade levels represented in my post.

I’m excited and honored to work with your child. Please contact me at any time if you have questions about class or your child. Here is to another year of growing creative and collaborative children!


Solving Problems with Devised Stories

In 4th grade, we’ve been combining all of the skills and concepts we’ve learned to devise dramatic stories that solve world or historical problems. Devising is a process that theater artists use to develop a piece of work from an idea rather than a set story or script.

In the first weeks, students determined a problem that their groups would like to solve with an imaginary machine. Each group planned and practiced a machine to communicate the chosen idea.

Everyone contributed ideas to an idea board. Then students gathered to review and select an idea for their team.

Presenting… the no texting and driving machine

Presenting … the Kid Finder to locate lost children

Then groups developed the beginning of the story – imagining the characters and events that might lead up to the creation of their machines.

Finally, groups created a conflict that might act on their machine and create a climactic problem (and resolution) in their story. This devising process has taken a lot more time than previous projects. Students have been challenged to go back and revised and refine based on feedback from me and the class. I’ve been really proud of patience students have shown and the stories created.

Ms. Michaels’ class created machines from problems during the Civil War. Here is a General-making machine for the Union.

Here is a transportation machine to deliver goods in the South.

Up Next: Our final project will be creating a dramatic story from a picture, using images from The Mysteries of Harris Burdick by Chris Van Allsburg.


Adapting Stories in Drama

In 3rd grade, we are studying adaptation.

Anytime we bring a story from the written word to life, we are adapting. One student noted that the new movie version of “Beauty and the Beast” is an example of adaptation. What an apt example as this story has moved from story, to cartoon, to Broadway musical, to live action film. We began our unit by brainstorming what we already know this topic. Students recognized that adaptation happens in science, social studies, and life, as well as in stories.

This 3rd grade group is very creative and loves to put a twist on the stories we act out, so we’ve begun to explore how to adapt stories with a twist. Here are some tips that students came up with:

  • Know your original story
  • Change the dialogue (but not too much)
  • Change up the characters (again, not too much)
  • Make it modern
  • Make it your own
  • Make sure you can recognize the original story

As we return from Spring Break, our first adaptation is changing the ending of an old folk tale called “The Three Sillies.”

Up next…Students will be adapting the story of John Henry as they prepare to create original tall tales in the coming weeks.