The wonderful aspect of teaching theatre in the classroom is that teachers do not have to follow a lesson plan where students are stuck sitting at their desks doing bookwork. The class will be able to spend the majority of their time participating in active lessons. This being said, there still needs to be structure. The benefit of teaching acting is that it requires children of all ages to use basic skills that they also need to use in daily life. For instance, school students are expected to listen and follow directions in school. Actors are also expected to listen to the other actors on stage in order to respond, and they need to be able to follow the blocking the director gives them. Kids are told to focus on their schoolwork and tests, while actors need to focus on their characters and what is going on around them in a play.
Before you begin the lesson, make the class aware of what the rules are. Do enforce that although performing should be fun, it is impossible to communicate if everyone is talking at one time. Enforce safety. Make it clear that running (unless instructed to do so) or violence will not be tolerated. Kids need boundaries, and once they are set, everyone will be on the same page and the fun will run smoothly.
Below you will find some activity ideas to use in your lessons and an explanation of what they teach.
It can be a challenge to come up with theatre games for students in kindergarten through second grade. Their attention span does not last as long as an older child’s and they become either hyper or they begin to zone out completely. The one most essential lesson I learned when working with this age group is to never stop. If you stall, you lose the kids.
Write a few adventure scenes where the students (and you!) have to use your imagination. Include characters that will be fun to act out. Figure out how everyone as a team can use their bodies to create parts of the scene. For example, if your characters need to cross a bridge, how can some of the group work together to build that bridge using their bodies? Discuss what sounds you would hear in the places you are exploring. Create those sounds. Ask them to problem-solve. You will hear many funny ideas, but remember that no answer is incorrect.
The Great and Powerful Wizard
The objective of this activity is to teach actors to listen, not hesitate, and to go with the flow (which is important for improvisation). Choose three volunteers to sit up in front of the class. These three actors will be the three heads of the wizard. Explain to the class that this wizard knows all the answers to life. When a question is asked, the “wizard heads” will answer the question one word at a time. The class should not ask “yes or no” questions, but questions such as, “What is the meaning of life?” The wizard might answer, “The…meaning…of…life…is…cheese.” Whenever a “wizard head” wants to end the sentence, they should create a magical sound of your choosing. The sentences obviously do not need to make sense logically, but they do need to be grammatically correct. This game is appropriate for second grade students and up.
This game is superb because it involves the whole class, and does not require any talking. It encourages kids to be creative and experiment by trial and error. Before class, write a bunch of object names on pieces of paper (spoon, car, pencil, etc.) Make sure to include objects of various sizes, and also make sure there are enough for the whole class. Pass them out, and instruct the class to not share their object with anyone else. The objective of the game is to line up from smallest object to largest object without talking. The class should use only their bodies to communicate their object—they may mime using the object or being the object (to challenge the older students, have them mime being the object). Encourage the class to attempt different ways of miming their object if their tactic is not helping their fellow mimes!
Behind the Scenes
One activity I have discovered to be successful and fun in the classroom is having the students create a show by splitting up into different production teams (costumes, set, marketing, lights/special effects, and casting). It is fun to have them create a “twisted” version of a well-known play or musical, such as The Wizard of New York City or Cinderella in McDonalds. As they work, give them challenges (the costume department ran out of the color green, or the director does not want the Wicked Witch to use a broom, etc.) The class will gain an appreciation and knowledge of all that goes into a production—communication, planning, overcoming obstacles, and teamwork!