Slapstick Comedy: Step three of the drama process!

The year 7 and 8 classes are studying a unit of work on ‘Slapstick Comedy’. I have posted previously about how we explored the concept of humour in general, and how we defined slapstick comedy. Two weeks ago, we kick-started the drama process and began brainstorming for our performances, and we had the opportunity to write up the scripts and draw up the storyboards for the performances
This week we moved on to step three of the drama process: rehearsal. The lesson started with a quick warmup called Status Pictures, where the students form still-images depicting situations involving characters of different status. This warm-up was chosen to get students thinking about status relationships and how they are used in slapstick comedy to create humour. After the warmup and debriefing session that followed, I recapped on the theoretical part of the unit which was written on the whiteboard (pictured below); then the students moved into their groups (or ‘theatre companies’) and were each given a rehearsal handout (A4 size) and an A3 size Rehearsal Log. I circulated around each group to check their progress and to recap over the rehearsal process: what is its importance and how can it be used effectively?
The students spread around the drama room (some groups moved outside into the courtyard) and they each rehearsed a few times. The groups were told to choose a different focus for every rehearsal (e.g. body language, or blocking, or voice etc…), to fill out the rehearsal log after every rehearsal to reflect on it, and to document their rehearsals with photos and some video footage (using smart-phones/iPods for year 8s, or iPads for the year 7s). The students were also told to keep evidence of their rehearsal in their portfolios: e.g. annotated pictures from rehearsal (printed from classroom printer) and the rehearsal log. For the year 7 students, who all have iPads, this evidence was just added to their shared Evernote notebook which they used as their group portfolio
The rehearsal process seemed to go rather efficiently, and everyone had a meaningful role as each student was either acting out in rehearsal, or taking photos/shooting video, or filling out the rehearsal log. The groups also seemed much more committed to the rehearsal process due to of having a different focus for every rehearsal. Below are some snapshots of the rehearsal logs of a couple of ‘theatre companies’, a snapshot of the whiteboard, and a screenshot of an Evernote portfolio from one of the year 7 groups.
Next week, we move into the final two steps of the drama process: performance, followed by reflection and evaluation. Stay tuned ladies and gentlemen!

Radio Drama: Create your own horror radio play (Part 1)

This term, the year 6 classes are studying Radio Drama. I have posted previously about how they created radio commercials to explore the creative potential of the voice. We also had a chance to perform poems to apply characterization techniques to voice. Then we attempted to develop better enunciation and articulation by performing tongue-twister poems in this tongue-twisting lesson. Last week, the class explore voice projection and created their own radio interviews.
To sum up this unit of work, and to allow for summative assessment of MYP Criterion B (Application), the class will have the opportunity to create their own horror radio plays (as inspired by Orson Welles’ War of the Worlds). The lesson’s learning objective is to apply the skills, techniques and processes used to create a radio drama performance. This task will span over two double-periods (one double-period per week). 
To start off the lesson, we did a quick ‘one-sentence story with sound-effects’ warmup, where students sit in a circle and each of them contributes a sentence to build a horror story. I asked students to use their voices and their bodies to create sound effects and background music to set the mood/scene and to accompany each sentence contributed to the story. We then debriefed on the warmup and quickly reviewed the theoretical material we learned throughout this unit of work (which is all written on this snapshot of the whiteboard).
The students were then asked to move into groups of 3-4 students and they had to use this story outline and the sound-effects table to brainstorm and prepare their horror radio play. We read over the task sheet as a class and discussed the rubric and task expectations. The students then spent the rest of the double-period writing their horror stories and deciding on the sound effects and background music that will accompany the radio play. You can find snapshots of the students’ work below. 
This task can also be adapted to use in an English/ESL class after exploring radio plays and story structures. Next week, the students will rehearse their radio plays, and then perform it in front of their classmates to receive feedback, then reflect on and evaluate their performances. It will be a very busy lesson. Stay tuned!

Slapstick Comedy: Step two of the drama process!

The year 7 and 8 classes are studying a unit of work on ‘Slapstick Comedy’. I have posted previously about how we explored the concept of humour in general, and how we defined slapstick comedy. Last week, we kick-started the drama process and began brainstorming for our performances

This week, the ‘theatre companies’ (the fancy name I use for my drama groups) finalised their brainstorms and started writing their scripts and creating their storyboards. The script-writing process was mainly driven by each group’s ‘writer’, while the story-boarding was mainly driven by the group’s ‘director’. The year 7 classes had to do this on their iPads and attach evidence to their group portfolio on Evernote. The year 8 classes (who do not have iPads) were each given a group folder to use as their portfolio for the task. The lesson’s learning objective is to ‘apply the skills, techniques and processes used to create slapstick comedy performances’.
The lesson’s warmup was a game I found on The Drama Notebook called ‘Queen of Hearts’. This game is designed to get students to think about status, as each student is assigned a card from a deck of cards. Each card represents a different character in a medieval royal court, and the higher the card the higher the status of the character. The students then mill about the room, walking and relating to others in character. The class then had a quick debriefing session about the warmup and we related it to the use of status relationships in slapstick comedy to add to the humour, either by overly exaggerating those relationships or challenging them. We also talked about other ways to create character in slapstick comedy, such as creating dominant negative personality traits for each character and designing bizarre over-the-top costumes.
To start the second step of the drama process, which is preparing the script and storyboard, the students used this template which I adapted from a worksheet I stumbled into by accident through a Google search of ‘drama worksheets’ (the Internet is MY BEST FRIEND). The students had to use what we have learned about slapstick comedy so far in their script-writing process (e.g. they must incorporate some slapstick techniques like the trip, slip, collide, double-take, stuck, and lazzi; they must use slow-motion to add dramatic effect to these techniques; and they were also encouraged to use status, personality traits and costumes to add comic potential to their characters). Here are snapshots of one group’s script and storyboard:

Next week, we move into the third step of the drama process, which is ‘to rehearse’. The students will be using a template for blocking and rehearsing, and they will also be using their iPods/iPads/smart-phones to document their rehearsals and reflect on their acting to refine and polish their performances. Stay tuned!

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!