Teacher resources and professional development across the curriculum

Teacher professional development and classroom resources across the curriculum

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  Connecting With The Arts Home   A Teaching Practices Library, 6-8
  Breathing Life into Myths
  Watching the Video
  Connecting to your Teaching
  Addtional Resources
  About the School
  Q and A with Teachers
  Program at a Glance
  School: Hand Middle School
  Location: Columbia, SC
  Grade: 6
  Disciplines: Theatre
Language Arts
  Description: Students create puppet theatre based on a study of Greek mythology.



Q&A With Teachers

Helen Schell with StudentsHelen Schell, Language Arts

How much time do you spend on the myths unit and its different components?

The myths unit takes about six weeks in all. I see this class 90 minutes a day, and every day we would do some kind of activity related to a myth and Greek word stems. At the beginning of the unit I give the students the puppet-making rubric. We go to the computer lab to look up on-line puppet-making resources. They have two weeks to make the puppet at home. (I stressed using recycled materials - you don't have to go out and buy things.) After school during those two weeks I host a puppet-making workshop. It lasts an hour and anyone can come; students feed off each other's ideas.

The scriptwriting can take three or four days. I spend another day on how you breathe life into the puppet, and then rehearsing can take three or four days. The performing and videotaping takes another two days. Finally, we watch what we've done, and critique it using the PPQ (praise, polish and a question) technique.

How would you describe the academic level of the students in your class?

This was an AAP (academically gifted) class, but I did the same unit with a regular class, where skill levels run the gamut. I didn't have that class make the puppets at home because I was concerned about access to resources. So we had everyone bring in a pillowcase and we animated that, using techniques that Jennifer Larson, the theatre teacher, taught us. That class still wrote and performed plays, and did a great job. The scripts were fantastic. But those kids were disappointed not to make puppets and the plays were harder to understand because there were fewer visual cues using the animated pillowcases - so next year everyone will do puppets.

What language arts and social studies criteria did the scriptwriting address?

For language arts, I have a rubric that addresses the fine details of writing that we’ve been covering, including narrative components like a clear beginning, middle, and end; characterization; and the details that reveal character, like a hand gesture or a yawn, or a particular way that clothing is warn. And kids know by this stage to be working with their five senses in their writing, so we should see adverbs and adjectives at this stage of the game.

The scripts have to meet social studies goals as well as C the students have to mention three places or activities from ancient Greece, like the Olympics, going to the agora (marketplace), lion fights at the Coliseum. So the students get a grade from the social studies teacher as well.

What challenges did you face with this unit? How will you approach it differently the next time you do it?

In the future, I'll only do hand and rod puppets - no more marionettes or shadow puppets, because those require different types of stages, and that was difficult. And this year I'm going to work with a puppetry theatre group here in Columbia, and we may do a field trip to watch a professional marionette performance there.

I'd like to invite other classes in when we perform, and also air one or two of the plays on the school's in-house morning television program. We've done that before and it's been successful.

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Jennifer Larson demonstrating a puppetJennifer Larson, Theatre

How do you make time to plan and teach with the classroom teachers who want to work with you?

My planning with teachers starts in the summer before school begins, during teacher planning days. I make a point of putting a note in teachers’ boxes that I am available and would love to work together on a variety of levels. I include ideas and projects that have worked in the past.

I also make a short speech at the first faculty meeting. I let all teachers know that I would love to do some cross-curriculum planning with them. I tell them there is a script out there addressing almost every topic, and if it does not exist, we can produce an original script with the students.

After this, most of the planning occurs unit-to-unit, lesson-to-lesson. You just have to make the time, love to share your art, and know that some positive energy always sparks magic.

How do you engage non-drama students when you visit other classrooms?

With excitement, energy, and enthusiasm! When I was asked to kick off a language arts unit on Julius Caesar at the local high school, I walked in with a soothsayer costume on and some eerie background music. The teacher turned off the lights and I lit a candle and gathered the students close to me on the floor to tell them the story of the play. Really, all I did was explain the plot, using character acting. But at the end when I continued to yell “Beware the Ides of March!” over and over again and then blew out the candle and stood up, students were hanging on every word. I had not mentioned Shakespeare, acting, or any factual history. A little bit of theatre will go a long way to engaging non-drama students.

In the program, we see Helen’s class doing a PPQ critique. What are some of the critiquing methods that you use in your own classroom?

I use a similar oral and written critique method called “Two Stars and A Wish.” Generally, I ask students to find two positive things about every performance and then one piece of constructive criticism.

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