Why Integrated Drama Curriculum in Elementary and Middle School?

Here are a few newsletters that discuss drama and its function at Baker Demonstration School.

Grades 2 and 3 Drama

Thursday, April 25th, 2013

Drama for Second and Third Graders.

Drama class has been humming along twice a week for 45 minutes since we came back from spring break. We have been working to listen to each other and work together as students tackle improvisation. How do we work together to make an interesting story or part of a story? How do our bodies express emotions and convey ideas? How can we work together without using words to explain ourselves?

Recently we worked with Chris Raushka’s YO YES to explore emotions together as we worked in teams to “act out” the story of two boys. YO YES illuminates two boys interchange as one of the boys offers to be a friend of a lonely young man with “no friends”.  In simple, one syllable words such as “Yo?” and “Yes?” we looked at the way the bodies in the illustrations expressed such deep emotions and we explored how to tell Raushka’s story with our bodies and voices.

We used a short story about my Father’s adventures at summer camp to learn how to craft a scene with “frozen pictures” or tableaux.

Students learned theatre vocabulary such as “cheating out” “faces not fannies.” We took a look at the composition of scenes and our frozen pictures to understand relationships and to build dramatic tension through a series of tableaux or frozen pictures.

Most recently, we worked with improvisation and games that required teamwork. We made machines, did mirror games and played “Do you like your neighbor?” –a movement game for a large group.

The children are exploring how to be a good scene partner. We take turns, share leadership and we practice sharing opinions and ideas without “pouring paint” on the ideas of someone else.

What is “pouring paint”? Why not ask your child about what it means to “pour paint” on someone else?

Posted in Essential Questions, Second and Third Grades, What’s Happening in Drama? | Edit | No Comments »

Fourth and Fifth Grade: Why This Play? Why Now?

Sunday, December 9th, 2012

Here is a letter I sent to fourth and fifth grade families regarding the upcoming performances of “The Hope Chest” and “Weedflower.” The plays deal with themes of racism, sexism and other serious topics. The children chose to do this material and the letter below describes the process of making the plays.

December 3, 2012


Dear Fourth and Fifth Grade Families,

Here is an update on the fourth and fifth grade plays.


Performances: Thursday, December 13, 2012


Weedflower: 8:45 in Carlson Auditorium


The Hope Chest: 3:30 in Carlson Auditorium

“Experiment is the mother of knowledge”

~ Madeline L’Engle “A Wrinkle in Time.”

Why This Play? Why Now?

We weren’t aware there would be a play in fourth and fifth grade this year but emergent, constructivist curriculum sometimes plays out in ways one never expects and at Baker we make art with our children.

This fall, 5B read Weedflower by Cynthia Kadohata as their read-aloud book. Grades 4A, 4B and 5A read The Hope Chest by Karen Schwabach. Weedflower is about a young Japanese girl, who is placed, with her family, in a series of Japanese internment camps. In the final camp, Sumiko, a young 11-year-old girl, learns about friendship, freedom and hope when she befriends an elderly man who teaches her to garden and a young Native American boy who becomes her first real friend.

The Hope Chest is about another 11 year old girl, Violet, who runs away from her home in Pennsylvania to New York City to meet up with her sister, Chloe, a suffragist and nurse. In New York, Violet meets Myrtle, a young African-American girl who becomes Violet’s friend and joins her in her travels. When Violet discovers that Chloe isn’t in New York, Violet continues her adventures as she travels to Nashville to work alongside her sister as Tennessee prepares to vote on ratification of the 19th Amendment. There are many hurdles the girls face as they encounter racism, sexism and many different types of people from Hobie the Hobo to some very well to do members of the “Antis” and the “Suffs.”

It was the students who convinced me to adapt the books into small plays for each class to perform. Mrs. Guerra, our wonderful music teacher, wrote the music and she invited the students to write lyrics for the songs in the play. In drama class, we looked at the ingredients for a good story and considered the ideas that would take the books from “page to stage.”  The children identified the exposition, rising action, climax and falling action in both stories. We discussed what must remain to tell the story in a compelling way and we set aside the rest. Together with the classroom teachers, as part of the fourth and fifth grade Civics unit, we studied the customs and mindset of the 20s and the 40s. Students’ work in neutral mask helped us to explore character through movement and heightened their kinesthetic understanding of the similarities and differences of each historical period.

As we discussed the stories’ protagonists, the students shared their own stories of when they felt invisible or overlooked in their lives. We discussed other topics raised by the books such as racism, sexism and voting rights. We discussed many times in class why historical fiction is important for our learning.

Creating the plays with the fourth and fifth graders has been fascinating. This time, we have a production staff for each classroom including stage managers, costume and prop designers and stage crew. Students are learning that theater is a collaborative art form and much of the magic comes from a team of designers and staff who hold a production together with their creativity, imagination and organizational skills.

Last Friday Mrs. Haug’s class reflected on why we do plays in fourth and fifth grade. Many of the students explained that plays make people feel instead of simply thinking about ideas and events,  “When you feel things it helps you to change and to take action. We do plays to help convince people to take action.”

I cast the plays with much forethought after discussing “color-blind” and “gender-blind” casting– casting without concern for gender or race when choosing which actor to play a role. We had frank conversations about the differences in today’s society and our society many years ago. Our Baker students understand that Baker has a long history of casting without regard to race or gender.

When you watch the performance next Thursday, remember that the children experience and understand the issues raised in the play (and the books) on their own developmental level. We see things as adults with all of our life experiences incorporated into our impressions, and although the strong emotions and gut-wrenching reactions that arise for us when our children openly portray historical topics of race, class, and power, the children have vastly different perspectives and see their experimentation with the topic as benefiting society and their own community.  When you speak with your children about their work on the production,  ask questions. Ask them about the process of creating the play, ask them about what they have discovered and learned in their Civics unit. Let the children be your guide to understanding their play on their terms.

Baker is unique in that we teach an integrated arts curriculum in collaboration with classroom teachers who understand and support the importance of the arts in a well-rounded education. This was truly a team effort. Our Baker kids thought it was important to explore these books for the serious issues they raised and for the unique and interesting characters created by the authors. What you see and hear in the performance is brand new material  created by an ensemble of adults and children. The play is only a part of a rich and complex imaginative journey of discovery. Whatever turns up on stage on Thursday is only a tiny reflection of the range and depth of the students’ and teachers’ journeys together.

Thanks for sharing your imaginative and passionate young people with us. They never fail to surprise and delight. They take risks, explore ideas deeply and work to their fullest potential.

Lizanne Wilson

Drama Specialist

Baker Demonstration School

201 Sheridan Road | Wilmette, Illinois 60091

t: 847-425-5871 | f: 847-425-5801

Love to Learn, Cherish the Journey, Serve the World

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